Grit Blogs > Transitional Traditions

Working Toward the Store

Becky, Andy, and EllyMany things must happen in order to get up and running with our farm fresh milk. First, the cow. As you well know, Charlotte has been milking for a week now. Next, you need a place to house the milking equipment and cleaning area. This would be what we call The Milkhouse. You've seen it in photos before; that little building attached to the dairy barn with three windows and a door to the outside. It has sat dormant and decaying for the last 13 years. Dust and junk have piled up while the equipment sat waiting to be either consolidated and torn out or sold to the scrap yard.

When we decided to begin milking again, there was a passive effort to get the barn and milkhouse cleaned up. When Charlotte freshened (gave birth), we kicked it into high gear. Dad got a couple milk equipment specialists in there to look at what needed to be replaced. We were expecting most of it, even the stainless steel bulk tank and milk pipe lines as they had never received a proper wash at the end of the last milking back in 1996.

I won't bore you with the specifics, but suffice it to say that everything but a few rubber hoses, some small wiring and a wash controller were in perfect working order. Everything turned on and did what it was supposed to do! God is Awesome!

Cleaning the Milkhouse

So the only thing we had to do was get in there and clean. I regret to say that I did not capture any before photos, so unless you've been in our milkhouse, you can never truly appreciate how good this looks!

Milkhouse wash area

Above is the wash area and where the milk piping comes in from the barn. In a larger scale operation, the milk would be pumped in to that large glass orb on the left from the highest pipe and then drained into the milk cooler (below). There is a sink and places to hang the milkers and other equipment. Since we are only milking one cow, we don't use the pipelines to pump the milk through them; we only use the suction that they create. The milk is then pumped into an old-fashioned milk can called a Surge Can. It is a completely closed system from cow teat to milk can to bottle. More on that later...

Milkhouse wash area with a view

The view above is standing in the wash area that you just saw. Out the windows you can see our front yard and even the house. Andy took the time to shine up the old milk cooler (it's about 60 years old) with stainless steel polish. It looks great! He and Dad and a cool kid from our church, Bret, spent a whole day taking things out and sorting and throwing away. Again, hard to tell the real difference from an after photo!

Back of the milkhouse

Above is the back of the milkhouse as you walk in. To the left would be the wash station and to the right, you can see the milk cooler. Pictured is the "Freheater" which takes the warmed freon after it goes through the milk cooler and passes it through pipes in a water reservoir in order to cool the freon back down. The warmed water is then piped into the water heater. Can you see how this reduces the need for energy consumption? The warmed water takes less time (read: energy) to heat up and the freon takes less time to be cooled for use in the milk cooler again.

Milkhouse vestibule newly painted

Above, Mom shows off her handiwork. She is standing in the vestibule which connects the milkhouse to the barn. After years of non-essential use, it was pretty dirty and paintless. She spent the better part of two days priming and repainting the entire vestibule and the entire milkhouse (including doors, walls and ceiling). As you can see, she is gifted in the arts of detail work and enjoys painting. This is one of her talents and we relish being able to utilize it here on the farm. The whole place positively glows now!

Milking Charlotte

Andy and his mom watch the milker at work

Here you can see the process of actual milking beginning. Andy has placed the milkers onto Charlotte and she stands patiently while they do their work. It's sort of hard to see, but just behind Andy and his mom, Julie, is the Surge can. You can see the hose attached to the milkers that pumps the milk into the can. Then there is a smaller hose that attaches to the pipeline. (it is yellowish and reaches up, out of the photo). That is where the suction comes from. When Charlotte is "milked out," we let her back out to her small pasture and she enjoys the rest of the day grazing and dozing and exploring until about 4:30 pm when it's time to milk again. Below, Andy is pouring the milk from the Surge can into our spigot bucket. He pours through a specialized milk filter to be sure there are no foreign objects in the milk. The spout on the bottom helps us fill our milk bottles cleanly and with as little human interaction as possible. (This helps ensure perfectly clean milk.)

