For over a year, we’ve been buying our milk through a “herd share,” which, thanks to anti-food-sovereignty legislation (you could say it’s health and safety legislation, but that’s what it amounts to – anti-food-sovereignty) is the only way to legally obtain raw milk in Michigan – to own the cows. One can’t simply buy the milk from the farm, no – one must own or lease the cows themselves. Silliness. But ok, at least we have access to raw milk, unlike some states in which even herd shares are illegal.
I’ve become so spoiled on this amazing, whole, raw, organic, thick, creamy stuff that the idea of going back to the thin, dead, grey, homogenized store-bought “milk” is disgusting. My body recognizes the whole milk for the real food it is, and makes good use of it. As our milk group leader said on the phone today, “my body just knows what to do with it.” Indeed. She had called to connect to someone in the group to commiserate in real time – she was as stunned as I was, because…
Yesterday, we received word the owners of our farm are taking “a sabbatical, indefinitely.” As in, No More Milk.
There are a few other herd shares in our state, but they may not have room for us – we’re currently on a waiting list until mid-June for one, when they’ll let us know if they can take our group. I’m busily phoning others to see what their practices and availability are.
This is just devastating news. Some in our milk group cried when they heard, and I darn near did myself. I’ve been in a funk, silently throwing a “NOT FAIR!!!” temper tantrum in my head, irrationally angry at the (wonderful) family who runs the farm. They need a break, and it’s their right to take it; being mad at them won’t change anything, and just makes it harder for me to be productive.
So here I am, wondering what to do.
Two nights ago, before we heard the news, The Engineir had mentioned something about Having Cows. He wasn’t even adamantly opposed to the idea! I’ve gone back and forth in my head about whether I want to make that leap into Livestock and Daily Milking Responsibilities in our current situation.
A cow would be Too Much (and we’re not legally able to have one on a plot our size,) but goats… maybe.
We only have 2 acres. While we could use a big chunk of our back yard for a goat pasture , I’m just not sure I’m ready for having to milk a dairy animal every day, in perpetuity.
Some of you might say, “but Erin, you really don’t have to do it that way! Why, just peruse this great article by Chickens in the Road author, Suzanne, or this one by Jill!” Jill even says, “I was intimidated before we got our goats, but it’s easier than you think (and so much fun!) ”
The trouble is this – I don’t want to breed our potential animals. I have… ethical issues.
First, I know that for me, for now, I cannot raise my own meat. I become very emotionally attached to my wards, and the idea of that final betrayal is something I just can’t get on board with.
While goat may be delicious (I’ve never actually had it,) I cannot envision raising and loving an animal and then killing and eating it. It is a personal shortcoming I can’t get past. I respect people who can, but it’s just not who I am. So we’d have an increasing number of goats each year.
Thus, we pay a nearby organic, humane farm to raise, slaughter and butcher our meat, and we pay them very well to do it. This is the only place I’ll eat meat from – as a recently “reformed” vegetarian, I still am not 100% comfortable with it, but it’s working. The meat is absolutely delicious, hormone- and antibiotic-free, organic, pasture-fed and the animals are treated with respect to the end.
“Ok, so don’t eat the progeny – sell them. Or keep them!”
You’d think that would be the logical conclusion, right? And maybe it would be. However, when I take responsibility for a life, I take it very seriously. I’m not someone who could blithely sell a goat kid to a random stranger and be comfortable with it. Should adversity, abuse, neglect or worse come to the animal, I would feel that burden. I’d have to carefully interrogate each prospective owner, do a home check, et cetera (much like some dog breeders do) before I’d be comfortable.
I’d be willing to do that, and would have to trust that I wasn’t being completely scammed. It’s stewing in my brain.
As to the second point, “keep them,” that would be ideal for me – see them through from birth to death. The trouble is the amount of land we have. Just over two acres seems ample enough for our modest needs, but throw four or six or more animals onto it, and it’s insufficient. Our neighbors would probably not approve, either, and we don’t want hostility on either front there.
Personally, I would love to have More Land. And barns – man, how I love a good barn! – but we are where we are (and it’s lovely and wonderful,) and we’re not made of money.
With me not working to take care of my mother, our income was reduced by about a third. We’re surviving, and surviving comfortably, but if our bills were to increase (for example, with a larger mortgage for more property,) everything would likely come tumbling down. We’re “stuck” here for awhile, years.
I never imagined our existing dairy farm would just up and close its doors – it didn’t even occur to me. They’ve been operating for years, they’re very successful and have an incredibly loyal and enthusiastic customer base… surely they’d keep on keeping on, right?
Nope. Sucks to be us.
This brings the idea of food sovereignty back to mind – taking responsibility for one’s own food to the greatest extent possible, instead of depending upon the complicated industrial food market to take care of us. While owning a portion of a dairy herd is a step in the right direction, ultimately, what happens there is out of our hands to a large degree.
