Dairying - cream, cheese, butter and yoghurt made from milk from cows, ewes, goats, sheep
Country enterprise to explore business opportunities in the rural economy
...In the dairy
...Dealing with milk
It is accepted in the farming community that to be in dairying you
have to be totally committed.
You have to be prepared to employ
specialist labour or to be totally involved early in the morning and on
into the evening for seven days a week. To be successful at producing
a peak amount of milk from any animal requires a high degree
of stockmanship in the person who milks and feeds the animal.
High standards of cleanliness are required so that the milk produced
There need to be suitable buildings and if
necessary suitable items of equipment to process the milk. All that
being said, to come in close contact with and to milk animals is
one of the most satisfying areas of livestock enterprise.
Some years ago there would have been little point in sticking to
the word 'animal' when talking about dairying. It could have been
safely assumed that the animal in question was a cow. But in the
past few years there has been a great renewed interest in milking
goats and there is now an upsurge in the popularity of milk sheep.
To start off in a dairying enterprise is simple: you just buy a
lactating animal. The forethought necessary to avoid pans of
spoiling milk and an unprofitable venture is considerable. The first
decision has to be what type of animal you intend to milk.
The easiest animal to start with is a goat.
This is for several reasons,
the first and most obvious being the price. You can probably buy
eight or more good goats for the price of a good cow. There are, of
course, extremes of price in any market, but a normal healthy goat
(one that does not have an inflated price tag from exotic breeding)
is a cheap animal. The foodstuffs necessary to produce gallons of
milk from your goat are often simpler to obtain than the foodstuff
required by a cow. In the summer at least, a lucky goat provided
with lots of branches and brambles, some decent grass and a little
concentrate will thrive. The goat's favourite food is generally that
despised by other grazers. The expression on the faces of our goats
when they are allowed access to a new patch of brambles or a
piece of hawthorn hedge hitherto denied is one of sheer bliss. Of
course, if you are blessed with prolific grass, the goats may seem a
little more difficult to please. They will eat some grass but it is not
their natural favourite and if your grazing is too soft, you will have
to go out collecting some scrub for them or at the very least give
them some hay. Not all greenery is safe for the all-consuming goat.
Rhododendron makes them extremely ill and yew poisons them.
Many textbooks claim that rhododendron is an instant poison but
we had a mass escape of seven goats and they consumed quantities
of it and the result was not death. It was the vilest green vomiting
imaginable which came up with astounding force from the sad
goats. It lasted for two days and then they all recovered. Rhododendron
was certainly a strong poison to goats but it was not lethal.
Another good thing about goats is their size. When you try to
move a full-grown dairy cow you realise that it is an immovable
object. In fact, instead of moving away from you the cow usually
leans right back into you and you are the one who moves. A goat
will certainly react to a shove, usually with a deer-like bound.
Goats also take up a lot less space than cows in housing and milking
When you want to sell goat's milk, your choice is not the same
as with the cow.
There is no Milk Marketing Board to buy goat's
milk in bulk although in a very few areas there are co-operatives.
Usually you have to sell the milk yourself. In some areas the
recent interest in goat's milk has meant that producers have
swamped the market. To be economical it is generally reckoned
that you must receive one and a half times the going rate for a pint
of cow's milk. In our area at present you are fortunate to achieve
the same as cow's milk. The answer here if you want a viable
proposition is to process the milk into cheese or yoghurt.
The final major point to consider when comparing goats and
cows is that you do not need a licence to sell goat's milk whereas
you do need one to sell cow's milk. This is not simply a question
of being involved in health checks and hygiene standards, anyone
in milk production should be able to stand up to those. The point
is that it is difficult to obtain a licence to sell cow's milk unless
you have an established dairy. If you have to start from scratch,
the type of building required can cost a great deal to build. You
can safely handle the smaller quantities of goat's milk, on the
other hand, in a kitchen or utility room.
Goat's milk is essential to some allergy-sufferers. Our son had
colic as a tiny baby; eventually he was put on to goat's milk and
the improvement was tremendous. Similar cases of allergy are
always cropping up and much of our production goes to allergy-
sufferers. The only point to remember if you intend to base an
enterprise on such a market is that the sufferers quite often
recover. A customer who was buying a pint a day suddenly disappears,
possibly not to be replaced.
