This is the fifth in a series of articles on our progress in devising a resilient food strategy. Monday we talked about bread and grains; Tuesday we dealt with vegetables; yesterday our focus was fruits; today our focus is on milk, yogurt, and cheese.
We’ve done less thinking about this group than any other category save fats and sweets. From time to time we’ve tinkered around with owning a milk cow, but the conversation has never been serious. The size of a milk cow seems frightening, for starters. A mature Holstein weighs in at about 1400 lb. So if the family cow needs attention, there’ll be no loading her up in the back of the pickup truck to take her to the vet. We’ll just have to wait for the vet to come see us.
That doesn’t mean we could never own a cow, of course. Amanda’s Mom grew up with a cow in her back yard in Troy, AL. Cows are docile, good grazers, and can produce milk reliably for years. We may decide at some point that keeping a cow makes sense for us. When and if we do, however, we’ll need to provide suitable pasture (right now we have none) and indoor protection from the cold. We read from time to time about allowing cows to graze in the forest, but the jury is still out on whether that’s an acceptable practice.
So owning a cow seems unlikely to be a near-term strategy. Dairy goats seem more within the realm of possibility. Goats browse readily in wooded areas, although they need to be moved to fresh areas all the time and are escape artists of the first order, so the fences (or other measures) for confining them need to be robust. Goats are curious and friendly, so there’s a cuteness factor that we must consider. Milking a goat is less daunting than milking a cow, because the goat is smaller. We don’t expect to keep any males on hand (they stink and are more belligerent), so we would need to interact regularly with someone who has a stable of males available. And we would need to be constantly vigilant to protect their health. For all their vaunted willingness to eat anything, goats aren’t all that hardy. They succumb easily to pests, disease, and other ailments.
The problem we face whenever we move from our present farming to incorporating livestock is the requirement that somebody be here all the time, or at least that somebody spend considerable time here every day. That’s a material increase in our commitment to the farm and to the farming process. Here and now, I would have to say we’re not ready for that, not only because it would keep us more tied down to the farm but also because it would require that we acquire a whole new skill set at a time when we’re still early in the learning curve for growing plants. We’ll hold off on the cows and goats at least for a while.
We don’t absolutely have to have milk. Any vegan knows that the human body can get along just fine without dairy products. So as in many things, this comes down to a question of the preference Amanda and I have for milk on our cereal, for yogurt in Amanda’s lunches, and for cheese. We could omit it from our diet if necessary and get our calcium from collards, broccoli, and turnip greens, but we’d rather not.
If we could buy raw milk, we could at least make our own yogurt and cheese. We’re always on the lookout for raw milk available for purchase, but the dairy lobby has made the purchase of raw milk extremely difficult, and there are precious few dairy farmers in central Alabama. Our understanding is that any dairy farmer who sells us raw milk would have to do so on the basis of a tacit (or stated) understanding that we’re using it to feed all our cats. So we fear that, at least for the time being, we’re stuck spending money off the farm for dairy products. Not much of a plan for resilience, is it? I’m giving us a D rather than an F simply because dairy products are not essential for our survival.
Strengths: plenty of land for browsing for goats
Weaknesses: Not willing to stay on the farm all the time to care for livestock, lack of pasture land for cows
Key Projects: Find raw milk available for purchase
Overall grade: D
Tomorrow’s focus: (5) Meat, beans, and nuts