I’m going to quietly look around for a local dairy farmer, one who might not advertise, to see what success I might have there. Failing that… I might, maybe, take my goat-expert friend, Sarah, up on her offer to help me shop for a goat.
And when I say, “a goat,” I actually mean, “two goats,” because one goat would be lonely and miserable.
I rather like goats – they’re cute, they’re intelligent, they’re clever, they’re inquisitive.
Two doors down, there is a small goat herd and a llama – but they have ten acres. I see their little herd from our back yard and I am wistful and a bit jealous. They have at least two kids over there now, just a few weeks old, and I hear them bleating at times.
The thought has crossed my mind that we could probably pick up cheap acreage (without a house attached) within a few minutes’ drive; however, part of the pleasure of owning livestock comes from keeping their company. And given sometimes the walk to the garden (about 200 feet away) is “too much of a hassle,” I can only see having to drive to our animals ending in disaster.
There are many appealing aspects to having a goat, or goats… they’re adorable and fun and make delicious goat’s milk. But to get said milk, one must, y’know, milk the goat at least once per day. What if we go on vacation? The chickens can be shut up in their coop for a week at a time without serious repercussions, but a dairy animal must be milked.
Since we lost Henry and Chickenhead several weeks ago, I’ve been pondering whether to add more chickens to the flock, or to simply be content with three hens. Three provide enough eggs for us, and a few to share.
Three hens are quite comfortable in the 30′ x 30′ fenced-in area (as it currently stands,) and in their little coop house. Three is fine.
But a part of me longs for More Than Three.
I have a medium-sized list of friends who would like to buy eggs from me, and I have a strong yearning to being a part of the food sovereignty chain in our area. Providing healthy, nutritious, organic food to people I care about holds a deep appeal.
We’d need to build a bigger coop house. There would be more cleaning up and a bit more expense. But also more “egg money.”
Were I not taking care of my mother, I could pour all of my time and energy into converting more of our yard into food production, set up a tiny CSA-type thing and really get into it. I suppose I could just as easily say, “were I an Albanian jet pilot” that could happen, too. (yes, it borders on the Adriatic, Kirby.)
Honestly, I can so easily envision myself working on a small farm all day and being completely and utterly content. I know it’s hard work, and I know what it’s like to have to go outside in the shittiest of weather because there are animals depending upon me. But in order for that to happen, it has to be My Life. I feel I have to commit to it 100% in order to succeed.
Toward this someday goal, I may try a roadside veggie stand this summer. I’m not certain I’ll have enough produce to even warrant it, but we’ll see. There are several similar home stands along our country roads, all with self-serve boxes to drop cash or check into, completely on the honor system.
But because my brain keeps going back to goats, and because I like knowing my options, today I went over to the township hall and summoned the ever-pleasant Wanda; she’s my zoning guru. Since the township zoning ordinances on their website were offline, I had to prevail upon her to check them for me. She gladly did so, and when she came back with, “you can do it!” she gave me a big grin.
It turns out we can have a goat. Not only a goat…. but TWENTY goats (or sheep.) I don’t think we’ll need quite that many (as a side note, I also wanted to double-check how many chickens we can legally house, since I was thinking of upping the flock – we can also have up to 100 chickens! Holy! Again, we don’t need quite that many.)
So. We have the ability to have goats.
We just have to decide… do we really want them? We’d have to build a small barn, fence everything in securely, build a milking stanchion, purchase a bit of equipment, buy grain, hay and straw… goodness.
It all seems pretty simple in my head, but everything always does. The devil is in the details.
I’m fortunate to have Sarah as a resource, should we decide we want to have them. She’s recommended the following breeds: LaMancha, Alpine, Oberhasli and Saanen. All are excellent milking breeds with good temperaments. The LaManchas kind of freak me out a little bit… because they have no external ears. Check it out:
The Engineir remarked, quite correctly, “they look like little dinosaurs!”
Sarah is going to take me out to meet some goats in the near future, and she thinks the LaManchas might not freak me out in person, because they’re so sweet.
The ever-resourceful, ever-wonderful Barbara may also have a potential raw milk source for me. I’m not completely despairing yet… yet.
In the meanwhile, I should focus on getting everything planted in the garden (goat manure is great compost!) despite the fricking MONSOON SEASON we’re having up here in Michigan. Climate change is real, people. All of us in the midwest are living it right now; fortunately, we in Michigan are just getting slammed with mad showers, and not insane tornadoes like those farther south.
Or, I could clean the house.
Or, I could go to the museum.
Or, I could do any of a zillion things… had I the energy right now. Instead, I shall gaze contemplatively out the window, through the rain, at the giant pile of dirt that is now completely soaked and that will have to be slogged into the new raised beds, and ponder having two goats frolicking in the yard, helping The Engineir have less lawn to mow.