I gave away my whole milking setup this week! It went to a wonderful part-Basque family from Wilton, south of Sacramento. I met them when 13-year-old Mati sent me an email inquiring about buying dairy ewe lambs to start a backyard dairy. I talked with Mati’s mom, Carmen, and after hearing more about their family and their plans, I agreed to sell them the end of my dairy genetics, three beautiful 75% East Friesian ewe lambs, Joe’s last daughters. I love these three lambs–they are the visual summary of my flock over more than a decade: one white, one all black, and one that classic East Friesian black-and-white with a blaze.
Mati sent me photos of herself and her brothers dressed for traditional Basque dancing, and of herself showing her lamb in last year’s fair, and I began to feel such a Basque kinship with this family. They reminded me of my cousin Linda’s family.
When I learned that Mati’s father, Tod, is a contractor, and VERY handy, I had an idea–to give them my entire milking setup. It has been sitting in my barn, unused, for several years, and while it is a bit outdated for a commercial dairy, it would be a perfect setup for a family like Mati’s, who plan to milk up to a dozen ewes, to have milk, ice cream, cheese and other products for their family. The decision felt so right, once I made it, and Mati’s family were excited at the prospect.
They arrived on Wednesday with their friend Pat, also a contractor, their horse-trailer and Pat’s 24-foot flatbed trailer. Lolo was sidelined with Covid, but Tod has lots of experience with heavy equipment, and he drove our skid steer beautifully. Melinda was watching his hands and remarked that he handled the controls with the lightness and grace of a musician. Mati and her mom, Carmen, worked with me, boxing up milking units, hoses, milk-meters and all the other small equipment, while Tod and Pat meticulously documented and then disassembled all the large equipment in the milking parlor. They are such cheerful and hard workers, it really was a fun and thrilling day.
Tod and Pat spent much of the day trouble-shooting; when our double-barn door turned out to be inoperable, and the milking platform was too long to fit through the single door, Tod used the skid steer to drag the platform from one end, using plywood as skids.
The platform was almost too heavy for the skid steer to lift, but Tod managed it, very carefully, with Pat’s guidance. The ramps fit perfectly next to the platform on the trailer, and there was just room enough behind for my first cheese-vat, a restaurant steam kettle, which will make a perfect vat for the volume of cheese Mati and Carmen want to make. I learned to make cheese from Larry Fallaice, of Three Shepherds of the Mad River Valley, in Vermont, in a steam kettle just a bit bigger than this one. Larry’s daughter was a professional cheesemaker while still in her teens, reported to be the youngest professional cheesemaker in the U.S. Mati reminds me of her.
Once all the equipment was tied down on the trailer, and the smaller pieces organized into bins and stowed in the horse trailer, we loaded up the three girls for their trip to their new home.
We posed for a few photos and goodbyes, and I got such a kick of seeing my milking platform head out on the Marshall-Petaluma Road! I imagined neighbors saying, “Oh look! There goes Marcia’s milking parlor!”
Carmen sent photos once they arrived home, of the girls meeting Mati’s back-up show-lamb from this year, who Mati plans to breed for meat lambs.
The family will be back soon to get the bulk tank and the vacuum pump, and Tod promised to bring what he needs to fix our big barn door! I look forward to following Mati, Carmen and Tod’s journey with their little dairy.