The Cream Always Rises

7 06 2010

Every morning when  I go out to milk the goats, I carry with me the fantasy that my children are naturally going to be curious about what I am doing — they will be drawn to me and I will just narrate for them all of my activities.  They will ask me questions and I will offer them to take a try and pretty soon they will be active participants in gardening, goat wrangling and beekeeping.  They will absorb all of my values regarding developing a simple, productive life away from computers and television.  It’s a nice fantasy.

The other morning when I was out happily milking the goats, I realized my son was inside, parked in front of the television.  He is only four and a half, but he is highly proficient in using the remote control, my iPhone and finding on Danae’s laptop.  Given the choice most days he will choose to zone out playing video games or watch TV until my youngest niece wakes up and he has someone to actively play with.  I realize that the literacies we practice require active participation in order to acquire them in the first place.  We do not just see trains running down the track and know how to purchase a fare to ride them any more than we know how to play video games just because we can navigate to  The choices I make as a parent — whether to take my children on a train ride or to allow them freedom of access to a laptop with wireless internet — determine the experiences my children will have and will ultimately have an effect on how they view the world.  So, in order for my children to develop a literacy of rustic life they need to be active participants in all that I do — the work and the rewards.  That evening, when both children were home, Danae went out to milk the goats and I did something I hadn’t yet done since Rainbow and Redwood became a part of our little compound — I didn’t invite the children to come out and watch or give milking a try, I required them to come outside to do something to help.

Gwen milks Rainbow for the first time on her own.

Kaherdin does not yet feel comfortable with the idea of milking, but he was more than happy to pick herbs from our herb garden and feed them to each goat as they had their turn in the stanchion.  He talked to them soothingly and scratched them on their heads while Gwen jumped right in and announced she wanted to milk both goats all on her own.  She started out squeezing the tips of Redwood’s teats and getting nothing.  Little by little Danae worked with her until she was able to consistently get something into the cup.  I took over and worked with her on her grip until the motion became second nature.  You could see the confidence building in her posture as strong streams of milk began falling into her cup.  This was an excellent start — me straddling the same stool as Gwen, she in front of me, my arms tightly on either side of her as I held the cup, coached and cheered her with every squeeze.

The next morning Danae called me outside.  Gwen was doing it all on her own.

In the meantime Danae found a free hot tub on Craigslist.  We got rid our last spa right around the time Kaherdin was born.  The drain didn’t work right so we had to suck all the water out with a shop vac each and every time the thing needed to be cleaned — which was often.  It seemed to be growing increasingly more difficult to keep crud out of the tub and to keep the ph balanced.  Also, we tapped into a 110 outlet across the wall from the kids’ bedroom and having a spa and Baby Mozart running at the same time was apparently too much for our circuitry.  We would put the kids to bed, bring the baby monitor out with us and settle into the hot water for a minute or two before the motor would stop suddenly, as would the music in the kids room, and pretty soon we were cold, wet and now having to deal with a crying baby.  The tub had become more of a burden than a pleasure so we decided to dump it off on someone looking for such a thing on Craigslist.  This was nearly five years ago.  Since then the forgetting hormones have set in and there have been many nights when my body has ached to be relieved of it’s weight, to have it’s temperature egged on by some steaming hot water, to have a space to have an intimate conversation without the distraction of the TV or the dishes.  The forgetting hormones have kicked in — I want another hot tub.

Sunday we spent all day obsessed with renting a truck, going to pick up this beast of a tub (a 7’x7′ that seats eight).  It took three women and three men from the neighborhood where we picked it up to get this thing loaded in, but once we got home we were three men short.  Somehow Nicole, Danae and I managed to get the thing off the truck and onto the patio without killing ourselves.  Now the trick is installing a new 220 line with its own circuit box.  Danae is on it.

In all our crazy hot tub obsession we completely overlooked Sunday dinner.  My plans of riding the Xtracycle to the farmer’s market to buy produce, for using the cream separator on all of our milk stores and of having the children make their own butter with their own personal tiny jars of cream had to be put on hold.  This was a different kind of fantasy — of quality time in the hot tub with Danae in the kids to talk about our days, our thoughts, to be away from TV and amidst all of the work we’ve will be doing in our yard this summer.  We’ll be right next to the chickens and the goats in our bubbling cauldron of joy.

One small reason we have goats has to do with Gwennie’s love of goat cheese.  I am now trying to interest her in the processing of the milk she is now able to extract from the goats.  I have tried my hand at making queso blanco and feta and I aim to expand my cheese-making repertoire, but what I’ve really been looking forward to is being able to get two different products from the same bucket of milk.

My Royal Blue Junior #33 hand-cranked cream separator. It's HUGE!

Saturday I finally set up the antique cream separator that I bought off of ebay.  I had no way to verify that all of the parts would be included when it arrived.  I bought it off a book seller who made a strong disclaimer that he had no idea how the thing worked so could not guarantee that it was complete or functional.  It’s a Royal Blue Junior #33 — a massive piece of equipment for a small kitchen.  The base is cast iron and has a wooden-handled crank.  There are two spouts that sit atop the base to channel the separated liquids into their receptacles — cream to one side and skimmed milk to the other.  On top of the spouts sits a massive metal basin that has a two-gallon capacity.  Inside the base is something called the “bowl” a conical case that holds inside of it fourteen conical rings that, when the crank is operating at 60-65 turns per minute, spin to create the centrifugal force that causes the whole milk to separate into milk and cream.

This is the way the conical "bowl" component of the separator works.

