LEARNING – from cow to cheese

I knew before I arrived that there would be milking going on at this farm. This was not the only factor in my decision to come, but it did play a significant role. Milking a cow is one of many items on my Life’s To-Do List, and now I can call that one – accomplished.

Prior to my arrival, I had this romantic notion of milking. I envisioned myself sitting on a tiny wooden three legged stool, milking the cows by hand into an old tin bucket. The rhythm of the milking and the scent of earthy cow lulling me into a pioneer daydream. I thought it would be like Little House on the Prairie or the Amish, but it was not…

They got machines in these here parts. Milking machines. You still have to do a fair bit of work, but it goes much faster than milking each cow individually by hand. The whole process from set up to clean up, for all four cows, takes about an hour with two people helping (a bit longer when all alone). Not too bad.


How To Milk A Cow

We start in the house and take all of the necessary equipment out to the barn via wheelbarrow. Equipment includes: the portable milking machine, the container for the milk, and a small bucket of warm water with several drops of tea tree oil.

Once we are out to the barn, one person starts setting up while the other person goes out to get the cows. The person who is setting up has the easy job. All that setting up entails is putting some grain in the troughs at the two milking stations, and opening the gate of the holding pen so the cows can go in. That’s it. Then you sit and wait.

The cows are out in the pasture. Bad Bull is behaving himself today and is far away.

The person who has to go get the cows has a little more work to do. The cows are out in the pasture and are moved a little further everyday. So you walk out, being careful to mind the steaming piles of cow dung that seem to be everywhere, and try to get the cows to come back to the barn with you. Sounds simple, right? Sometimes they come very easily and sometimes, especially when they are lying down, they take a lot of prodding. Usually a few slaps on the rump get them up and on their way. There is also a bull to watch out for. They call him Bad Bull for good reason. He is separated by an electric fence, but that little string doesnt seem like much proteciton when he is huffing and charging and looking like he could spear you like a pitch fork. Once you get the cows moving, while avoiding the angry stare of the bull, you follow them back to the barn side stepping the seemingly continuous flow of manure.

While following the cows to the barn, be sure to watch your step.

Back at the barn the cows know what to do and they know their order too. The first two cows, Blacky and Precious, get into position while the other two, Loony and Mickey, wait in the holding pen. The cows are busy munching on the grains and get linked to the troughs with a chain so that they don’t run off or over you mid-milking.

Blacky on the left and Precious on the right.

Next it’s time to wash the udders and teets with the warm water and tea tree oil. Gotta get all the poo and other gross things off so it doesn’t go into the milk. After they are clean, you get the milk started with a few squirts and then hook up the machines. Precious and Mickey get the portable machine and Blacky and Loony get the machine that stays in the barn.

Mickey on the left and Loony on the right.

The machines are powered by an air compressor, so you turn that on and then hook up the machines. Simply stick one sucker on each teet and presto – your’e milking. It only takes five or so minutes to milk them – then you detach the machine, detach the cow, and move onto the next two.

This is me attaching the portable milking machine to Mickey.

The milk from the portable machine gets transferred to the milk container after filling up the barn cats milk bowl. There are a few cats and many kitties vying for a spot at the rim – watch you don’t pour the milk on their heads. Next, you put out more grain for the last two cows and start the whole process over again.

The cats anxiously await their milk everyday.

After all the cows are finished it’s time to clean up. One person stays in the barn and the other takes the milk and portable machine back to the house. If you are the person in barn, you clean the machine by running hot soapy water through and then rinsing with cold water. Then you sweep out the barn and hope that none of the cows left any presents for you (those are gross to clean up and require more than a broom).

The last two cows are leaving the barn.

If you are the person who goes to the house, you do one of two things with the milk. Sometimes the milk is separated into cream and skim, other times the milk is just kept as is.

Wheeling the milk back to the house.

To use the separator, first you strain the milk and then add it to the machine that magically (through centrifugal force) separates out the cream. The cream is kept and the skim is fed to pigs (they love it and get a little perturbed when they don’t get it). When you are simply keeping the whole milk, it is again strained and then measured by liter into jugs.

Separating the cream from the milk.

Almost done. You just need to wash everything with hot soapy water. Wahbam! You have successfully milked a cow (or four). Yay!


How To Make Cheese

When there is extra milk sometimes they make cheese. Fortunately I was here for one of these sometimes days. It takes a lot of milk to make a little cheese. We decided to make Farmhouse Cheese, how fitting.

The recipe for the cheese.

The process of making cheese is actually very simple. First you must heat the milk to a nice and balmy 98° F. Once it’s heated you add a few things to the mix: rennet, mesophilic culture, and some salt. Then it sits for about an hour until the curd separates from the whey.

First you must heat the milk.

You can tell the curd is ready when you can get a ‘clean break’ with your spoon. Then you ladle out thin slices of the curd into the draining containers.

The curd is ready when you can get a clean break like this.

Ladling the curd out of the vat and into the containers.

I missed the last part of the cheese making process due to my unfortunate bout with stomach flu (read about that lovely day here). Fortunately, the rest of the process is very simple. It takes a bit of time for all the whey to drain from the curd and for the curd to compact into a cheese like consistency. This cheese drained overnight and by the next day it looked like this!

The finished product. Yumm!

It was soft and tangy and just a tiny bit sour. Pretty good for such a simple process and considering it went from cow to table in a matter of days, amazingly fresh and delicious.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into farm life.

One last word of wisdom. If you are a milk drinker and there is any way for you to get fresh raw milk from a local dairy – DO IT! You will not be disappointed, and will be so much healthier too.


Thanks for reading!

– Rene

10 responses to “LEARNING – from cow to cheese

  1. cool to see the process in action. I love cheese and got to visit some dairy farms and cheese factories in several states. Hope you are enjoying it.

  2. That was so interesting.. while I am not a “milk lover”, I love this process and the cheese does look Yummy!!

    • Thanks for the comment Lynne. I am not usually a milk lover either but when in Rome – yada yada. I was amazed at how much healthier it is to drink raw
      milk as opposed to the pasteurized and homogenized stuff they sell at the store. In fact most people who are lactose intolerant can drink raw milk just fine. Very interesting. – Rene

  3. I made cheese like that once…….back in my hippie days.
    Now you’ve empowered me to try my hand at it again.

  4. Ahhh, fresh milk, fresh cheese – what more could a girl need 🙂
    Cool post – I never realised there were portable milking machines. How very handy!
    I’ve only just recently found a source for rennet… but am now in the middle of moving home and don’t quite have all my pots to hand. The minute we are all reunited (and I’ve found a local dairy) I’m going to get stuck in to cheese-making. I love it!

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