Fun facts about milk. Anybody up for some trivia. “Fun facts about milk” is my topic for today. We have fresh milk again and it is always a treat. There isn’t much milk at this point because Rosie is quite a small cow and it’s her first calf. I’ll talk more about that fun fact in a bit.
I want to take a minute and say welcome to all the new listeners and welcome back to the veteran homestead-loving regulars who stop by the FarmCast for every episode. I appreciate you all so much. I’m so excited to share with you what’s going on at the farm this week.
Our Virginia Homestead Life Updates
I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but spring is starting up here. We can still expect some colder days and our last frost date according to the USDA is April 15th. That’s more than a month away. Still, it is in the upper 60’s today and sunny. In short, it’s a beautiful spring day.
Before I get into the animal updates, I want to let you know that I just made a brand new cheese that I have never made before. It is still in progress. When I finish this podcast, it will be just about time to put it in the brine solution. Brining is a common method for adding salt to cheese. I’m so excited about this cheese. It is a semi-soft, washed rind cheese. Making it to the point of getting the curds in the molds was very quick and easy. Now the hard part begins. I have never made a rind with this much complexity.
If I am successful, I will have created a creamy, buttery cheese that will ooze and melt at room temperature similar to the way that a brie or camembert will ooze out of the skin. The difference is that there isn’t that skin – and that bloomy rind, mushroomy scent and flavor. This cheese will have a much firmer rind. We shall see how it goes. It’s a new adventure.
The sheep are out there milling about looking for every new blade of grass. And there is some out there. Sheep will eat hay, but they prefer fresh grass. It’s not readily available in the winter and they persevere with the hay. But any day you will find them out there seeking at least one blade of fresh grass. Well today they are finding a bit. Granted the blades of grass are few and far between, but there is a bit here and there.
As far as lambs, these beautiful ewes have less than three weeks left before they start giving birth. We anticipate this event every single year. You just can’t not love those little lambs bouncing around, jumping straight up and down in the early evening. Praying for this year to be as good as the last. We are looking for about 6 to 8 healthy lambs.
A couple of our cow girls are nearing the end of their gestation as well. We could see the next calf as early as two and a half weeks from now. In the coming days, we will begin to start walking the girls up to the milking shed every day. That reminds them of the path and what they need to do to cooperate with the process. Well, they also get a little treat while they are standing there, so that is probably their incentive as they have no care for the process. Walking them up every day also gives us the opportunity to more closely monitor their progress and general health. Any issues are easily spotted and we can respond quickly.
I don’t remember if I talked about this the last time, but we are looking at adding a couple of bred heifers or young cows that are bred and ready to deliver in April or May. That would help us out so much. We are trying to build a specific genetic makeup in all of our cows. We need the A2A2 genetics for our fresh milk herd share members. If you are not familiar with A2A2 milk, I did a podcast on the topic called “What is A2A2 Milk? You’ll find it on our website.
We also need the genetic trait for BB Kappa casein for making cheese. We have lots of A2A2 cows but we are missing the BB kappa casein trait. I believe the only one who has that genetic trait is also not A2A2. As we move forward, there will be significant changes in our herd. It will take the next five years or so for us to reach our goal of 100% A2A2 and 100% BB kappa casein.
I’m saving eggs to put in the incubator. I think I mentioned that we are giving the quail one more year to pay for themselves. So far so good. I actually have new customers that are buying the quail meat. That helps a lot. The eggs sell fairly well, but there is little profit in eggs. Just sayin . . .
Today I got the incubator down out of the storage area above the creamery. Tomorrow or the next day I will crank it up and the process of hatching those cute little quail babies will begin again.
Preparing the garden for spring is now on the agenda. There is quite a bit to do out there and these wonderful spring days are just the time to do it. I think beginning the tasks will be delayed a few days due to another project I will talk about in a moment.
Did I mention that I have 500 bare root strawberry plants coming soon? That’s right 500 strawberry plants. Scott loves jam in his yogurt and I’ve been out of strawberry jam for over a year. This year I plan to remedy that problem. And I’ll have some yummy jam for you guys as well.
I have lots of tomato plant starts already sprouting. Also, the basil and thyme are sprouting. It’s so good to be growing stuff again. I have five different herbs, two tomato varieties and eight varieties of pepper plants that I’ve got seeded. Again, only the tomatoes and a couple of herbs have sprouted so far. But I’m actually amazed that those seeds sprouted so quickly. I’ve never seen any of my seeds sprout before 6 or 7 days. These came up in 3 days. Something is going on right now in my growing area this year.
I have an amaryllis – actually there are three in that pot. They are all over 13 years old. They have moved with me a couple of times and have nearly died a couple of times. For the first time in 13 years, one of them bloomed. And she bloomed big. There were three primary blossoms and one that was a little late in coming out. That one is the only one left of the four.