One way to simplify the sale of goat's milk is to freeze it. Goat's
milk freezes well. (Cow's milk can be frozen but it will separate on
thawing.) Another way to use goat's milk is to make cheese. This
is not always easy - goat's milk soft cheeses tend to weep after
some hours. The sight of a pool of liquid around the nicest little
cream cheese is enough to put off most buyers. You can put the
cheese into little plastic pots that will contain the liquid but the
only real answer is to take extreme care in the manufacture of the
There are various breeds of goat available in Britain.
from the story-books, large and white with a bell round its neck, is
the Saanan. These are usually docile but extremely strong when
they decide to pull. They also seem to us to be the most independent
breed, at least all the Saanans we have had have been determined
to lead life at their own pace. They are the breed that
produces the most milk. To get the richest but generally smallest
yield, you can go for a strange-looking creature called a Nubian; its
splendid broken nose and long, lapping ears also mark it out as an
individual. For some reason these seem the most aristocratic of
goats and they tend to take a while to decide if you are friend or
foe. The Toggenbergs and Alpine goats are delightful creatures to
look at. The first are brown in colour, the second black. They have
little tassels hanging from their necks and delicate features.
most difficult goat we ever had was a cross between a Nubian and
a Toggenberg. The cross was not our idea. We were asked to take
the goat as we were goat-enthusiasts. We did not at the time realise
it was an act of mercy to the original goat-owner. We called her
Jubilee and expected her to settle down after a little while; she
never did, she just got worse. If you tried to lead her on a rope she
managed to turn in the minutest circles until you gave up entirely.
She escaped from absolutely anywhere. Finally and most infuriatingly,
whenever you did manage to milk this awkward creature she
managed by extreme contortions to drink the milk you had
painstakingly obtained! Presumably she is still annoying someone
somewhere, unless of course someone gave up entirely and had her
turned into kebabs. We passed her on, hopefully to a more patient
home than ours.
Much of what has been said about goats can be applied to keeping
sheep for milk - with one important difference.
If you offer a
milk-producing sheep hawthorn and brambles to eat, she will not
appreciate it one bit. The heaviest yielders are lowland sheep and
they like their traditional diet of rich lush grass. We have milked
Jacobs as well as the more usual Friesland. The Jacobs managed to
assume an astonished expression at the indignity but when they
got used to the idea they enjoyed the extra feeding it gave them.
With any animal, milk yields increase according to feed levels until
you reach that particular 'animal's peak. It is no use pumping
pounds of expensive concentrate into a goat that will physically
only ever produce a couple of pints at each milking; a really good
animal may well give you a gallon but that is dependent on your
feeding her so that she can make the most of her genetic make-up.
A sheep gives less milk than a goat and to be profitable you should
aim for at least twice the return for cow's milk.
Very little sheep's milk is sold in liquid form although it is
apparently more easily digested than goat's or cow's milk. Ewe's
milk makes delicious cheese - blue like the delicious Roquefort or
white and fresh. It has a specific acid flavour. It also makes delicious
yoghurt but we like to drain this and make another type of
soft cheese (see page 168). Specialist cheeses can sell through
delicatessens and health shops but the vital factor to take into
consideration is the appearance of the cheese after a few days.
Like goat's milk soft cheeses, it may tend to weep. As with goat's
milk cheese, the only way to avoid this is to be very careful about
how you make it.
The cow, once you have decided to cope with her bulk, is a very
At least almost all of them are. If you do come
across an awkward dairy cow, it may be a nervous heifer that has
just dropped her first calf. If she should kick you when you milk
her, you can at least afford her some sympathy. She has a long
milking life ahead of her. If the cow is an established kicker you
either have to become adept at avoiding her or get rid of her. The
whole point about dealing with cows is that you do not argue with
them. They are too heavy.
You can choose the type of cow for the enterprise you have in
mind. Choosing one of the Channel Island breeds is quite traditional
for an enterprise with only a few animals. Although their
yields are lower, the fat content is higher - you get extra per pint.
