Monday, November 24, 2008

If I can get down to the barn about a half hour before Rachel and Henry in the mornings, I can have Buttercup milked out before Henry starts chasing the cats and serenading her with the "Buttercup Song". Once these activities commence, she starts dancing in her stanchion while watching all the excitement going on around her. I don't usually make it down quite that early though. Milking a cow who's dancing the two-step is a challenge, first because I have to keep the bucket underneath her, and second because she's a clumsy dancer who steps on her partner's feet. I can now attest that having a cow step on your foot doesn't necessarily mean that you'll have to amputate a mangled toe (as happened to my uncle Frank). But it doesn't feel particularly good, either.

For most people, spending an hour each morning and evening *every day* to milk a cow sounds like a nightmare. I have to admit that I was one of those people, and may yet be one again. Maybe it's just the honeymoon phase, or perhaps Buttercup is secreting some mind-altering substance into her milk, but I actually enjoy it. The actual milking time for the cow is 20 minutes, and 10 minutes for the goat (only one is still being milked right now). The rest of the time is used up getting their feed or filtering, bottling, chilling the milk, or cleaning milk pails.

I'm still learning to deal with things like thieving goats and frozen bottles of teat-dip, but haven't found any of it to be unbearable. Mary-Kate is the more rambunctious of the two goats, and has learned that every open gate is an opportunity which can't be passed up. If the opportunity looks like it'll be cut short by an attentive faux-farmer like myself, it only means you have to run faster than the farmer does.

Previously, when I opened the outside door to let Buttercup into the barn, Mary Kate would sneak in to flip the lid off of the garbage can we use for storing grain, inhaling it as quickly as she could before I could yank her away. She has it down to a science now, and can flip the lid off without even pausing, using her front teeth. Being smarter than a goat, I've figured out that I have to close the outside door to the goat stall before I open the door for Buttercup. But sometimes I still have to open the gate to bring water or scoop a cowpie from the goat's stall (Buttercup comes in during the day and steals their hay if we don't give her enough, leaving telltale signs to step in). I had to open the gate twice at this evening's milking, and Mary Kate didn't let either opportunity go by.

Ashley, our other goat, is a gentler soul, but she's not above stealing a few bites of grain. She used one of the open gate opportunities to make her move, and ran for the grain can. I think she saw us using the handle on the top of the lid, and was trying to do the same thing without success by the time I caught up to her. Mary Kate used Ashley's diversion to steal a few bites of hay from the bale we keep outside their pen. Eventually, if I really am smarter than a goat, I'm hoping to have a theft-free evening. Hopefully the goats don't figure out how to operate the gate latches before then.

All the animals seem to like to congregate around the barn during milking time. The cats always show up, knowing that they may get their milk-bowl filled up. The chickens have decided that the barn makes a luxurious coop when it's cold and snowy everywhere else, although I try to discourage this behavior. A couple days ago, I checked on the goat's hay feeder and found an egg sitting in it, but usually they make the trek back to the chicken coop to lay. Although Memphis (our dog) is very mild mannered around the cow, Buttercup is convinced she's a wolf, and lowers her horns if Memphis gets too close. I'm not sure what she thinks of the cats. One day, I held Meowy over the fence while Buttercup came up and licked her, so they must not seem too threatening. Burrito the cat often plays with a wiggling stem of hay in Buttercup's trough while she eats.

With our newfound abundance of milk, Rachel is making more cheese. Her mozzarella is turning out well now (using the "30 minute" recipe which takes about 90 minutes), and she made her first hard-cheese; a round of Gouda which is now aging in our basement for the next 3 months.

The first weekend after we brought Buttercup home, I rented a Bobcat with a trencher tool (looks like a huge chainsaw blade) to lay some water and electrical wire out to the barn. The recommended depth out here is 4 feet, to avoid freezing the waterline. The ditcher worked beautifully for the first half of the 125' run, but the sandy soil started caving in for the second half, forcing Rachel and I to re-dig the ditch by hand. A couple days after I filled the ditch back in, the snow started, and has covered the ground ever since.

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