Most people in Southern California are not able to house their own livestock. It can be challenging to get quality milk for cheesemaking and it’s expensive. What’s a Cheesemaker to do? How about a cow share?
That’s what I chose to do early in my cheesemaking journey. I looked on Craigslist and found a local person willing to “share” her lactating mini-Jersey cow. For the mere sum of $9.50 per week, I was allowed to milk Buttercup morning and night, on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Mind you, I am a corporate Vice President. I have a 76-mile round trip commute to downtown Riverside every day. I work long hours and there never seems to be enough time in the day. I found the time though, 4:30 am to be exact.
Buttercup was being housed at a boarding barn. She shared a small stall with a grumpy llama. I had been warned about this guy. I was told to never make direct eye contact with him, or he would spit in my face. I’ve been around large animals most of my life, but this slightly terrified me. I’m not sure why, its only spit, but I really didn’t want it to happen.
First thing I had to do, was tie Mr. Loogie monster up. This guy would totally stare me down the second I entered his domain. He would dare me, beckon me, and almost force me, to look into his eyes. It was so hard not to look! I would have to say out loud to myself “look down, look down, look down” just to remind myself to not get sucked into his optical vortex. Once tied up he would keep staring me down with his bottom teeth jutting out like jagged rocks off a cliff. He was so cranky and certainly not channeling his inner Dally Llama, more like his inner Lucifer Llama.
Aside from the llama challenges, there was a lot of sanitation when milking a cow. Especially when you want to make cheese with the milk. I sanitized my hands, my bucket, Buttercups teats, and wrapped her tail. Then there is the issue with the hay. The barn fed her before I got there. She loved to shake her hay all about and I struggled to keep it out of the milk.
Milking a cow did not come natural to me. It looks a lot easier than it is. After a few YouTube videos, and a few angry tail swishes from Buttercup, I was able to get a few squirts in the bucket. You don’t do it like you think you would. I thought I’d be tugging but you don’t do that at all. You let the teat fill with milk and then you push it out by wrapping your fingers around the teat one at a time. You can’t tell by looking at farmers as they do it extremely fast. If you get it wrong, your cow will let you know! You will get a good swift tail in your face. They do not tolerate rude milkers! It is more challenging to milk a mini cow. They are low to the ground and it’s tough to get a good-sized bucket underneath. Once you get it under, it’s tough to keep their feet out of the bucket! We did ok though. Buttercup gave me a good gallon of wonderful quality milk each day I milked her.
Going to the boarding barn two days a week before and after work got old quick. I eventually let my cow share go and opted for some milk goats at the house. That’s a whole other blog post for another time! The cow share was a lot of fun though and a great experience. I will forever have my memories of watching those beautiful sunrises over the topline of Buttercups rump. She was a sweetheart and I’m grateful for her tolerance and education.
If you are looking for milk options, you might investigate livestock shares. It can be very economical and win/win for both you and the animals owner. Milking twice a day, every day, can become overwhelming for the cow owner, especially if they have multiple animals. They would certainly welcome having a few days off and you can get farm fresh milk with all the hassles and demands of full ownership!