They are also less wear on the land as they are light and, of course,
they eat less than the bigger breeds. They tend to prefer milder .
climates so if you live in a cold and windy spot you may have to
keep them in for a fair part of the year or even consider putting
rugs on them. The milk from the Guernsey is a really deep yellow,
the cream rises beautifully. We find the whole milk too rich and
only use skimmed milk in tea and coffee. The cream is fantastic
for making butter although if you compare the cost of the butter
you make to the butter you buy, you will head straight back to
the supermarket. This is because the butter we buy is made from
subsidised milk. It is therefore most profitable to sell the milk or
cream and buy your butter. We confess to enjoying our own
If you aim to make cream by skimming it off the top of milk
that has stood for a while, do go for a Channel Island cow.
until you become very skilled at it. You can see clearly the difference
in colour where you have not collected all of the cream. A
really skilled skimmer will leave the surface of skimmed milk
totally free from grease. You can sell the cream in tubs labelled
'Channel Island Cream'. You cannot say double cream unless you
have used a machine to take the cream and you can be certain that
the fat level is sufficient. If you use a cream separator, it must
work efficiently or you will not get all of the cream. You can
regulate machines to produce different grades of cream. Unfortunately
these useful gadgets are expensive. Almost everyone who
buys a small one wishes instantly that they had bought a bigger
size. The hand-operated ones tend to wear more quickly than the
motor-driven ones. Even if you can buy a second-hand one you are
likely to find it expensive. Of course, cream can be clotted. We
produce most of our cream this way. (See recipes)
Again if you want to use this method it helps if the
cream is a dark colour.
The Ayrshire produces ideal milk for making a really good
cheese. The fat globules are evenly distributed through the milk
and therefore stay in the cheese more easily. To produce bulk
milk, the traditional high yielder is the Friesian. Every farm in
children's books has fields populated with contented black and
white high yielders. They are big cows and their feet are also big.
If your land tends to get waterlogged, beware of heavy cows.
All milk animals require good feeding, regular worming and to be
made pregnant regularly to keep the milk cycle going.
sheep this is easy. Most sheep-owners have a ram or at least access
to one from a neighbour. Goats are slightly more complex. You
may have to travel some distance to find the billy you want. Not
many goat-owners keep billys. To start with many goat-owners
only have one or two animals. Apart from that, a male goat really
stinks. No doubt that will incense someone whose billy smells
delightful. However, all the billys we or our friends have come
across smell, at least for most of the year.
To get a cow in calf involves one of two happenings. Either you
have or have access to a bull, or you contact the AI man. The AI
man is someone from the Milk Marketing Board who will come
and artificially inseminate your cow. This gives you a great choice
of father. All the bulls are specially selected for performance. You
can choose the breed you want, either the same as the cow or
another breed, to produce a specific type of calf. If you intend to
produce more milkers of your own, you will probably want to
breed true to type. In that case your heifers will grow up and go
into your herd. Often, as in the case of Channel Island calves, the
males are not valuable as they do not grow to a heavy beef carcass.
You must either sell them for a low price or fatten them yourself.
We have fattened Jersey bull calves ourselves. They must be
neutered at an early age as Channel Island bulls are very unpredictable
and can be vicious. The meat is excellent and the fat a
yellow colour. The market in general does not like the lightweight
carcass but if you intend to consume it or sell it yourself, it is
certainly worth trying. To produce heavier carcasses from a
Channel Island dam, you can select a bull from a breed such as the
Dorset. This produces a good beef carcass. From Friesians and
other larger cows you can produce all sorts of beef animals. A pure
Friesian bull calf grows very well although many farmers prefer to
cross with a sire such as a Hereford. It is worth keeping very good
records of the sires you select and the results of your progeny. All
livestock enterprises can benefit from records. It is easy to see
where animals grew slowly, which dams produced heavy milking
heifers and so on.