I watched that stalk grow for days and days and days. Then as it started to open, I realized that it had been so long that I had no idea what color the bloom would be. I thought for sure it would be a deep red. Nope. It was white. At this point I’m thinking that the bulbs might be even more than 13 years old as I’m pretty sure that the last one I bought was red. Well, we shall see if any of the others bloom in the future.
A short note on the bees. I don’t talk about them much. We don’t give them a lot of attention. We have never robbed the honey. For quite a few years they have simply gone on with their business of keeping up their hive all on their own. However, it’s not looking good this time. We don’t know for sure yet, but we may have lost the hive this winter. It was a particularly long and cold winter and they may have not survived. We shall see. It was plenty warm enough today for them to be out and about. There are always a few guarding the door. There was nothing when I went out a little while ago. But maybe it is still too cold inside there. I’ll be very sad if we lose our bees. They pollinate our orchard trees and vegetable garden.
On a much happier note, the stairs to the storage area above the kitchen and creamery are currently under construction. What a blessing that will be when it is complete. It was quite the ordeal getting stuff up there. Scott attached a palette to the front forks on the tractor. We loaded it up with stuff and lifted the palette up to the door. A really, really, tall ladder was placed at the other door over the barn. Scott went in that door and came through the storage area to the door over the kitchen and creamery and started unloading the stuff off of the palette. It was a little disturbing seeing him stand on that palette while it was suspended in the air. But it held up just fine.
Getting stuff back down got a little easier a few days ago as Scott set up the scaffolding just under the door. A ladder to the scaffold and another ladder to the door made getting stuff down easier than getting it up there. However, the stairs will make it perfect.
Fun Facts About Milk
Let’s talk about milk. Let’s talk about fun facts about milk. The first thing is following up on what I said a little bit ago about Rosie being small and this being her first calf. Even had she been two years old which is the youngest target age of any cow to have her first calf, she still would not have reached her full size.
Amount of Milk
All cows generally have a bit of growing to do even after having their first calf. They produce significantly less milk with that first calf because their udder is still smaller than it will be when they reach their full height and size. So, when you are planning your milk needs, keep that in mind. The first year, she will produce perhaps 25% less milk than in her second and subsequent years. The amount of milk produced by her with her second calf is much more of an indication of how much milk she will produce on a regular basis.
A huge factor for us regarding how much milk we can expect to be able to use is that the calves need to get their share. Any milk cow will produce far more milk than a calf needs, but that doesn’t stop the calf from trying to drink absolutely as much as they can when given the chance. Every homestead and small dairy will have to manage how much milk the calves get.
Think about beef cattle. They nurse their calves as well but they don’t produce near as much milk. I think I read that beef cows produce about 1½ gallons of milk per day. A dairy cow is going to produce three to six gallons per day. Unless they are Holsteins and those cows are pushed to the limit producing 10 to 20 gallons per day. Anyway, we feed our calves 1 gallon of milk per day to start and then bump that up to 2 gallons per day as they get a little bigger.
Planning Milk Distribution
We do separate our calves from the moms and then bottle feed them. It is a rough three days but then everyone adjusts and all are happy and content once again. Another method that we may try at some point is separating the calves from their moms overnight. We milk in the morning and then the calves get everything else after that. I’m hesitant to try that method as it is important for the cows to be milked out completely twice a day for the proper balance in the milk for cheesemaking. I won’t go into the scientific details, but making cheese is best done with a real consistency in the milk. These are all choices you make when you choose the homestead or small dairy lifestyle.
I hope to help educate also that anthropomorphizing cows is not useful. They do not have anything remotely like human thoughts and emotions. In know we tend to feel for them as if they were human but they are not. The separating of the calf from the cow does not cause any lasting damage to the psyche of either the cow or the calf. It just doesn’t. Man was created to have dominion over the animals and plants and the land. We must care for our plants, animals and their living environment. We must be kind to them. We must nurture them. But in the end, plants, animals and the environment are not human and human emotions are not applicable.
That is a little bit of a deviation from the topic, but it is an important point to make. Often, I let my emotions get in the way and I feel bad for the animals on their behalf. In the end, it’s a useless pursuit. My method for dealing with this tendency is to allow myself to acknowledge it, feel it and then grasp the reality of it. Removing a calf from its mother does not leave the same kind of deep and perpetual emotional scar for the cow and calf that losing a human child produces in us human beings. It just doesn’t. Okay, moving on from that topic.
