Saturday, January 1, 2011

Skimming cream

The cows are staying warm and dry in the barn during the winter, eating hay and dreaming of green pastures (I’m imaging that last part, of course). I didn’t get either one of them bred back this last summer as I intended. It’s been a year since Tilly freshened (12/31/2009) and about 7.5 months since Josie freshened. We’re still milking both of them twice a day, and intend to continue doing so for another year or as long as they continue lactating. I’ll get them bred in early summer, I hope. I prefer that their calves be born in Spring.

If I kept a bull on the farm, it would simplify getting the cows bred, but I don’t really want an extra mouth to feed. With two cows, two steers, and a horse, we go through enough hay. I considered selling Tilly so that we would need to feed less hay, but we ended up keeping her – I didn’t really want to get rid of her. We probably don’t need two milk cows, but we have them and are able to keep them fed. And, the milk is appreciated.

At this time of year while the cows are eating hay – and it’s just grass hay, nothing special – we’re getting 1.5 to 2 gallons of milk a day. The amount varies depending upon how well they like a particular bale of hay and how cold it is. Colder weather requires them to convert more energy into keeping warm, and it affects the amount of milk produced. Now, this quantity of milk is not really much for two cows, but I don’t expect or want extreme production. This is enough milk for our uses and to share with my parents and Danny. It’s also better for the cows’ health since it isn’t taxing them to much to produce this amount, I believe.

During the summer months when the cows are on fresh grass and closer to the time they freshen, we get between 3 and 5 gallons of milk per day. That’s more than we can keep up with, usually. We ought to be converting some of that into cheese, but we’ve not taken on the extra task of doing so on a regular basis. We do make as much butter as we can, and Anne cans it when we have enough accumulated. Canned butter will keep for years. We use the butter as shortening/oil in baking and cooking so that we don’t have to buy oil. It also gets used on hot biscuits, sweet potatoes, and other things.

During the summer months, I skim cream off of the jars of milk on a regular basis. I have to in order to have jars to put more milk into. We also drink whole milk a couple times a day (whole milk is good for you and easier to digest than skim milk). Since the cows have been in the barn, I’ve not had to skim as often. The cream from cows eating fresh grass is preferable to the cream from hay-fed cows. Also, we’ve been mostly keeping up with the amount of milk we’ve been getting.

I know there are different ways that cream can be separated from the milk. The cream naturally rises to the surface when the milk cools. If we’re going to drink the milk, we shake the jar to mix the cream back in with the milk. If we want to use a little of the cream, like for coffee or tea, we can pour some off the top of the jar. If we want it for butter or bakingDSCF0990 (we substitute cream for some of the liquid and oil called for in a recipe – makes good biscuits, for example), then I need to skim it.

We strain the fresh milk through a cloth into 2-quart wide-mouth jars before refrigerating it. The wide mouth is large enough so that I can get a gravy ladle into the jar. My skimming method is quite simple: I use the gravy ladle to take the cream off the top of the milk. I put the cream in a quart jar so it will be available for use later. When I get down to the milk in the jar, it’s visible (you can see the separation between the cream and the milk) as I’m ladling out the cream. That’s when I stop skimming. It doesn’t take long to skim the cream off of two or three gallons of milk. The amount of cream we get varies some during the seasons. We can usually get a quart of cream from 1.5 gallons of whole milk, sometimes from only 1 gallon. If you click on the photo to enlarge it and then look closely, you can see the line between the milk and the cream in the two full jars (just above the “B” in “Ball”).

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