Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sustainable Eating -Milk, Eggs, and Cheese

Eggs --- Living on a working homestead, I find it's easy for me to be self sufficient and sustainable in this department. Eggs are a cinch -- easy to be so smug and say that now. It wasn't so easy 8 years ago! Chickens can forage for a good portion of their diet, and homegrown & foraged foodstuffs top off their plate. I'm still in the process of growing more grains for them so that I can complete the break from commercial feed. Right now I still use a few handfuls of cob (corn, oats, barley) as a conditioning reward for returning to their pen each evening to roost. 

I said, "...I find it's easy..." It wasn't easy when I started this project, but I've developed habits to the point that it's standard routine. In the beginning the hens were fed all commercial chicken feed. My attempts to use chicken tractors or standard chicken pens were a lethal failure. But I've progressed to the point that I'm nearly 100% self sufficient as far as the chickens go. It's taken time to set up their food system, but as I said, it's now routine. I know which trees in the area produce a surplus of fruits or nuts which I can gather, and what times of the year they produce. I've established relationships with some local businesses and groups for their waste foods. I have many people who bring me their food waste to trade for fresh veggies or eggs. I cut a couple mower bags of fresh grass clippings daily for their pen, a goodly portion of which they consume. I specifically grow certain items just to feed to the chickens. And I set up an outdoor cooking area for processing roadkill and slaughter waste for them. 

Even though producing eggs via my methods translate into labor and time, I feel that they are worth it. And as a perk, they are a hot commodity to sell or trade. And I haven't purchased store bought eggs in years...........except for my mother who doesn't think green or brown shelled eggs are very appealing. She's eaten white eggs all her life and at 92 she's not interested in changing. 

Ok, so I've got the egg things down pat. But what about milk and cheese? I'm only partially there in this department, but I see how it could be done. Currently I buy some locally produced raw milk from people who have either goats or a cow. But I don't have a steady supply. It's feast or famine. So I buy milk from the store too. I can see how I could be self reliant when it comes to milk and cheese, but frankly, I don't want to make that move at this time. Let me explain......

Since hubby and I use over a gallon of milk a week plus enjoy cheese and yogurt, you'd think that a dairy cow would be the next addition to the homestead. Or at least a goat, since goat milk is good too. But a dairy animal ties one to the farm worse than any other type of livestock. Milking must be done on schedule if you expect to keep milk production going. No missing. No coming home late at night. No going away for the day fishing, swimming, hiking, or simply holo holo. Frankly, I'm not interested in being tied to a dairy animal. Yes, there is a way to milk the animal once a day. Yes, keeping a calf or kid at her side helps ease the time schedule. But keeping a dairy animal in good milk requires more grain than I currently produce, requires equipment for milking, requires close to daily reinforcement of training to keep the milking procedure safe .... yes, these animals can hurt me bigtime if they object to being milked.

If we were using a lot of milk or were able to sell or trade excess milk without fear, then I'd consider the keeping of a dairy cow to be a more reasonable option. But we spend only about $500 a year on dairy from the stores, which is nothing compared to the cost of added secure fencing, milking equipment, veterinary care, and feed needed in order to keep a milker on the farm. And that's not even addressing the risk of me getting hurt. 

Selling or trading raw milk has major hassles attached to it. Raw milk is one farm product that officials are actively looking for. Any advertising is a giant red flag. Big Brother will come uninvited to your farm, demand entry under threat of impounding your property or arresting you, confiscate your record system including your computers (whether you maintain your records in them or not.) Their goal is to shut you down and collect their monetary reward in the form of huge fines. For real. It happens. Thus raw milk is a black market product that is deep underground. Some states allow limited raw milk sales from the farm. Hawaii isn't one of them that I am aware of. Sellers of raw milk around here do it very quietly. 

Without an outlet for selling raw milk, the idea of keeping a dairy cow on my homestead doesn't make fiscal sense. If cow milk was suddenly unavailable via the stores, I'd simply give up using it. But keeping a small dairy goat might be a viable alternative. I'm not ready to do that anytime soon, but it's worth thinking about it. 


  1. Excellent post. We have the same self-sufficiency goals so I'm very interested in your progress. I don't feel as far along with growing my chicken feed as you, but mine actually eat very little of the commercial feed I leave in the feeder.

    In regards to goats, I think that's a better choice. Cows are something like 4 gallons a day, so you'd definitely have to do something with the excess. Even with 2 milking goats I have excess, which I feed to the pigs and chickens get the whey from cheese making. Also, goats do not need grain!!!. I just finished doing a lot of research on this (post soon) and was relieved to learn that grain is not only not necessary, but actually decreases milk production. They need roughage, and lots of it. That's the kind of digestive systems they have. They stay healthier and produce more with good forage and hay. This was a great relief to me because it means I don't have to grow grain for them. They do tie you down somewhat, but I figure the milk is well worth it. Oh, and you'd need two. They are herd animals and miserable by themselves. :)

  2. Leigh, you've opened my yes! No grain, you say. Wow. You're right about the cow. Even just one produces far too much for my homestead. But just two goats gives enough? That sounds like the way to go. But I think I'll hold off until I can find a neighbor or friend who wants to share the milking responsibility. I'm not quite ready to do it all by myself.