Amount of milk – the curve
When a cow comes into milk, there is a production curve that is pretty consistent. There are four phases in a milking cow’s cycle. There is an early, mid and late lactation period and then there is the dry period. In the early part of the cycle, her milk production will increase, reaching its peak in 60 days or so. Then the milk production begins to drop off ending up just about where it started. Then we “dry” them up. Basically. we systematically stop milking the cow and she produces less and less milk. We don’t use this milk for making cheese. It can cause some really strange things to occur in an otherwise stable cheesemaking plan.
Amount of Cream
The amount of cream will change during the lactation cycle. I tried to get some reliable information on the cycle of cream and could not find any. I surmise the reason is the same reason that standardization was instituted and now no one even thinks about it. Milk was standardized to have a specific amount of cream content.
Standardized whole milk in the grocery is 3.5% milk fat. The milk is homogenized and that process keeps the cream suspended in the milk. In fresh milk from your cow, the cream will rise to the top and separate from the milk. You can see the exact place in the jar where the cream stops and the milk begins. This is known as the “cream line”. It goes up and down during the lactation cycle. Mom can control cream somewhat and even hold some back for her calf. Nutrition will affect the amount of cream but the biggest factor in determining how much cream your fresh milk has is the breed of animal you are milking.
Before standardization, customers were getting varying cream lines in their delivered to their door. I’m actually old enough to remember the milk truck coming at 4:30 or so in the morning and delivering fresh milk to the door. We lived in Michigan and, in the winter, if you didn’t get up and get the milk, it would freeze and break the glass jars. This happened at least once in my childhood. Anyway, to promote customer satisfaction, standards were introduced to ensure that everyone got their fair share of cream. Homogenization removed the cream line from memory and it has become a distant memory.
Normande and Jersey Cow Cream
Jersey cows are a favorite in lots of small dairies and homestead settings. They have a very deep cream line, far exceeding that 3.5% fat content on your store-bought, pasteurized, homogenized milk. I’ve seen our Normande cows produce a cream line that was about 2 cups out of an 8-cup half-gallon mason jar. Even for the jersey and our Normandes, sometimes there is more cream and sometimes less. But there will always be more cream in the jar of milk from our Normande and Jersey cows than any Holstein cow. Holsteins are the black and white cows we associate with milk these days. It seems that every picture of a milk cow is one of the black and white Holstein variety.
Perhaps some of you are as old as me and remember Elsie the cow. She was the cartoon brand image for Borden from the 1930s all the way up to the 1990s when Borden was bought by JM Smucker Company and the milk was rebranded, Eagle Brand. Elsie was a brown cow. When they decided to have a live “Elsie” appear at the world’s fair in 1939, the cow chosen was from a Jersey herd. She even had horns just like the picture. You don’t see many modern pictures of milk cows with horns. They do still exist all over the place – Holsteins, Jerseys and our Normandes all can have horns. It’s all about branding. Holstein cows produce the majority of milk in the United States and the pictures of milk cows reflect that change. But I still love Elsie.
Flavors in Milk Throughout the Lactation Cycle
The last fun fact about milk that I want to bring up is the unique tastes that pastured dairy cows bring to their milk. I can always taste the grass in fresh milk from our cows. Well, not so much right now as they are eating hay. But when the grass comes in, there can be a definite “grassy” taste to the milk. It is very refreshing in the spring when we are starved for green things. I really, really crave salad this time of year. It’s the only time of year that I crave salad. I’m not a big salad eater. But late winter brings out that craving in my body for fresh green things.
Another fun thing that grows in the spring that cows love to eat is wild onions. We actually have some growing out there right now. Our property does not have a lot of wild onions and I am thankful for that. Unlike the grassy taste, the onion taste simply does not go well with milk in my opinion. However, it does make an interesting cheese. So, there is that.
The grasses that cows eat change throughout the year. There are spring grasses, summer grasses and fall grasses. Then there is dried grass or hay in the winter. Each of these types of grass affect the taste of our fresh milk and our handmade cheeses. The milk you get in the grocery store doesn’t have that wonderful bouquet of aromas and flavors as those cows are fed a very regulated grain diet. They don’t get to eat grass. Nope. They eat various grains and what is called silage. All of this produces a specific milk flavor that is consistent. There are no seasonal changes in the taste of the milk. And then there is that distinct cooked flavor of pasteurized milk. If that is all you drink, you will never notice it. However, if you drink fresh milk for a period of time and then take a sip of store-bought pasteurized milk, you will definitely notice the difference.
Well, that is it for today’s podcast. We are eagerly anticipating the spring birthing of plants and animals. It is a wonderful time of year. My favorite time of year is spring. I know, I know. We are still 10 days away from spring. But I’m there. I’m so ready.
Let me know if you enjoyed the milk trivia. And drop me a line if you have questions or if I can answer any other questions for you about milk, cheese or any other dairy product.
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Thank you so much for stopping by the homestead and until next time, may God fill your life with grace and peace.
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