The Recurring Cow Conversation

“Do we want the local (conventional) milk, or the large-scale organic (shipped 2500 km) milk this week?”

In case you were wondering, we’re not actually planning on getting a cow. We only have an acre and a half cleared, and the cow would need most of it for pasture. It’s swampy and we’re near a river, and we already have plans for some of that land, and they don’t include pasture other than for bees and chickens. You cannot take a cow places with you for the weekend, so all vacations are right out of the picture. Most obviously, a cow is a metric butt-load of work. Literally.

Despite all these drawbacks, the mythical cow keeps coming up in conversations, because lack of access to sustainably produced milk is one of the things that gets right up my nose. As we often eat a nearly vegetarian diet for months at a time, dairy makes up a significant portion of our food dollar, and I’m uncomfortable with where a lot of that is going. In addition, the cow is often the missing component of the sustainable permaculture-like system we envision for our landscape, so four or five times a week is not out of the ordinary for the recurring cow conversation.

“Too bad we don’t have access to a source for manure that isn’t contaminated with garbage.” “You know, we could solve that problem with a cow. Cow’s make TONS of manure.” (That is one of the two main reasons that we don’t have a cow.)

“Boy, I’d like to make cheese, but it takes $16 of milk to make one pound.” “I hear that a cow gives so much milk that you have to make cheese two or three times a week just to keep up. Of course, then you have the problem of what to do with all that cheese.” (Cheese rolling jokes divert us from further consideration of the cow.)

“You know that if you don’t eat vegan, you’re contributing to the veal industry, right?” (This one is usually directed AT us, rather than part of the conversation within the family, but it has a significant piece of truth and I don’t want to dismiss it lightly. Sometimes people use it as an argument against vegetarian eating, but it tends to tip me more towards the vegan end of things. Except that monoculture nuts are an environmental catastrophe. And we can get local dairy, whereas we can’t get local legumes or nuts. But I digress. This is about cows, not nuts.)

I would buy my neighbour’s milk, but I’m not allowed to. Specifically, she’s not allowed to sell it to me. I want her milk, she wants to sell her milk, but we’re not allowed to make that exchange, although I am allowed to drink it when she invites me for dinner. It’s good milk, high in cream, and the butter is bright yellow because the cow gets lots of pasture which increases her beta-carotene levels. But I’m not allowed that milk, only the pallid industrial milk that feels a lot like a processed food after I’ve had the real thing. The only way I can get access to real, whole milk (pasteurized or not) is by purchasing, raising, breeding, pasturing, milking, and mucking out a cow of my very own.

So we go around and around and around, and every few days, the conversation comes back to the cow we don’t have.

The most recent one went like this:

Me: I’m going to try making yogurt cheese, I think. The yogurt was a really good price this week.

Him: That’s a good idea. Maybe we should try making our own yogurt again?

Me: I would, except the milk costs so much that it is cheaper to just buy the yogurt, even the organic stuff.

Him: Oh. (realizing the trap he has set for himself) So, can we just assume the intervening bits of this conversation and skip straight to the cow part to get it over with?

23 responses to “The Recurring Cow Conversation”

    • Hee hee hee. There is also a recurring goat conversation that sounds very similar. We have space for a goat. We have a “barn” that is big enough for a goat. But it still involves being home at the same time every morning and evening to milk, which is the major hold up.

  1. Veal? What?

    I have thought about becoming a vegan. Reasons I have not done so are somewhat frivolous (cheese, butter, ice cream) but also practical (not having a clue how to put together a healthful vegan diet, especially without overuse of overprocessed soy-based products). But veal? Really? I don’t want to know. Except that now I have to know.

    • Male calves are a waste product of dairy farming, since dairy breeds don’t put on muscle mass the same way as beef breeds, and you need very few mature bulls. That waste product is taken as an input by veal producers.

      • Thank you.

        (This is not for CL, because I assume she knows this already. Having grown up with cows.)
        I have been looking at “dual purpose” breeds for consideration of this problem. You don’t get as much milk or meat, but you can get both and have a (to my mind) less problematic solution to the male calves problem. Goats and other dairy animals have the same issue. So do chickens. Male farm animals are not useful, and they tend to be aggressive and expensive to feed, so you can’t just keep them around as pets. That is the third reason that we haven’t gotten goats or a cow.

      • I suppose you could make your male calves into oxen. Then you can use the oxen to clear more land and plough it. It’s all very Catharine Parr Traill.

        Mind you, my fried Julian reports that working with oxen does things to you personality. They make you slllooooow. 😉

      • hey – I can only reply down a couple of levels. The pendant in me needs to point out that geldings are just as useful as mares, except from the propogation point of view.

    • I haven’t found a current vegan cookbook that I’m comfortable with because of the soy-fake-meat. Bleah. If I’m going to live without meat, I don’t want pretend meat. Also, I don’t want to substitute one protein for a whole range of other ones; doesn’t seem healthy OR sustainable. My sister has become a raw food advocate and is eating sprouts ’till they come out her ears. That approach is basically vegan and fairly healthy (it seems) although it is very labour intensive as you learn to “cook” again.

  2. 1/ Although you can’t ask someone to milk 50 cows, you might be able to trade-off the labour of milking 2 or 3.
    2/ Is an arrangement where you buy a cow that lives on your neighbour’s land possible in your fair province? With, perhaps, nominal pasture fees and milking fees. Own those means of production!

    • Ooooh! How Marxist of you. We thought about this, but although the Ontario case was successful, it would almost certainly end up in court in NS as well. Also, the “neighbour” to whom I refer doesn’t really live close by; we just see one another on a regular basis. I don’t want “my” cow outside of walking/biking distance if I can no longer get gas to go get the milk.

  3. Have you worked out the yogourt economics? I started making yogourt, assuming it was slightly cheaper (although time consuming). I also was tired of going without yogourt because some grocery stores didn’t have the plain or organic that I like.

  4. How about varying the cow conversation by contemplating a goat? :)what ARE milk prices out where you are?we have to make yogurt because they gouge us on the yogurt prices!

    • Since 2 of you asked about yogurt, I have an obvious project for the week. I’ll get back to you.

  5. Oops just read the goat comments above-should learn to read other thoughts before posting my own

    • Actually, I have taken to commenting BEFORE reading the other comments because I lose the thoughts otherwise. No problem. 🙂

  6. […] days. There was this reminder that we are in fact made of the Earth. There was her reflection on the recurring cow conversation in her household (wherein, in the comments, I display my appalling, though common, ignorance on the […]

  7. We get around this nasty money oriented government sticking heads and hands where…. anyways… as I was saying. Around here we buy ‘cow shares’ or ‘goat shares’. You pay for part of the animal, and your jars, and you get milk in return. Usually also done with a monthly fee that helps cover that animals feed and such and the co-owners labor. Lets say $20 for the share- refundable if you stop (your share gets sold back to you)- and $20 a month you pay for ‘your’ animals ‘upkeep’.