Saturday, August 8, 2009

Morning Chores

For the last couple months I've been doing morning chores wearing a tank top, skirt and sandals. These are the moments I dream about while trudging through the snow in heavy boots and thick layers doing similar chores in the winter months. We have had the hottest summer on record. We only had 5/8ths of an inch of rain in the entire month of July. I don't think I've worn a sweatshirt headed up for morning chores in months, until yesterday (photo taken by Noah). The last few days have been in the sixties and low seventies. The air is cool, but still surprisingly muggy and damp. We live in an arctic desert, and are not use to the humidity. I'm enjoying the humid air. It has that tropical - I can shut my eyes and envision myself in Hawaii- kinda feel to it.

On mornings where the kids accompany me on our chore route I don't have much time for relaxation or day dreaming. However, on mornings where I escape the house solo, I relish every moment of summer beauty:

Walking up the hill to the garden the Brahma rooster crows accompanied by an awkward chorus of adolescent roosters. The woods are busy with the cheerful and much more graceful songs of chickadees and small birds. As soon as the does catch sight of me they began urging me closer, calling me to them. Opening up the greenhouse warm humid air greets me and I step inside and pause for a moment surveying the tomatoes, baby eggplant and lush basil. Heading out and over to the ducks they get noisy with their excitement, eager to break out of their small confinement and waddle freely to and fro. If I was a bit cool leaving the house I'm thoroughly warmed after the walk and stand now in direct sun with no trees for protection. After reaching the tent, I set my milk pail and tote down, pull out udder wash, paper towels, notebook and pen. Out of the tent I proceed to fill six grain tubs, then toss hay into feeders and snap each goat onto their own chain. Two of the does are dry and the three kids are in their own pen and share one grain tub. After giving them their grain I lead the milking does, one at a time to the milking stand.

Here is Xoe. She doesn't have any kids nursing off of her anymore so I usually milk her first. Since I am only milking once a day, she only gets milked every twenty-four hours so I try to keep to somewhat of a schedule. We are not early morning farmers. Often I am out at night until midnight or later putting everyone to bed and making sure everyone has enough food and water to get them through the night and into the morning. The goat kids don't get put in their stall until at least ten p.m., sometimes closer to midnight. I like to be up milking by ten a.m. Occasionally I don't make it up till closer till noon. If I have an inkling that it will be a late morning, I toss everyone extra hay and put the kids away later at night.
Milking is generally relaxing and enjoyable. Rhythmic and soothing. The girls practically run to the stand and hop up eager to eat their grain. I close them in, wash their udder, teats and my hands. Sitting down beside them I grasp a teat in each hand and milk away. I do have to be careful that a doe doesn't lift up a leg and set it down in the pail. Each doe has her own personality. Usually milking takes about four to ten minutes (a little over a minute a pound) and I am usually done before the doe has finished her grain. Otherwise they will often get restless and impatient and the safety of the pail is jeopardised. Not all milking sessions are calm. Maggie might be annoyed that the kids are making too much noise and step in the pail, knocking it over and a whole pail of milk goes flying. By the time I get it rinsed out and wiped clean she is done with her grain and won't stand still for me to finish. I've found that yelling, scolding and smacking do nothing to help convince a doe to stand still on the milk stand. A calm and level disposition and quick reflexes are most helpful.
I weigh the milk. Lately I've been getting between three and six pounds depending on the goat and the time of day I'm milking. If I'm up milking an hour or two later than usual, there will be a noticeable difference in every one's production. Early in the season two of my does were milking close to eight pounds but since then I've almost completely stopped feeding them alfalfa. I would like to be able to feed the three milking does alfalfa each morning. Between the kids and the dry does, the alfalfa vanishes in minutes and they don't really need the extra calories like the milking does. If I were needing more milk or were wanting higher fat milk for cheese making, I could feed more alfalfa or gradually increase their grain even more. In return I would get larger quantities of fattier milk. As it is I've been enjoying being able to leave the kids in with two of the does if I am short on time in the morning. I've been getting between a gallon and a half and two gallons a morning, which is plenty of milk for us. When I have more time for cheese making I may invest more feed into the does and get more out of them.
I pour the milk into a stainless steel lidded tote. That way it is protected from spills and any hay, hair or dirt that could get blown into it. I record the milk weights in a notebook along with any other notes that may have affected the outcome. Like, "Maggie knocked over the pail"or, "kids stayed in with does". If I have a few minutes while a doe is finishing her grain sometimes I just sit and gaze around the garden. I may pick up a brush or the hoof trimmers and do a little grooming. Often I walk around the garden and peak at the zucchini growing under the large leaves or pick a few peas to munch. I always stroll by the flower bed and dead head a few things, (I toss the old calendula flowers and safe weeds to the goats). When all three does are milked I let the kids out of their pen and everyone off their chains. The kids still manage to suck some more milk out of their dams. At this point I am often tempted to sit and visit, but the sitting milk bids me not to dawdle as it should be processed and chilled quickly.
But before I go, I stop to make sure the chickens have food and water for the day. These are the cornish cross chickens that are in our extra goat pen. In a few weeks they will join the frozen and canned goods of the house and the goats may have their pen back. Headed down to the house I skilfully guide the ducks back into their home, checking on food and water levels. There are three more stops to make and I make them quickly or sometimes come back for a second round of chores. There are a batch of pullets and young cockerels in a chicken tractor by the does that need food and water daily. The bucks get hay and grain. And a stop in to look for eggs and check the adult layers food and water levels. This can get messy and time consuming as unexpected chores often come up and can be distracting. So if there is a lot to do I just put things off for an hour and head to the house.
After a thorough hand washing, I pour the milk from the tote through a filter and into gallon or half gallon glass jars. They are dated and placed into the fridge to cool. Most mornings I culture a gallon of milk to be turned into chevre. Then it sits at room temperature until the following morning when I pour in into cheese cloths and hang it above the sink to drain. I also have a quart jar of kefir that sits on the counter and each morning I pour off the kefir and add fresh milk from the days milking. What is left over goes in the fridge.

I enjoy these mornings immensely. If we are in a hurry to go someplace or if the weather is nasty, the kids challenging, well then the morning can seem like a lot of chores and mouths to feed. However, even in the winter when I am sitting outside in twenty below zero temperatures with bare hands squeezing hot streams of milk into an icy cold pail, I enjoy the ritual and rhythm of the morning. Coming down to the house with a full pail of milk and pockets full of eggs after spending quality time outside with the animals is rewarding and makes my day regardless of the climate. Having said this, I am hoping for a few more tank top and sandal mornings, followed by a couple months of sweatshirt mornings before heavy coats and boots are in order.

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