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by Margaret Hartley

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Love of cheese fuels dream of dairy cow

By Margaret Hartley
Monday, July 28, 2014

My daughter was invited to a vegan potluck a few weeks ago, and was stumped about what to bring.

“I keep thinking ‘cheese platter,’ ” she said. “And then I remember.”
You’d think growing up in a vegetable garden would have helped her avoid such a dilemma, but she’s in the big city now. “Bring a bag of cherries,” I told her. “Everyone loves cherries.”

The conversation got the whole family talking about cheese. Soft cheese, aged cheeses, smoked cheeses, brie and blue cheese, feta, Gouda — we love pretty much anything except that weird orange stuff that is not, as far as I can tell, cheese.

“I think I could be a vegan, except for the no-cheese part,” my husband said.

“And the no-egg part,” I said, because we do, after all, have a few dozen chickens.

We love raising chickens. They are fun and funny creatures, they eat our food peelings and scraps, they eat their fill of bugs and weeds, and they give us eggs.

So we eat eggs, and this time of year when we spend all of our spare time in the gardens or adventuring in the wild places — and forget to go shopping — eggs are the fallback food for any meal.

Just not for vegan potlucks.

We don’t eat mammals at home, a philosophical choice my husband made after working on a cattle ranch in summers as a kid. It wasn’t the treatment, because his rancher was a kind and caring animal raiser. It’s that the cattle seemed so smart.

That’s why we have oxen — my husband is actually a born rancher, but one who won’t eat beef.

Cheese is something we’ve been meaning to add to our list of things we make ourselves, and the family has been arguing for years over a nonexistent dairy cow.

“I want a Jersey,” my husband said, maybe nine years ago, and that was the first argument, because the kids said they wanted a Holstein.
The boy was 5 then, and adamant. “I want a black-and-white cow, not a Jersey,” he said. “She’ll be black and white and I’m going to name her ‘Sweetheart.’ ”

“We are not naming a cow ‘Sweetheart,’ ” I said, although I’m not sure why I had to argue about a cow we were a dozen years from getting. “How will she even know her name? I call you ‘Sweetheart.’ I call Dad ‘Sweetheart.’ I call your sister ‘Sweetheart.’ ”

The kids usually get to naming rights, although we maintain veto power. If we didn’t, my son would have been named either “Peter Pan” or “Mr. Darling” by his sister.

Once we spent a week taking care of a cow whose owners hoped we would take her home — a Holstein, as it turned out, but an all-black one. Someone’s failed 4-H project, she had a few problems that made her not really suitable as the calm family cow we were seeking.

First of all, she was petrified of humans, having been left alone in a fenced yard most of her life. Also she had misshapen teats which, we were told, would make her very hard to milk.

Still, my husband spent the week visiting her, talking to her, getting her to eat out of his hand. Then some boys came by one evening and threw rocks at her and she was as skittish as ever.

We did not take her home, which was fine with me.

It’s not that I object to having a cow. We drink milk, we eat a lot of yogurt, we like cream and sour cream and ice cream and cottage cheese. And all manner of hard cheeses. And since we seemed to have developed a do-it-yourself culture in so many other things, why not have our own milk source?

So the arguing continues.

“We need a cow,” the son and his father say.

“We don’t have enough room, and I’m away from home too much with work,” is my answer.

“We’ll put her up on Granddaddy’s land,” my husband says, “right after I build a new barn there.”

I’m fine with that. I just worry that I’ll come home from work one day and find a heifer tethered in the front yard, a pile of lumber somewhere else, and a good plan but not enough time to accomplish it.

And here’s my other worry. To get milk from a cow, you have to breed her. Then you let her milk her calf for a bit, then take it away and milk the cow twice a day for eight months or so. Then give her a break and then breed her again, which means another calf.

I know the boys in the family very well.

“What will you do with the calves?” I ask.

“Don’t you worry,” my husband says, and he can sound very convincing. “We’ll take them to auction.”

My son nods and looks very sincere. “We will, Mom,” he says.

But I think something else will happen. I think they will fall in love with every single calf born, and each year we will have another animal, named “Sweetheart” or “Honey” or “Sugarpie” or “Buzz.” And soon we’ll have dozens, each eating but not producing anything. And since we don’t eat beef, it makes no sense.

And so that’s why we finally got goats, after arguing that one for years, too. They are dairy goats, and pygmy goats. Yes, we will have to breed them to get milk, and yes, I will have to fight to get the babies to grow up somewhere else, if we get to that stage.

For now, we’re not close to milk. But at least the goats will stay small, don’t eat much, and seem to prefer weeds and trimmed branches. They also have learned to bleat out my son’s name every morning, ensuring that he gets out of bed.

And neither one is named “Sweetheart.”

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

Have a question or a topic you’d like addressed on Greenpoint? Contact mhartley@dailygazette.net or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter.

 
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