We’ve Got Milk!
Since the day Essie gave birth to her twins on March 18, we have made repeated attempts to milk her. Each time we failed to obtain more than a few drizzles of milk. Perhaps she was too inexperienced to be comfortable with the milking process or she was holding back her milk for her kids. Good mothers have been known to resist being milked by anyone other than her own babies. Whatever the real reason was, we knew it would take some time to make her comfortable with the milking process.
I began by bringing her in to the milking stand in the mornings for a pleasant brushing of her coat. She was always reluctant to jump onto the stand—perhaps because she could see through the metal mesh that serves as the stand’s platform. I thought about placing a sheet of plywood on it so that it would appear to be safer for her to jump onto, but I knew that the mesh platform was used for a purpose—to allow urine to pass through and away from the milk should she need to pee during milking. Since I want my miking process to be as sanitary as possible, I decided that Essie would just have to get used to the mesh platform.
Essie’s learning process is requiring a lot of time and patient effort. Fortunately, I knew I had several weeks to work with her before she would begin weaning her kids, and I would have to begin milking her twice daily to keep her in milk production. I decided to begin by leading her to the milking stand every morning and getting her onto it to eat some tasty goat treats (which she loved) and a good brushing. At first, she wouldn’t even try to jump up onto the stand. I had to lift her front legs onto it, let her come to the realization that it would support her weight, and then lift her hind legs. After a brief meal and some brushing, she would settle down, but she was reluctant to back up so she could pull her head out of the stanchion. I think she wasn’t sure she had room to back up without falling off. However, after several days of repeated work and reassurance, she eventually became comfortable jumping up onto the stand (after I lifted her front legs onto it) and jumping off by herself.
Once I felt that she was becoming more comfortable with the milking stand, I tried to milk her again on the morning of Tuesday, April 6. I had noticed when I fed the goats for the evening on April 5 that one of Essie’s udders felt quite firm because it was full of milk. Apparently, the kids hadn’t fed from that udder during the day, and I was concerned she might be trying to wean them early or had some discomfort in that udder—perhaps a case of mastitis. I decided I needed to at least strip-test that udder in the morning and milk it down if the strip test was clear. I was relieved to learn that she did not have mastitis, but she surprised me by producing more than three cups of milk from that one udder. She eventually gave me 4.25 cups of milk from both udders that morning, and has produced at least 2.5 cups or more each morning since. Although this level of milk production is far less than her potential, I can’t expect her to achieve her full production until she weans the two kids that are feeding from her. Even so, the consistency of her morning production gives me hope that she will eventually produce between one-half and one gallon per day. A superior dairy goat will produce a gallon of milk per day, and I am very hopeful Essie will eventually reach that peak within another month or so.
Now that we are getting a small flow of milk every day, Barb has begun freezing small packages of it to use in making our goat soap. We were beginning to run low on the milk we froze and stored away from our prior milking operation in 2017. Milking Essie is giving us an opportunity to rebuild that inventory so that we can continue producing soap from our own goat milk at least through 2024, when we will obtain the additional income we would need for full retirement. As her production increases over time, we can also begin using our farm fresh goat milk to resume making other milk products, including cream, butter, and the rich, delicious ice cream we previously enjoyed. Until then, I am again enjoying at least one glass of fresh, unprocessed milk for breakfast every morning. As we proved during our prior milking operation, our farm fresh goat milk has no off-taste that would make it easy for an average uninformed consumer to immediately realize that it was not store-bought milk. It obviously isn’t making me sick by drinking it again, and I look forward to the day when we can stop buying any milk from the store. If our government leaders cannot get beyond all the COVID restrictions they have imposed and the expanding commercial product supply shortages begin to affect the price and availability of essential milk products, we will be well positioned to serve our own basic needs.
