(Title should get a bunch of hits.)

No, I can’t sell goat’s milk. It could not be more illegal if it were moonshine, unless I jump thru a bunch of regulatory hoops that I haven’t the patience for at age 63. (Yes, I can get moonshine. Kindly do not walk up to my Market stand and ask for it in tones audible for a hundred yards. Thanks)

In order to sell it legally, I would have to invest 6 figures in a state-of-the-art milking parlor, with impervious cinder-block walls, poured-concrete floor with drain, electric, running water, insect-proof screens and a few other mandatory doodads I’ve forgotten since I checked, back in ‘08. In order to come out on it (farmers never “make money.” We may “come out” on a transaction, investment or expense, or not. ) I’d have to milk 12 does, and do nothing else all day. Or use milking machines, taking about 200% of the satisfaction out of the process. (Percentage adjusted for aggravation. The few times I’ve tried to use a milking machine, I wound up taking it off and finishing by hand.)

Let’s skip the “raw” debate, which I consider settled (https://shadygrovefarm.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/eek-a-microbe/).  7 months after that post, I’m alive and so are the family and friends who share my goats’ milk and cheese. I’m milking Hyacinth and Trillium. Hy’s milk is mild and noticeably smooth. Goat milk is “pre-homogenized” in having smaller fat particles than bovine milk, so even with a lower fat content it has a texture like cream. Trill’s is slightly – only slightly! – less mild, and her extra Togg breeding gives it more richness. The cream rises easier than it does on Hy’s.

Why am I taunting you? You should know, when there’s everything from bovine gonadotropic hormone to antibiotic-resistant bacteria to melamine in the Industrial-Food stream, why you are “protected” from a little old lady with two milk goats.

Think back to the 1930’s when local grocers would buy cream and butter from farm wives. Not all country ways were wise and wonderful, but anyone feeding her own family with dairy products had a pretty good handle on risks and precautions. Boiling cheese cloths, scalding out the milk pail, keeping the cows on good grazing and the milking byre mucked out, are measures no one needs government to dictate, when they’re growing food for a community that includes themselves. Did all farm wives always do all these things? Of course not. But the storekeeper remembered if the eggs last week were old, if cream hadn’t been strained, or butter tasted “off”. It was a simple matter: “Ms. Deller, so sorry, I just don’t need any more cream this week,” and to suggest a quiet word perhaps from a neighbor woman of sounder dairy practice.

What happened? Well, for one thing, a huge increase in urban populations, and in middlemen to supply them with edibles. As cities grew and zoning regulations banned in-town dairies, milk came by tank truck, anonymous to those who consumed it. Suppliers were prone to ‘stretching’ their profits by adulterating with chalk and water, the latter often contaminated. Milk from many farms was mingled, making it hard to trace the source of disease.

The simplest solution was to pasteurize all milk, and to regulate heavily the places where it was produced. Overkill? Read this story:

In 1958, my Dad, on behalf of his employer, the Van Dorn Iron Works of Cleveland Ohio, went on a trade mission to Poland, then of course part of the Soviet bloc. After a six-week absence, I vividly recall meeting him at the airport, and his asking Mom to stop at Lawsons for a carton of milk. His delegation had been warned not to drink milk while in Poland, because 80% of the dairy cattle were tubercular! As a well-read ten-year-old, I wondered how cows could catch tuberculosis, which I associated with delicate young women in weepy Victorian novels. I’ll never forget his answer:

“Nancy, when you take away a peasant’s cows and tell him they’re the property of The People, and he’s just being paid to take care of them, he will pocket the money you give him to buy hay, or sell the hay you give him, and feed the cows moldy straw, potato peels, wood shavings or whatever else is lying around free. And you never saw such a bunch of scrawny, pitiful, sickly cows in your life. You wouldn’t want to drink their milk!”

You may suppose that colored my lifelong attitude toward keeping animals in good flesh! But the question arises: how much of the health gains of the past century+ are owing to better sanitation practices and enlightened animal husbandry ? To say nothing of clean water supplies!?! In other words, how much could have been achieved even without universal pasteurization?

Pasteurizing does allow milk to keep longer. For urban populations with no dairy animals of their own, that has made possible a healthier and more complete diet. It’s questionable whether pasteurized milk has the full food value of fresh, but for city children, it’s better than say, juice boxes with HFCS.

I’m only saying that people who prefer milk fresh should have it.  Milking, drinking it warm from the animal, and producing a delicious and vital food from creatures in my care, has been a source of inspiration. Milk straight from the udder has a native microbe population that are clearly harmless to the animal’s young. But consider: they may even be protective, in that they displace external organisms that might be harmful. (The same effect occurs when milk is cultured to preserve it as cheese).

What many of us are doing now is a kind of control to the 20th-century approach: drinking milk as it comes from the animal, applying what we now know about disease prevention. Scald the pails, boil the cloths, allow the goats enough fresh green browse and clean water, air and sunlight, to keep them and their kids lively and healthy.

I would encourage any young person inclined toward farming to think of dairy goats. I’d also caution against buying as many animals as they could, to pay off that $150,000 milking room quicker. I would never want so large a flock that I couldn’t name each, and remember her ancestry and kidding history. And I’d remind them to walk out among the flock at least twice a day, for the simple pleasures of watching them browse, seeing the kids sample new plants, keeping an eye on their health, appetite, gloss and spirits.

They’ll find that as nourishing as the milk.

Milking morning and evening imposes a calming rhythm on the days.

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