Saturday, 2 February 2013

My milking squeamishness

It has been of interest to me as to why I felt so squeamish as I watched the milk flow from teat to bucket, after all I did not wilt when the cockerel's head flew off in a different direction to its body when Lester did too strong a pull on his neck when slaughtering it, meanwhile I was holding the cockerel Lester had already 'done' upside down by his legs as he did his dance of death, quite unfazed by doing so and definitely not feeling squeamish.

So why did the milking of the goats have such an effect. After all, it was only milk coming out of an animal. All milk comes from an animal, (unless it is soya milk which doesn't). All cheese comes from milk which came from an animal, (I am not sure if there is such a thing as soya cheese). And that animal which produced the milk must have had a youngster to start off the production of milk in the first place. Perhaps I was feeling it unfair that we should take the milk from our goat whose goatling was still taking milk from her, although was also eating grain, grass, and hay. But I don't think so. It was on my mind, but that wouldn't have made me squeamish. 

I have been involved with the end time of pigs, sheep, and chickens, but not the rabbits,  because Lester prefers to sort them out by himself as he finds it a hard job to do. So when end times of life arrive for one of our animals, whether it be if their bodies are heading towards the fire or freezer, I have stood my ground, been prepared to feel squeamish but never have. Other things I have felt, like the absolute peaceful silence which seems to surround the animal we have just slaughtered, the vague tears in my eyes as I follow Lester in the tractor as he takes the animal to the Courtyard, and various other emotions too numerous to mention, but never have I felt squeamish. Even when we start work on the body, I am fine. I was even fine when one of our young animals, who should not have been expecting more of her own race because of her age, was found to be doing just that. That should have had me flat on the ground in a faint, but it did not. Wouldn't have helped Lester to be doing that anyway. His was the worst job, he had to sort it out. 

So then, why did I feel really weird and squeamish during the milking of the goats. Perhaps it was because it was something coming out of a living animal which we were then going to consume. I remember when Lester gave me the first batch of eggs from our hens, how I felt odd about handling them. For years eggs had come in a box purchased from a supermarket shelf and I had hardly ever given a thought to where that egg actually came from. In my mind, hen and egg were separated. So when Lester gave me those still warm eggs, hens and eggs became united, that eggs came from the rear ends of those chickens walking about outside, which I surprisingly found mildly shocking. 

What is it with me. Was it living a modern lifestyle for all those years, with supermarket packaging  protecting the food from not only germs but also from awareness of its source, that eggs came in boxes, cheese in plastic wrappings, meat on plastic trays, milk in cartons, and everything else either boxed or bagged up, had this somehow 'damaged' my perception as to the original source of the food I ate, desensitized me in effect.

And then there was the absolute nervousness I felt when incubating eggs in an incubator, of being so aware that life was being created within that fragile shell. Of the marvel of seeing chicks hatch, of learning the rhythm of life. Or the feeling of almost terror when Lester brought into the kitchen our first goose egg, because it was huge. I thought it would have a baby terrodactyl inside it, that's what I thought, which was silly really, but it is the truth, that's what I thought. Took me ages to crack that egg open, but I did, and there was nothing inside it but what there should have been.

So, the milk. It came to be the time of the milking of the goats. It needed to be started because the goatlings are getting bigger and soon will not need the milk of their mums so the milk of the mums will dry up and there will be no more milk to be had until those mums are serviced by a billy goat which we haven't as yet acquired. 

As usual, we were completely unprepared, but Lester took charge, because he has milked cows in his early days in South Africa so knows the finger manipulation needed to get the milk from an udder because a  young Kafir farm helper showed him how to. Forefinger and thumb, followed by a gentle hand squeeze apparently.

It might have been because Gussy had just flattened Maz, our puppy, and caused a big upset amongst us all as a result. Gussy is miserable around the pups. His choice. He either accepts them or he doesn't. Nonetheless, it had upset us, me. And my sugar levels were low. And it was the end of the afternoon, and I am useless between four and five, not sure why, but I always am, so I was foggy headed and dithery. 

Lester meanwhile, caught Blackie, tied her up, sat down beside her, spraddled her legs, commenced milking. I dithered about around him. Gave her grain. Got a bowl of water. Shooed the other goats away. Felt squeamish. Felt mildly fainty. Felt mildly sicky. 