On a related but disappointing note, it now appears that our WV Farm Fresh Dairy Act bill will not be adopted again this legislative session. We were encouraged by our Senate leaders, Dave Sypolt and Patricia Rucker, that our chances for adoption would be much better this year because of a Republican super-majority in the House, Senate, and Governor’s office. Although we have obtained bipartisan support for our bill during each of the three consecutive sessions that it was introduced, the vast majority of our support has come from the Republican party. Our supporters worked hard to speak with as many Delegates and Senators as we could to solidify our support, but it was not enough. Once again, we greatly appreciate all of the dedicated, vocal support that we received from Senators Sypolt and Rucker and from Delegate John Paul Hott. I want to make it absolutely clear that I implicitly trust their demonstrated integrity in supporting our cause. I simply can’t casually accept or condone the lack of meaningful communication and consideration that we have received from our state agencies and legislature.
Although we have garnered a lot of support from elected state officials (as well as average citizens) who understand and value our state’s dairy heritage and our traditional self-reliant lifestyle pursuits, I must admit that I am deeply dismayed with the lack of substantive results that our administrative leaders and elective bodies appear to accomplish. I firmly and resolutely believe in a government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people, but our government leaders seem to be incapable of figuring out how to give it to us. Despite all of the determined efforts we made over the past five years and three legislative sessions to answer their questions and rationally defend the integrity of our bill, many of them get hung up on the exact same issues over and over again. It is clear that they don’t understand the information we give them, aren’t willing to consider the counsel we try to give them, or are just resistant or unwilling to entertain any alternative perspective. Any one of these explanations may the source of our communication problems, but their repeated failures make it plainly clear that they are not listening to what we have tried to tell them.
West Virginia is a small, rural state. I moved here with the assumption that our system of government would be more receptive to and supportive of the most fundamental needs and concerns of our citizens. After living here for at least thirteen years now, I can assert with absolute confidence that nothing could be further from the truth. My recent experience trying to work with our state leaders only convinces me that they appear to take a paternal attitude towards their role in serving our citizens. Once we submitted our bill to them, written, edited, and fully prepared or adoption, we lost any constructive ability to know what was happening to it or to effectively defend it. It’s as though our leaders perceive us as children who don’t understand our own needs and assume they are the parents who will decide that for us. I say this because they have failed to let me know where our bill stands at any point in time, do not encourage us to speak before them to explain or defend our bill, and quibble among themselves behind closed doors over what they should do. State department heads and lobbyists have more direct influence over our legislators than any average citizen can, which is a situation that is common in most, if not all, other states. It just seems far less appropriate or necessary in such a rural state as ours. I don’t know how they can expect me to have any different impression, based on the way we have been treated by them.
Let me make myself very clear. I recognize and accept that the bill we submitted for introduction is highly controversial. I have admitted and explained that in many previous posts going back to the very first introduction in 2019. I also accept and understand that there are many other bills and issues that are more immediately important than our bill. However, our legislature found plenty of time in the 2021 session to swiftly adopt a bill that made the Pepperoni Roll the official state food of West Virginia. I would certainly like to know how they ever managed to resolve the intensely controversial issue of whether the “official” state Pepperoni Roll should be made from sliced or stick pepperoni. It is our understanding that the original pepperoni roll that is attributed to West Virginia was made with stick pepperoni, which we find produces more juices during baking that helps flavor the roll. I certainly can’t understand why our bill has to take a back seat to their pepperoni roll legislation. After all, what would make a pepperoni roll taste better than a glass of cold, farm fresh milk?
The experiences I have had over the past five years trying to work cooperatively with affected interests, state department officials, and our elected representatives has only convinced me that they have no sincere, collective interest in or concern for our most basic issues and needs. Despite all my well-intentioned efforts to respectfully and sensibly engage them, they act as though they know for themselves what is and isn’t important, and they are not at all hesitant to decide and dictate what that is. If this is what we call a model representative democracy, please don’t expect me to explain, justify or defend it. If our legislators continue to ignore our needs, I see no reason not to ignore them. I will not stop representing the issues I have advocated over the past five years because they have beaten me down. I will simply find another way to circumvent the edicts they refuse to reconsider. After all, I have worked with laws, regulations and ordinances for more than thirty years of my adult life, and I have met few who are more capable of finding loopholes in ill-conceived and indefensible regulations that am I. I’m just tired of and aggravated by the utter futility of helping legislators understand how to serve our needs. There has to be a better way to do what is right than the broken and dysfunctional bureaucratic system of government we have created. I hope you can understand and empathize with my concerns and frustrations. Our Essie deserves better, even if I don’t.