GET OUT: Goats and glory

By on September 24, 2014

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Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Growing up in suburbia, opportunities to grow and produce my own food didn’t readily present themselves. Housed in a brightly lit store, meat was wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam; produce was perfectly shaped and colored and stacked in symmetrical pyramids. Everything lacked taste and soul. But an awakening in my generation, aided by social media and a healthy dose of curiosity and adventure, has introduced me to microagriculture and locavorism – movements inspired by a desire to get our hands dirty and take back control of our food supply. Today, my Facebook feed is littered with status updates displaying my newfound food knowledge: “Label GMOs,” “How to have a farm on your porch,”  “What to do with all that zucchini!”

Emboldened by YouTube videos, I even dabbled in raising my own chickens (it was a joy!). However, this growing interest has coincided with a ski-bum-foray-turned-six-year-residency in Jackson Hole, hardly a place teeming with agricultural pursuits. So lately, my ears have been tuned to opportunities that involve growing, making or creating something from scratch.

This new and passionate search for soulful food is how I found myself in a backyard barnyard milking a goat. I do not remember exactly how I made this connection, maybe it was a casual reference to fresh cheese, but I learned that a new friend owned some goats. It took no time for me to ask Halina for a tutorial in goat milking.

Tucked back into Game Creek, Halina keeps her goats in a homemade, backyard enclosure. There are two goats — the nanny goat for milking, and the billy goat for, well… he’s got a good job, let’s just leave it at that. The day my husband Eric and I went, it was already sunny and warm at 8 a.m. Halina led the nanny goat out of her enclosure to the milking stand, a small, raised platform she built with a trough for oats to keep the goat happy while milking. Our dog Miller gave the goat a sniff, decided she was not a playmate, and ran off with Halina’s dogs.

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First, Halina gently washed and dried the goat’s udder. She hand milked the first few ounces with ease and then attached a funnel with a tube and a pump which emptied into a sterilized jar. I smiled to myself noting that this device was not unlike breast pumps I’d seen. One jar and then another quickly filled with rich, white milk, the pump humming and the goat chomping her oats the whole time.

While the jars filled, we chatted about the animal husbandry involved in raising goats for milk. The goats are mated in the late fall, and a baby goat, a kid, is born in the spring. Sadly, Halina’s kid goat did not make it through the delivery this spring, but the milk still came. Daily milking ensured that the supply did not run dry. The nanny had been reliably producing two quarts of milk through the summer. In the fall, Halina would slowly start milking less and less, leaving some milk behind to be reabsorbed, until the supply dried up completely and the goat would be ready to mate again and start the process over.

On the day we milked, we wanted to make sure all the supply was collected. Halina showed me, and then Eric, how to hand milk to get the last drops. I was surprised at how easy the motion came to me – allow the teet to fill with milk, using your thumb and forefinger, make a firm tourniquet so milk is not squeezed back into the udder (this can cause infection), then wrap your fingers, one at a time, down the teet until you’ve made a gentle fist, and repeat. We finished by washing and drying the udder and massaging some balm onto her teets to keep her from chaffing. The funnel and tube were washed and sanitized and hung to dry for the next day. Oh, and of course we tasted the milk we had just collected! Sweet and creamy, richer than whole milk but not sour like goat’s milk I’ve tasted before. We left with two quarts and plans to make chevre cheese. Instead we ended up drinking the milk until it was gone.

Throughout the past few years, in little ways – planting some veggies on my porch, raising chickens, milking a goat – I’ve cultivated a deep appreciation for food procured in this way. I will never be more than a hobby farmer at best, but none of the produce I grow or eggs or milk I collect will be as satisfying an act as looking a happy animal in the eye, petting it gently, and saying a quiet and soulful, “Thank you.”

Photos by Halina Boyd.

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