A Morning With a Goat Keeper

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Sartell
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I begin my day with coffee. A hot steaming cup with goat milk. I’m not a morning person but coffee helps. My first chore of the day is to get the fire going in the wood-burning furnace. I wrap my robe around me and slip outside in my slippers to gather an armful of wood from the pile. One of the benefits of living in the country is you can wear your pajamas outside and no one sees you.

With an armful of wood I make my way down the steep wooden steps to the basement. I’m greeted with the musty smell of all old basements mixed with ash from the furnace cleanout. I open the creaky metal door to the furnace and crumple a handful of junk mail that we save for fire starting. On top of this I stack kindling. I strike a match and for a second my nose burns like the onset of a sneeze as the first fizz of fire lights the match. The paper soon ignites and the fire makes its way to the kindling. I add a few logs and watch for a few moments to make sure it takes. Then I press the valve shut and close the door.

After another cup of coffee, the house is warming up and I get dressed in my barn clothes. I head to the back bathroom where two 5-gallon buckets sit outside the old farmhouse tub. I set one under the faucet and turn the water to warm and let it fill. When one is full, I remove it and set the second under the tap to fill. While the second is filling I gather the milking supplies. I fill a small pail with warm water a splash of Castile soap and throw in a clean white washcloth. I hang this over my arm. I also gather the clean milk bucket, and the strip cup. I slip on my wool barn coat, my barn boots and hat with ear flaps. It’s my favorite hat and I’ll cry if I ever lose it.

By now the water buckets are full. I tap the lids on lightly and carry them out to the wagon or the sled if it’s snowy. I call our dog Oliver through the doorway and we all go out to the barn.

The smell of the barn greets me with a number of excited maaas of all tonations. The barn smells like comforting animal mustiness, green hay, sweet molasses and pine.

Out in the barn I set the milking supplies on the small table next to the stanchion. I grab the cutters and snip the bailing twine from a fresh bale of hay that we baled this past summer. The bale pops a bit as the hay expands from it’s cinched twine. This bale goes to the dairy goats. I carry it half at a time and fill the two mangers at each end of the dairy area.

A second bale goes to the Angora goats. I pour the water into three water troughs from the 5-gallon buckets and watch the steam rise slowly in the cold air.

I scoop out an amount of grain from the galvanized can and dump it into the bucket that hangs from the front of the stanchion. The goats know the sound of the can and know that the grain is coming. I grab a Dixie cup from the supply shelf and pour a bit of iodine in the paper cup.

I open the gate and let Esther out. She’s our big alpine and she gives the most milk. She knows just what to do and jumps on the stanchion. She buries her head in the grain bucket and I get to work. With the clean warm rag I wipe down her udders. Wiping each teat and turning the rag after the first wipe down. I squirt the first draws into the strip cup and check for lumps or abnormalities. Everything looks fine.

I milk her and delight in the pleasant swish swish rhythm of her milk as I work my hands around her teats. I rest my head against her side and listen to her breath. She’s warm and I can hear the gurgle of her rumen next to my head. She should have babies in her by now if our buck has done his job.

Milking is a peaceful chore. It’s very soothing and intimate. You bond with an animal you milk and it’s a special relationship. She willingly gives you the milk she should keep for her babies and I count that as a blessing.

The rising sun breaks through the cracks in the barn siding and sparkles of dust float like fairies in the stripes of sunlight. A stray chicken coohs in the corner of the barn and pecks at some spilled grain. And the milking goes on. The muscle memory in my hands and the automatic motions are like an active meditation.

When Esther’s teats are limp and empty, I dip her in iodine to keep her teats clean until the wax cap can form again, sealing off the opening. Esther gets returned to her stall and the whole process is repeated with Nan and Gretta our two Nubians.

I fit the full metal milk can with its lid and gather the empty water buckets, strip cup, soiled wash cloth and pail. It all gets carried back to the house.

I set the dirty things in the laundry tub and carry the milk to the kitchen. I wash my hands and fit a clean, half-gallon glass mason jar with our large metal funnel. I place a cloth filter in the funnel and press the strainer cap into the opening. The milk gets poured through. It’s creamy and frothy.

When the milk is strained I place it in our freezer to cool quickly for an hour. This helps keep the sweetness of the milk. I then sterilize the milk pail so it will be ready to use again. The wash pail gets rinsed and I throw the washcloth in a small hamper for barn rags. I will wash these separately.

After the milk chills for an hour, I label the side of the jar with a wax pencil with the date and indicate if it’s the a.m. or p.m. milking. It gets placed in the fridge. The whole process will be repeated in 12 hours.

Farms have a rhythm. A continuance, that molds your day as the keeper. It is a special life and one that I’m blessed to lead.

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