We say goodbye to Peach this week, sending her back home to Broadturn. She has been a dream of a trial cow - gentle, affectionate and full of personality. We will miss her - and we will most definitely miss her milk. For weeks now I've been making and freezing mozzarella (the easiest to make and most versatile for us here), and storing as much yogurt in the fridge as I think we can reasonably eat before too long. I'm a little nervous of the sticker shock I'll have when I go back to buy our local raw milk at the grocery store. It is, without a doubt - even more, I now know - worth every cent of that sticker price (and then some), but still. We'll miss Peach and what she gave us! And we find ourselves once again, grateful for the opportunity given to us by friends to 'try it out'. Certainly, we didn't experience it all, we didn't handle birth (or death) in the life a dairy cow, we didn't see a lot of things, or even all the seasons. But for three months, we did get to feel out just how a cow does (and does not) fit into our days - which has been our biggest question and worry of all. How feeding, caring for and milking a cow affects our daily family rhythm, my kitchen groove, and our budget. We have a much clearer answer to those questions now. We know now that we want a dairy cow at some point in the future, just finding the right time to do so is all that's left to figure out. We know that for us, in order to make the most of our time with both our children and our cow - that we need to make the whole process a bit more efficient - electricity and water in our barn (which we don't have currently), would save us an enormous amount of time (twenty-five gallons of drinking water for just the cow alone, filled up in five gallon buckets from our kitchen sink one at a time makes for many trips back and forth across icy pathways!). We know that just one milker a week would be helpful so that we get a night off, or even a night out. We really do like milking once a day, in the morning, should we be able to make that work for the cow. And we think we prefer handmilking. Little, but important things we've learned.
All of those things are doable, and we'll get to checking them off the list so that we're eventually ready. But there's not a lot of time for thinking about that or planning them right now. Because, as is the way things seem to go around here, just as soon as we finish one thing and take a deep breath, the next thing on the horizon, on the to do list, jumps out at us in flashing lights, beckoning our attention right now. And that is those four (likely) pregnant sheep in the pasture. I am confident about the state of two of them, and almost certain that the other two are as well. And that means that we've got a bit of work to do, transforming the barn from a cow shelter and milking stanchion to a full-on sheep birthing center! Emily birthed here without a bit of trouble, and hardly a notion from us, two years ago, so we've got just one (wonderful) sheep birth under our new farmers belt. But this time there are four - three of whom are first time birthers, and oh, of course we want to do everything we can to be prepared for what may come. We're reading all the books and websites, the vet numbers and their backups are all in the phones, a birthing kit is being put together, and now we work on their lambing pens - securing up all the drafty spots in the barn, making it tight and cozy, giving each of the mamas a bit of their own space for when their time comes. We've got a few weeks yet before Official Lamb Watch begins, but our eyes are turned that way, for certain. And when I feel that pang of nerves, I remind myself - that the same with a cow, and the goats and the garden and even parenting for that matter - that all the books in the world are wonderful, and the tools most essential, but in the end...the learning really happens when we just dive in. When we actually begin doing, and living the experience, figuring it out as we go.
And so...as one animal leaves the barn, we make way for new life to join us here - grateful for not only what they give us - the yarn, meat and milk is delightful, of course - but all the life and learning that comes with them too.