A Different Lens . . . In the Milk Parlor
November 10, 2010
Five days into my internship, a VERY heavy learning curve was already a constant. I started having flashbacks as I walked down to the goat barn to meet Lisa for my first 7AM milking. While I was growing up, my horse, Beau, was a nasty biter, so now I envisioned 36 goats chomping at my heels, or snacking on me “from the top down,” as browsers, as goats are called, do. Then I recalled how just a few days ago, shortly after a panic attack, I accompanied one of the special classes held here for kids to learn about the sources of their food, and I witnessed the goats’ gentle interaction with the kids. And with this, my fear was gone.
Once inside the milking house, I took in “the dance” between Lisa and the goats within this small space. At one end of the bedroom-sized milking house, Lisa turned the antique glass door handle to the goat barn, and by the count of six, goats excitedly rushed in. A row of buckets filled with warm organic rolled oats and molasses awaited the goats as they hurriedly jumped onto the platform, and as if on cue, lined up for their morning grub. With all “on stage”, Lisa milked the goats as if she were a conductor directing an orchestra. The sounds echoed off the walls in sync with Lisa’s every move, and then she welcomed me to join her on the stage. You’ll see exactly what I mean, if you check out the photos here.
The sweet aroma of the oats was delicious. As I rushed my fingers through their weight and stickiness, I set the last bucket in its place on the stand. Fingers now draped with wet paper towels warmed with water and cleanser, I washed and dried warm engorged utters, begging to be milked. Initially, I had a quiet shock at the intimacy of it, and oddly found myself feeling a bit shy for a brief moment, but quickly snapped out of it when Lisa told me what was to follow – an examination of the milk via hand milking.
Oh gosh, now we’re getting even more intimate! At Lisa’s instruction, I wrapped my fingers around the teats, and sequentially squeezed them from index to pinky, while gently pushing upward, mimicking the very action of a suckling kid. Locked into that visual, my hands became those hungry kids, and by Jove I got it - except that every other aim for the bucket would land somewhere other than the cup, and mostly on me. Warm milk facial anyone?
I could feel the volume of milk coursing through my clenched fingers, as if I was squeezing mini elongated water balloons. As each finger compressed and released, the rush of milk immediately swelled each teat, leaving it unbelievably full again and beckoning for release. The rhythm of the milk pinging against the metal bucket met with the crunching of oats, the rattling of the plastic feed buckets, and the roosters’ morning calls - all feeding into the cacophony of sounds. Pinch me, I am living on a farm!
What was going to be required of me next I found most daunting. Because of Lisa's profound connection with each goat, there is an established system of daily charting, detailing each and every goat by name. Lisa named each goat after a very accomplished singer. How was I going to be able to identify thirty-six goats by name? I asked another volunteer, Melinda, how long it took her. "Two years", she answered. Two years!?!?! And for those who know me, remembering names, well, let’s just say it will take me three, and by that time, there will be an exponential addition based on the birthing in spring…