Cows are harder to extract milk from than I would have thought. Milking takes technique, rhythm, strength and patience (the latter being mostly on the part of the cow). It's actually pretty fun.
I went to Wildwood Farm in Pouce Coupe, B.C., a mixed organic farm that lived up to all my expectations and more. Tim and Linda Ewert and their son Woodstock and his girlfriend Gabrielle run the farm off the grid, using solar and battery power (and horse power -- Time works a team of draft horses in the fields!)
They're total hippies who started the farm from scratch, clearing the bush themselves and building everything including their house themselves, too. I really admire their philosophy of living off the land, and respecting the land and the animals that supply them. They have two small herds of pigs, a small flock of chickens, about six horses, a few beef and three dairy cows, plus a couple of dogs.
They grow all sorts of fruit and veggies, and they have bees on their farm, from which they get gorgeous white clover honey. Tim says 90 per cent of the food they eat comes from their own farm. And wow, they eat well. Home-smoked bacon, fresh eggs and organic, raw milk is better than any breakfast you could pay for at Denny's any day.
I did a lot of hard work as a WOOFer, like weeding, watering and washing dishes, but I also got to do a lot of fun things, too, like gathering eggs, feeding the piglets, and, of course, milking twice a day (7 a.m. and 7 p.m.)
It's hard to get the squeezing technique right the first time. You have to start at the top of the teat and work your way down, squeezing each finger individually until you get all the milk out and then let go and wait till it re-fills. Tim said he was impressed I managed to get any milk out on my first try. I didn't completely empty the udder that day, but for the next three days I milked in the morning and the evening and by day four I was getting all the milk out. It's pretty hard on the hands (takes a lot of strength), like squeezing a physio ball over and over again for 20 minutes. The cow has four teats, which come out of four separate chambers in the udder. Tim says it's common for one to be bigger than the others. I noticed that with both dairy cows I milked. Both Sepia and Heidi were very nice and patient cows who let me take way longer than they're used to. I really enjoyed milking first thing in the morning, in the early light in the barn, where it was quiet and cool. I'm sure my hands are stronger for it, too.
What an awesome life it is on an organic farm. Just like Charlotte's Web, come to life. I could definitely see myself living that type of life. Maybe I'll have to get my own dairy cow one day so I can have fresh, raw, unhomogenized, organic milk. I know the cow is much happier about it being done that way then a big, nasty machine in a cement-floored factory taking her milk. How could she not be? Tim personally thanks her when he's done every day and then gives her a little pat before letting her back out into the pasture.