All dairy enterprises necessarily produce youngstock. Whether
you keep them or sell them depends on how you intend to run the
enterprise. With limited space, it is probably worth selling all the
youngstock and simply buying in replacements as needed. With
plenty of space, the attraction in raising your own youngsters is
Many producers milk goats and sheep by hand; very few milk cows
The smaller animals are quicker to milk and often their
owners enjoy the peaceful routine of hand-milking. This is com-
pared to the noisier use of machinery and the necessity to clean
the machine out afterwards. It's easier with your hands - you just
wash them! The peaceful routine of hand-milking in fact only
comes after some days or weeks of agony. If you have never handmilked
and launch straight in, the exquisite agony of pains in your
tendons and muscles cannot be described. Your grip on the teat
should be as soft as silk, your squeeze gentle but the regular
stresses on unprepared muscle makes the milker, not the milked, a
creature of torn nerve ends. We started off our own venture with
goats milking by hand because in those early days manufacturers
of milking machines thought the goat market too small to bother
with. With the boom in goats came the machines and truthfully we
very thankfully joined the ranks of the automated. We have only
milked cows by hand when absolutely necessary, for example,
milking the odd house cow when our elderly machine started
having hiccups. They were always perfectly happy, as we smiled
and spoke softly in their presence. If you are milking a cow by
hand you must be fairly quick about the whole operation. The
cow 'lets down', that is releases her milk, for only about seven
minutes. That sounds a lot until you are faced with a heavy yielding
cow and then it's like 'beat the clock'. The different pulses
required to milk cows, goats and sheep are now all catered for by
the machinery experts. (We are reliably informed that they also
cater for llamas and camels should that interest you.)
The obvious increase in yield when a dairy cow goes out on to
fresh grass may become a thing of the past. Hydroponic grass units
- there are some churning out tons of sprouted grass daily -
could make it Summer all year long. This makes it theoretically
possible for dairy cows never to set foot on grass at all. If you cut
all the grass they consume from the field and cart it to them you
can also become an indoor milk producer. The thought that those
gentle beasts never eat a single daisy or tread on a little ant in the
production of that great foodstuff seems to remove a lot of the
pleasure from drinking it. However, when the rain is pouring and
your precious land is being chewed up by great bovine hooves, the
question can be seen in quite a different light.
The milk you take from goat, sheep or cow will either be in a pail
if you milk by hand, or in a churn of some type if you milk by
If you have a large number of animals, there is another
possibility: it may flow straight from the animal to a bulk tank.
With a bulk tank, your system will incorporate filters and a cooling
system. If you do not have this degree of automation, you will
still have to filter and cool the milk. With the milk from one goat
you can simply strain it through some filter paper and put it in
jugs or bottles in the fridge. It is more effective to cool even a
small quantity of milk by standing it in a receptacle in a bowl of
running water. With larger amounts of milk, the system becomes
more complicated. With a few cows you can strain the milk from
one churn to another through specific milk filters. There are
water-cooled radiators to run the milk over to cool it or you can
develop Heath-Robinson-type gadgets.
The aim is the same however
you do it: to strain the milk of unwanted dust and impurities
and to cool it in order to slow the natural processes of 'going off.
The problem with handling milk is that it is an extremely perishable
product. It will also pick up flavours from the air, for
example, silage clamps too close to the dairy can taint the milk.
Odd greenstuff consumed by the milk animals can also produce
'off flavours. The usual example quoted to illustrate this kind of
disaster is the flavour produced in cows milk when the herd has
happily consumed quantities of wild garlic. The traditional remedy
in cases like this is to make the garlic-flavoured milk into soft
cheese. Of course, if you had intended to sell the milk whole or as
fruit yoghurt, your problems are clear.
EEC regulations aim to prevent the sale of untreated milk.
The threat of these regulations being enforced across the board
seems to have been lifted at least for a time. Many people appreciate
the flavour of 'raw' milk and farmers who bottle direct are
naturally fighting this threat to their way of life. There is now a
relatively small milk pasteurisation unit on the market which may
make the possibly inevitable compulsory pasteurisation more
feasible on the farm. If you intend to sell your milk to the Milk
Marketing Board, you will be kept informed as to the levels of
antibiotics and dirt in your milk. The obvious position should be
that there is none. If the milk is sold direct by you or further
processed, there are few tests unless you are processing cow's milk.
If you produce milk that is not absolutely clean and then process
it into cheese you will find that odd flavours and moulds develop.
It is worth establishing a clear routine for dealing with the milk
There are small churns available should you wish to
keep your own milk in churns or if you find that regular customers
would like to collect their milk like this. Just to carry fresh
milk in a small churn seems to take you back to a slower age. At
the other end of the scale you may wish to put your milk into
heavy-duty polythene bags. There are specially printed ones available
for goat's milk and they certainly make freezing very easy.
Cream pots can be bought in difference sizes and with special
printing on them such as 'Channel Island Cream'.
can be sold in small tubs as well or in big square boxes if you are
selling to a retailer who wishes to break it down from his cold
counter. As Kent is not traditionally a county producing clotted
cream we have had little competition when selling ours. The
flavour of farmhouse clotted cream is nowadays fast disappearing.