Andy pouring the milk from the Surge can into the spigot bucket

Below, Andy begins the cleanup of all the milking equipment. Using the wash station, he runs super high temperature water into a wash bucket and makes sure every piece, tube, hose and valve get a thorough cleansing. With milk, you can never be too careful.

Cleaning the milking equipment

Andy cleaning the milking equipment

After a long day of milking (the whole process takes about 20 minutes, ha ha) Andy and Elly head back to the house with the milk from today.

Andy and Elly take the daily milk to the house.

Selling the Milk

Once the milk is collected, it needs to be bottled. We could not find a domestic producer of glass milk bottles (apparently the market for our size dairy doesn't really exist in the US anymore). We found a company in Canada called StanPac that sells half gallon glass bottles with bottle caps and handles. The caps can be put on with a multi-functional bottling tool (our hands) and have tamper resistant seals (so you know when it's been opened). They came three days ago by semitrailer and now sit in our garage, waiting for a home.

Milk bottles waiting to be filled

Below you see our workshop. This is directly across from the house and has been a tool shed of sorts for the better part of 70 years. Originally built in 1912, it was the first milk- and pumphouse on the farm. The building houses a pump that pulls water from our well either with an electric motor or by hand. (A nice emergency item to have if worse comes to worse).

We needed a place to sell our products that is not our garage (where we currently sell our eggs). This was the perfect fit. It also meant a lot of deconstruction and hauling of heavy tools and parts. The only thing left standing is our trusty old pump. Again, no before photos. Just imagine a building crammed so full of tools, bolts and buckets of nails that you pretty much could not even walk three steps inside. Yeah, still won't give you the impact of these next photos. My brothers can relate, though. And so can Andy's dad! :-)

The soon-to-be store workshop

Below, the view as you step inside. We are currently covering the cinderblocks with insulated wallboard and will then paint those to give it a more welcoming and lighter look. (Calling in my mother for that!)

Inside the soon-to-be-store workshop

Below you see the well pump and the way back outside.

The pump in the soon-to-be store

Another view looking in. The building is small and quaint. Perfect.

Another view in the soon-to-be workshop

Our Own Grocery Store

The bottled milk with some jumbo eggs from the hens

Above is our own milk, displayed beautifully in our new bottles, with some fresh jumbo eggs from our hens. God is amazing in his blessings.

Making Butter

Making butter in the food processor

We were curious what we could do with our unpasteurized, unhomogonized, un-messed-around-with milk. MAKE BUTTER, OF COURSE! Above, I have taken two days worth of seperated cream and beat it at high speed in our food processor. It was the most amazing thing; after about three minutes of the same noise, the processor suddenly made a deeper whirring sound. We stopped it and took the cover off and saw this! Like magic, the butter just formed! I mean, I'd read up on this and knew this would happen, but to see it and experience it for myself ... well, it was just plain cool!

Here I am pouring the buttermilk off through a strainer. The buttermilk is (as I type) being used for our first homemade buttermilk pancakes. They smell great!

Pouring off the buttermilk

After several rinses in cold water, the butter was ready to be squeezed on the cutting board. This gets the last of the water and buttermilk out. It is also the time to add the salt (for taste and preservative). I have included a shot of my homemade bread with butter on it. I mean, come on. Could it get any better than that?!

The homemade butter after squeezing and salting

The remaining buttermilk below.

Buttermilk from homemade butter

Finally, two big pats of butter to be refrigerated and used up in the next week. No problems there! It is so good and creamy. And once Charlotte is on grass full time, the butter will be yellower and healthier (with Vitamin A, CLAs, good fats, Omegas, and Activator-X).

Two big pats of homemade butter

Now, it is time to eat our buttermilk pancakes, slathered with our butter and enjoyed with a fresh cup of milk. It's a good time to be a homesteader!


Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on .