There is so much to catch up on…leaving Sierra Leone, a road trip from Texas to New York, moving onto a new farm, bees, chickens…so much change in a few months.
But I’m skipping ahead of all those stories and introducing you to a new little life…a heifer calf from my most favorite cow. Honey calved yesterday morning in a brushy patch hidden away in the pasture. I found her laboring around 8am and stayed to watch her through it. It’s a really amazing thing to watch such a large animal give birth. She passed the calf just two hours later and immediately went to the business of licking her clean. Honey loves babies and is an exceptional mama. I was hoping for a heifer calf with horns, but it doesn’t look like this little girl has any horn buds. I may keep her anyway…
Her name is Pecan. I visited them hours later and they were both laying down in the same spot she gave birth. I let them be and came back to see them two hours later. Honey hadn’t cleared her afterbirth yet and I wasn’t convinced the calf had figured out how to nurse. Honey is older and has a somewhat misshapen udder, not the easiest for calves to figure out.
I went back an hour later knowing I had to get the calf to drink colostrum before nightfall. Fortunately, Honey cleared her afterbirth but was looking very uncomfortable with such a full udder. I cleaned her up (she likes to be a very clean cow) and milked about a gallon out of her to relieve her pain. I tried coaxing the calf onto her, but she just wasn’t getting it. I decided to pour Honey’s colostrum into a calf bottle and see if she would nurse. She is a strong little girl! Fighting being held with everything she had, she also sucked down about a half gallon of Honey’s milk. So, I left them for the night with a full belly and a little relief. As I was leaving, they were finally making their way out to pasture.
I will have to work with them today to get the calf to nurse from her mama, but hopefully she now has the energy and will to do just that.
I’ve been sucked into the foodie blogosphere, which is at once a yummy exploration and at the same time excruciatingly masochistic as my food options here in Sierra Leone are limited.
It isn’t a surprise to find that almost every food blog has an index of diet friendly recipes. But, what has surprised me is that every food blog has so many categories of diets.
It seems to be a very Western notion to describe one’s diet; like we are using our food choices as a way to add to our list of labels. It’s kind of a funny way in which we identify ourselves. “Hi, I’m Saundra and I’m wheat free, sugar free, and vegetarian though I eat fish…” (I’m none of those, btw).
Even for those of us who, thankfully, have no food allergies, we still tend to adhere to a diet or label our noshing habits. And inevitably, it changes with time, with age, with new research, and probably most often with new food fads.
I went from SAD, to vegetarian, to organic, to local, to whole foods, to omnivore (yes, I’ve always eaten dairy). These days, in my grass fed meat eating/raw milk/pastured eggs/organic/local veg eating life, I find the Weston A. Price dietary guidelines make the most sense. They are research based and advocate grass fed meat, lots of good fats, and raw milk from pastured cows.
Any diet recommending butter is a diet for me! Check them out:
My cows won’t be giving us milk until late summer (IF they were bred successfully in December). I can’t wait to have raw milk coming into the kitchen every day. It’s so comforting to have a jar full of fresh milk.
People who have never tasted raw milk are always a little squeamish. They want to know how it tastes different from the milk on the store shelf. The best comparison I can come up with is the difference in taste between a store bought egg and a fresh egg from a pastured chicken. They are both eggs, but certainly not equivalent. No one can possibly go back to store bought eggs once they taste a fresh egg. That’s my experience with milk.
Raw milk feels creamy, rich and full in your mouth. It’s lusciously thick and sweet.
Please do yourself a favor and find a (clean!) source of raw milk. It will enrich your life exponentially. This is no exaggeration.
With a cow in milk, having it in such abundance on a daily basis means there’s a lot of opportunity to turn that milk into something else delicious-it’s like magic!
Here’s a list of everything that you can turn milk into (well the cheese category is limited to a few, easy to make, fresh cheeses):
Cream (skimmed off the top)
Kefir (uses starter grains)
Clabbered Milk (ONLY with raw milk)
Butter (cultured or not, salted or not, pasteurized or not, flavored or not)
Yogurt (cream on top, skimmed, strained or drinkable)
Creme Fraiche (cultured cream)
Quark (my FAVORITE farmer’s cheese)
Ice Cream (buttermilk ice cream is on the top of my list)
I have a far greater appreciation for eating meat now. I am a firm believer that we should be eating less meat and the meat we purchase should be of high nutritional value from animals raised humanely (because of the limits of economies of scale with livestock, this means that in most places quality meat will come from your farmers’ market).