Most clotted cream is manufactured in bulk from cream that has
already been mechanically separated. Traditionally the milk is put
into large flat pans, the cream is left overnight to rise and in the
morning the whole pan is very slowly heated until the thick flakes
of clotted cream form on the surface. The pan is then cooled and
the cream removed using a skimmer. If you do not have sufficient
space to process all the cream you want, you can produce more
cream per pan. This way you must first separate the cream and
then run it on to a little milk in the bottom of the pan. It will clot
the cream but there will not be as much crust. We find that we
produce the most delicious clotted cream using Guernsey milk.
Yoghurt is now very popular. You can make fruit ones, either
buying a specific fruit mix or using your own home-made jams.
You can make yoghurt from whole or skimmed milk. The latter is
always popular with slimmers, but the former has the better
flavour. If you want to be really greedy, try making yoghurt using
evaporated milk. The flavour is phenomenal! Soft junkets and
other creamy sweets can certainly make a profit if they are fed to
paying guests or, if your property is suitable, you could consider
serving lunches, coffees and cream teas. For a capable cook the
margins achieved in this kind of venture are excellent. To find
outlets for this kind of dairy produce it may be possible to come
to an arrangement with the owner of a pub or restaurant. Although
the proprietors of such places may not have the time to be involved
in such a venture, they may be willing to allow you to use their
facilities for a moderate fee.
Taking dairy work into cheese-making is following the tradition
of our ancestors who were endeavouring to save some of the
summer overproduce in a nutritious form for consumption in the
The very simplest way to produce a soft cheese is to leave
milk to sour and then strain it. This generally produces a sharp-tasting
soft cheese. You can beat in a little cream to make it
softer or salt or herbs to flavour it; it is also delicious with soft
fruit and it can, of course, be used in cooking. All the other forms
of cheese are based on the same principles. You do something to
encourage the milk to separate into curds and whey. This can be
done simply by leaving the milk to sour quickly in a warm place
or using a cheese rennet to coagulate the milk. Then strain the
curds off and process them as you wish. You are always left with
whey. If the curds have been efficiently made and processed there
will not be much whey left. Some whey, however, contains solids
and butterfat. In any case, the whey is nutritious and easy to
digest. Years ago some farmhouses fermented the whey and
produced a sparkling drink from it. We use it a lot in baking, it
makes excellent scones. You can further process the whey to
remove all the solids and make another type of cheese. Or you can
use it in another valuable way: feed it to poultry for the finest
birds imaginable. Any cat or dog thinks they are pampered beyond
belief when fed on it and pigs guzzle it.
This kind of lower level use is not good enough for skimmed milk,
that is milk from which you have removed the cream. Although in
some cream-producing farms it is still fed to the pigs, and this use is
encouraged by government subsidies, it is really better used for
human consumption. Anyone on a diet appreciates the fewer calo-
ries in skimmed milk (compared with whole milk), and anyone with
a history of heart problems would benefit from its lower cholesterol
level. For your own consumption you may prefer to use it in place of
whole milk, particularly if the cows you have are Channel Island.
Goat's milk makes excellent cream and butter if you persevere
for long enough. Some goats do produce quite creamy milk
although sometimes waiting for the butter to turn is a lengthy
process. To go all the way and produce hard cheeses is one of the
most satisfying dairy enterprises as long as things go well. If they
do not, it is one of the most disappointing.
There are many regional cheeses that have disappeared from our
tables due to the centralisation of cheese manufacture.
seems that we are beginning to revive old recipes and be more
inventive in the dairy. Although we are now competing with the
continentals in producing a Brie-type of cheese in Britain, it is not
suitable for producing in a non-specialist environment. This type
of cheese requires an extremely controlled environment to mature
successfully. It also requires very specialist knowledge and techniques.
Similar-shaped cheeses, large round flat ones, can be produced
satisfactorily using limited equipment and techniques but
the consistency of the cheese is not the same. Small Stiltons sell
well at Christmas and you may wish to produce similar-sized
cheese of a different variety for marketing at that time.
Your product may require local advertising and possibly even tasting
sessions - but it would be extremely nice if the traditional
upsurge in the cheese market at Christmas benefited our own
cheese industry as much as it does the French.