It took and entire morning to finally figure out the process for getting this thing to work but, when we did, the feeling was amazing.  The first run I wasn’t cranking quickly enough and much of the milk dribbled down out of an overflow hole.  We gathered that into a bowl as it dripped over the side of our butcher block and put it back in.  Try, try again.  The second time we felt that the two liquids were not different enough in consistency.  I realized that the milk was no longer at goat temperature (about 100 degrees).  We needed to warm the milk in order to make the separation process more efficient.  I got a pot on and warmed the milk and, on the third try, success!  Not only could I breathe a sigh of relief that I hadn’t been ripped off with my ebay purchase, but I now had a human-powered machine that could separate our goat milk into skimmed milk for everyday use and cream for making butter and ice cream.  A whole world had just opened up.

I immediately put the cream in the mixer to see if we could get butter and that would be the ultimate test of whether the separator worked and gave us pure cream.  It failed miserably.  I was a bit saddened but I also know enough to know that I’m usually missing something when a process isn’t working out.  I found a website on how to make goat butter and read that the cream must be 24 hours old and at around 50-60 degrees in order to make good butter.  I placed the cream in a jar and put it in the refrigerator and decided to try again later.

That night I thought I might give it another try.  I retrieved the jar from the fridge and was about to get out the mixer when I remembered how on farm tours kids are often given a small jar of cream to shake into butter on their own.  I started vigorously shaking the jar and within a few minutes I had a big butter ball.  Immediately I decided that the kids would make their own butter for bread at Sunday dinner but, like I said above, Sunday dinner never happened.  But something better did.

As I was resting in the recliner seat of our empty hot tub Gwen came up to me and said, “It’s time to milk the goats.”  I looked at my phone to check the time and felt that it was about an hour too early.  I tried to put her off a little by saying, well, that it was an hour too early, but she was persistent.  I realized this was a seize or lose moment to make her a part of the lifestyle I am working so hard for.  If I put her off again she may lose interest.  I got up from my sunny spot and told her I would go wash the milk pail and get a clean rag to wash of the goat’s udders.

I got Redwood up on the stanchion and wiped her down then Gwen said, “Three squirts each.”  She proceeded to do the three squirts on each teat to get out any dirt and to get the flow going, then she began to milk.  This was Gwen, my child who loses interest in everything, taking the initiative to do a farm chore.  She’s always loved animals, and maybe that has something to do with it.  Milking is such an intimate chore, when done by hand.  It’s skin, it’s lactation, it’s massaging a goat’s boobie to make sure you’ve gotten all the milk out.  It’s personal.

Goat Shares even in our own back yard. Nicole completes her first solo milking, which she will continue every Monday so she and her family can enjoy a share of the fresh milk.

Earlier in the day I had promised my sister and her youngest daughter that they could have a turn milking — they had yet to try.  I called them over then leaned in to Gwen and asked her if she would be their instructor.  She gladly agreed.  I had to take several deep breaths and just resign to the fact that we were going to lose milk, probably a lot of milk, in this process — goats stepping into the bucket, spills, general debris flying everywhere.  We could get more tomorrow, but what could be gained here was irreplaceable.  Gwen could manufacture her own motivation for milking by creating herself as the resident expert on the subject.  We milked out Redwood fairly quickly because she is the less patient of the two goats, and got Rainbow up on the stanchion.  I asked Gwen to start her lesson.  She invited her cousin to sit on the milking stool then patiently showed her, again and again, how to get a proper hold on the teat.  After Lindsey tired of trying it was my sister’s turn.  Gwen got to show her aunt what she knew while I walked to the back of the property where Danae was picking apricots.  By the time I helped pick a few branches worth and came back, Nicole was milking Rainbow solo as the kids had abandoned her in order to play with one another.  Instead of becoming frustrated by Gwen’s abandonment of her duties, I couldn’t have been more proud.  Just Friday I had been questioning my authenticity as a parent — using my farm chores as an escape from motherhood rather than an extension of it.  Today Gwen was not only a bona fide milker, but a teacher and it started because I required her involvement then worked it into something she could really feel good about.

I think that this is what the goats are giving us — a flavor of authenticity in our daily lives.  We have a necessary routine which provides us daily opportunities to find teaching moments for ourselves and our family.  We have fresh food that needs to be processed and dealt with, animals that need to be cared for in order to provide for us, and in these things we feel that we are doing work that matters.  In our relationship with these animals we are bound to a schedule and less certain freedoms but we are gaining so much more.  They are making us work for what we get and, in the process, we are growing to feel more able, more confident, more us.




9 responses

7 06 2010
Vodka and Ground Beef

I say you let the goats eat the TV. Goats will eat anything, right?

7 06 2010

I think you’re onto something…

7 06 2010
Paula Watkins

Way to go Nicole!! You could give homeschool field trips in the future. Teach the kids to milk and teach us all about the animals and bees.

8 06 2010

We’re happy to have visitors who want to learn! Nicole did great — I’m psyched that Lindsey enjoyed it so much — I found a cheese making supply shop in San Jose — field trip, Nicole?

8 06 2010

It was backbreaking work for me until we raised the stanchion, but I’m so proud of my quart of milk! Lindsey had a chilled glass of it this afternoon and showed me her tummy so I could see how happy it was. Can’t wait to do it again.

8 06 2010
Frank Farm

I continue to be amazed at the whole family’s resourcefulness and dedication — bravo to all!

17 11 2010
Dress Pants

hot tubs with ceramic heaters are the best and they are safer to use too because the heating element is fully enclosed `;.

7 02 2013
glass cutting board

The one thing that I never ever really comprehend
is why some discussions are really terrible – and your own is surely not!

I appreciate you sharing a fantastic piece of writing with us all!

7 02 2013

Thank you 🙂

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