Monday, April 10, 2006

Farm Fresh Milk

Every kid should get a chance to milk a cow. If you grew up on a farm, you probably got 5 million "opportunities" to awake at 4 a.m. to do that. But for us city folk, there's something reassuring about seeing where our food comes from. As long as it comes from a nice family farm just down the road, that is.

Johnny, Richie, J.J. and I toured the Shatto dairy farm this Saturday with our friends Matt and Leah and their kids Nicholas, Ryan, Fiona and Quinn.

The tour started in the barn, where baby Holsteins (the black and white cows) gave us love bites as we petted them. Two-day-old calves slept in a pen next to them. They were still breastfeeding--or is it teetfeeding with cows?--for the colostrum from their mothers. But we gave the others water in giant bottles that looked like props from a cartoon where the baby is really a cigar smoking, gravelly-voiced, bald old man. The calves nudged each other out of the way so they could drink more water. Human children haven't cornered the market on competitiveness, obviously.

Then Ginger came out. She was a Jersey girl, which means here not that Bruce Springsteen is going to take her on all the carnival rides, but that she produces creamier milk. Ginger patiently let all the kids milk her. They even snuck a sip straight from the cow.

You mean from the nipple? Justin asked when I told him about it later.

That's right. I said, "Just latch on to the teet, kids. They can't charge us for it if it's not in a milk bottle."

No. They squirted it into a Dixie cup and then drank it. Because while I disagree with the motto "Cow's milk is for baby cows" I do think cow's teets are for baby cows.

We watched the machines that milk the 160 mostly Holstein cows at the farm. They work like breastpumps, only with more suction things. Actually, it was interesting to see just how much humans have in common with these cows. Colostrum. Sleepy newborns. Rowdy older children. Producing milk (cows produce 7 gallons a day.) Grazing. Only we do it at Shoney's and they, obviously, graze in the fields.

This was all too much for J.J. The aura of milk was in the air. Why was milk being produced by the gallons and he had not been nursed in three hours, he obviously wondered. He fussed a little in my arms as we learned about the operation.

The milking starts at 4 a.m. (don't get any ideas, J.J.) and 4 p.m. Workers lead the cows in, clean up afterwards, feed the calves and cows and lead tours. The milk is pasturized on site and sold in area stores in bottles, like in the old days. The Shatto farm is family-run, a rarity in today's dairy world. According to the Shatto Web site,, low milk prices paid by dairy cooperatives for bulk milk caused surrounding dairy farms to go out of business in the 1990s. The Shattos decided to offer something different to milk drinkers--fresh, natural milk in bottles. People could even come out and see the milk being produced.

So here we were. As we sampled the orange creme milk and rootbeer milk in the gift shop, J.J. was ready to lose it. I gave him some strawberry milk to appease him. Pediatricians say you shouldn't feed babies younger than 12 months cow's milk, but the woman leading the tour said she fed her children raw (unpasturized) milk from infancy, so who am I going to trust. The dairy worker, obviously.

We ate a picnic lunch, the boys running around in the sunny field. Everybody had a great time. Well, almost everybody. J.J. hasn't been himself ever since. Finally, by interpreting the intonations of his crying, I determined what was wrong.

Me: What's the matter, baby?
J.J.: Where's the nearest psychologist?
Me: Why do you need one, sweetheart?
J.J.: I need to tell him my parents tried to trade me for a baby cow.
Me: J.J., the very idea! Why would you think that?
J.J.: I have my reasons.
Me: J.J., don't shut me out of your emotional life.
J.J. Mommy, you gave me cow's milk instead of nursing me.
Me: It was strawberry. You love strawberries.
J.J.: Well, for the record, I do. But that's not the point, mommy. You were trying to get me used to cow's milk so that the cows could raise me. Like Remus and Romulus.
Me: Remus and Romulus were raised by wolves, J.J.
J.J.: So the history books say. I saw you feed those baby cows bottles. You were going to trade me for a baby cow.
Me: Now why on earth would I do that?
J.J.: Because cows make milk and I just drink it.
Me: Well, did we trade you, J.J.?
J.J.: No.
Me: Then, you see, everything is just fine.
J.J.: Not totally fine.
Me: What would make you feel better?
J.J.: Do we have any of that strawberry milk?


Anonymous mom said...

We're you saying those things outloud to JJ? Sounds like a wonderful day for all! Did Quinn go too?

6:48 AM  

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