With a grin Lester handed me the bucket, with instructions to get it into the kitchen so it couldn't be kicked over. Blackie gave us a pint of milk, Rovie didn't give much because she is feeding twins, and Ice Cream is best not mentioned because she is a rascal and sat down on the bucket so Lester couldn't get to her undercarriage. 

I observed the milk in the jug, and I still felt odd, as if things were not quite in the right place in my head. I suppose that this is another hen and egg learning curve. It is the undoing of my old ways of looking at life, that's what it is, the undoing of my fixed assumption about things. It's only a drop of milk after all. Ah, but it is the connection of that milk to the body of a living animal, that is what I have been made aware of. Eggs come from hens and not from egg boxes in the supermarket, milk comes from the undercarriage of a mother animal not from a supermarket carton. Does this awareness  matter? To me, yes. To others, it is up to them because each of us has our own learning curves in life, but I am not a 'stirrer up of the populace', I am not a 'you must live the good life' person, I say 'to each their own', but would this really be the reason why I felt so odd about the simple task of milking a goat.

Lester asked me if I would like to have a go at milking. I said probably not. It is something about that warm teat and the dripping milk, that's what I feel squeamish about, this I have realised as I have chatted away to you. I have had children. Perhaps this milking thing is too close to home, reminds me of the twin dribbles down my front when my young didn't want to feed, of rock hard buxom bosoms, of feeling top heavy, of feeling sore, chewed upon, which is not itself a hard memory to hold, but it is the associated memories of what should have been a happy time in my life which I do not want to revisit, of the fists coming my way, of the bruises, of the near cracking of myself. This then, gave me my faintness, my squeamishness, when I saw Blackie being milked, it was the associated memories behind that flowing of the milk, in a time when my voice was stifled and I was in emotional blackness, before I had the courage to change things, get a divorce, and move on and away from that time. I know I have the key to my 'milking oddness', because I can feel a lump of pain wending its way up into my throat, which is a good thing because I am getting rid of stuff I no longer need to carry on my shoulders. I think I need to find a quiet place with a box of tissues to hand. I think I need to leave you in peace......

Thanks for listening

Lester thinks we will need to get a portable milking machine. Now that I could do. 


Ohiofarmgirl said...

oh gosh i really enjoyed this thanks for sharing.

we are very "everyone is different" so if someone doenst want to do their own butchering or doesnt like to do this chore or that - its just fine. but i will tell you that the first time i saw a hen actually lay an egg - i ran out of the then house in absolute terror.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

you dont have to publish this - but are you diabetic? i noticed you mentioned your sugar levels. i'm not but i have wonky bloodsugar - more protein has always helped me keep it level.

Vera said...

Ohiofarmgirl, thankyou for the advice about wonky blood sugar levels. Glad someone else is of similar thinking about not trying to bend people to our way of thinking, and also glad to know that someone else has had frights about hens and eggs as well!

rusty duck said...

I've said before I couldn't do all the things you do. I'd be a vegetarian if I could, but to please Mike we have meat and the deal is it has to be supermarket sanitised meat.

We got wrongly delivered a whole chicken (albeit cleaned) last week and I struggled to cook it.

See? I'd be hopeless as a smallholder.

Vera said...

Jessica, I was also a vegetarian when I first met Lester and we both stayed that way for a couple of years, then gradually we drifted over to meat eating again, mostly because he liked meat. I also had trouble cooking meat, always chose free range if possible, did not like handling it, didn't eat much of it. At that time, there was no way I would ever have thought that I was going to do what I do now. It was Lester's idea to have animals for the table, I went along with it. Now I could not imagine life without them.
I am not saying you have to have animals as a smallholder, though. If you don't want them, then you don't have to have them, but being a totally vegetarian smallholder would, I think, be difficult although compromises can always be found. I don't think you would be a hopeless smallholder, I think you would do very well. There are no rules for being a smallholder, you do what is best for you and your partner.

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

I am surprised I have to say that you feel that way. Of all the farm things you have been doing I would have thought that was the easiest, obviously not for you. Sure that you will soon take it in your stride though with everything else :-) Take it easy Diane