The contrast between animals raised conventionally and those raised with exceptional standards (and the spectrum in between) is really how I came to be a livestock farmer.
Understanding that we are a society that eats meat and that our consumption is not going to dramatically reduce any time soon, the farmer has incredible agency in the system. The farmer can choose how meat is produced and whether s/he improves or degrades environmental factors. That’s pretty powerful.
My priority in raising dairy cattle is to strive to minimize their stress. This means ensuring adequate and proper nutrition (cows are designed to eat grass!), ensuring they have clean, dry, comfortable areas to rest, and ensuring handling techniques are gentle and do not invoke pain or fear.
For dairy in particular, the reproduction cycle is a critical management period, as it is by nature stressful but how the farmer chooses to manage the cow from breeding to drying off her milk production, from cow/calf care to weaning has a dramatic impact on the health of the cow and calf.
One of my heroes is Temple Grandin. She is an expert on minimizing stress of livestock and has revolutionized slaughterhouses in America by redesigning them so they are less stressful for the animal. She is also autistic.
Here’s a video of her TED talk (which is more on autism but she touches on her work with livestock). She mentions the movie made about her with Claire Danes, which I definitely recommend.
One of the reasons I admire her so much is that she chose to work within the dominant system of conventional feedlots. In doing so, she made a HUGE positive change to the lives of millions of cattle. Certainly more than I’ll ever do with my dream of a 20 cow dairy.
She’s an inspiration for sure and a source of technical guidance. I was over the moon when I wrote to her asking a question about the order of cows coming into the dairy barn and whether letting them choose their place was more or less stressful than making them go in the same stall every day. Her answer was simple genius. She said “if the cows seem calm, they are calm”.
I’ve been in Sierra Leone three weeks now and I’m really starting miss good food. Sierra Leone is a much easier post than my previous aid work in terms of amenities and availability of food. But I’m still missing really good meals. I’ve had an omelet for breakfast for the past 21 days. It felt like a real perk for the first, say, 19 days. Now, I could just go for some oatmeal.
I’m lucky to live in a farming community back in New York where I have access to fresh organic vegetables, grass fed meats, and raw milk. I may smell like a cow most days, but I eat like a Queen!
I can’t wait for the day when I’m back and can choose to whip up whatever I fancy.
Dairy has a rich, complicated history in our country.
The overall picture is pretty bleak: from 1982 to 2007, New York lost almost 65 percent of its dairy farms (see this news article). All over this county, there are old dairies gone under, sitting empty, falling apart without the life of cows to sustain it. The reason for the decline in dairies is complex and can be traced to the commodity price of milk, import of milk products, and the role of large scale processors.
There is a pocket of hope though. The interest in “niche” milk markets could SAVE THE SMALL DAIRY. Because of the high costs of raising animals and the up-front capital needed, dairy farmers have to receive a premium for the product to survive as a business. Enter : RAW milk from happy healthy herds. With the public interest of where one’s food comes from, some small dairies are tapping into this market by demonstrating how their product differs from shelf-bought milk. Around here, raw milk sells for $7 for the half gallon. At the gas station down the road, one full gallon goes for $2 plus change. There’s a lot to unpack in that, but for now, I’ll just say that’s a big difference in price to the farmer.
Folklore is rife with tales of dairymaids churning and churning and no butter being made. The culprit was these problematic, obstructive witches interfering in the process. There were many remedies for this, some involving ash and hot irons, and smoking the spirits right out of the barn.
Today, as Butter, was being a bit…difficult, shall we say: too stubborn to get out of the milking barn and too quick to throw her horns, I thought it a bit ironic that she’s named after the most common bewitching product of the dairy. She’s living up to her name, I suppose. I just hope I don’t have to try too many remedies to be rid of that witch peeking out from those growing horns. After all, she’s just a kid.