Meditation in a cow pasture

by Bob Cramer

A couple of dozen heavy-uddered Holsteins trying to denude a Russian River
Valley pasture: it’s not even ten in the morning but they’re too swollen
to have been milked only a few hours earlier. I know that dairying in
Sonoma County can be very different from the routine on which I was
raised, near the line between Jefferson and Lewis counties in northern New
York. But today I wonder when farmers here do their chores. After almost
30 years here in northern California, I find I don’t know.

I do know Holsteins when I see them. Our dad’s herd usually contained
about a dozen of them. I find myself wondering why I see no Jerseys or
Ayrshires on this vineyard-encircled hillside. Dad always had a big russet
Jersey or a flame-splotched smaller Ayrshire to bring the butterfat in the
morning and evening milkings up to 3.5 percent. Black and white Holsteins
yield enormous quantities; the others yield less, but have a lot more
cream.

Maybe they don’t do that any more. We had to send 3.5 milk to the cheese
factory nearby, which Dad’s father once owned and ran. That standard was
among many set and enforced by the board of directors of the so-called
milkshed serving New York city, hundreds of miles away. I do seem to
recall reading that commercial milk producers no longer have to include so
much cream.

I realize as I write that I never see mixed milk herds around here. I
should think dairies would want to produce a fair amount of cream anyway.
Cream separated from butterfat-laden milk sells for a better price. I
suppose I should ask a local dairyman about cream-to-milk ratios, and also
why these cattle were shlepping such hefty bags in mid-morning.

I guess I’d better be nicer about it than I suppose I was in the 1950s
when, driving through Wisconsin dairy country, I stopped to ask a
cheesemaker why extra-sharp Wisconsin cheddar — too often made in that
gaudy yellow color city folks demand — should be crumbly-dry by the time
it reaches markets. In that encounter I got only a dirty look for an
answer — surely because I’d said aged New York and Vermont cheddars stay
moist and pliable.

I had taken the cue and left, and I still don’t know any more than I did
then. That’s what it’s like to be human, my therapist comforts me.

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