Dear Readers, first of all, Happy New Year to all of you – I hope that 2022 is a lot less worrying and stressful than it’s been for many of us. I wish you everything that you would wish for for yourselves.
Now, when I was in my twenties I worked on a City Farm in Dundee. We had pigs and chickens, rabbits and ducks, and two goats, one of whom was an Anglo-Nubian just like the one in the photo. The farm manager (the one who ran away from the goose back on Day Six) wanted to try his hand at making cheese, and so we got two female, heavily pregnant goats. Each had twin kids, all four of them males. This was extremely bad news for them, as we might have kept a female, but the males were weaned as quickly as possible and then hustled off to the abattoir aged a few months. There wasn’t much of a market for kid meat then either, so they probably went straight into pet food.
I remember milking Noleen, the Anglo-Nubian. To keep the milk coming, she had to be milked every day. In nature, once the kids were weaned they’d stop feeding, and the milk would dry up naturally. While the milk was constantly being taken, her body would think that she still had babies to feed. I remember sitting next to her, feeling the warmth emanating from her furry body, and admiring her endless patience with my ineptitude. Over time we got used to one another and everything stilled except for the sound of the milk hissing into the bucket, and the sound of Noleen chomping on some hay. Her babies were gone, so I wondered if being milked gave her some comfort beyond the merely physical.
Of course, Noleen gradually gave less and less milk, and eventually dried up, even with my ministrations. Soon, she would be on heat and would be off to see the billy, a monstrous creature twice her size. Billy goats pee on themselves to add to their olfactory attractions, and this one was kept in a shed at the goat farm for most of the time. He seemed to glow in the darkness, a penumbra of ammonia surrounding his body. His only purpose was to service the females who would be brought in to see him, and he glowered out at us, a look of justifiably malicious intent in his yellow eyes. Once Noleen was pregnant again the cycle would continue, until she was too old to procreate, at which point she would probably be pet food as well.
None of this will come as any surprise to most people reading this: using animals for milk is as old as agriculture in the Western world at least (though not in large parts of Asia). But for me, a city girl who had her milk delivered in glass bottles by the milkman, it was a revelation. It seemed, and still seems, such a long-winded and callous way to get protein. I have continued to drink milk and eat cheese, but there is always, at the back of my mind, a discomfort with the cost to the animals who provide it. I find I’m gradually reducing my dairy products without even consciously thinking about it, and I’m going to try Veganuary this year, just to see what’s possible and how it makes me feel. I hope to get some new recipes that I can incorporate into my cookery routine, which has gotten a little stale, and who knows where it will lead? I do love an adventure.
Now, to return to the theme of the Twelve Days of Christmas (from which I seem to have strayed, as usual), it’s at this point in the song that it all seems to me to get a bit silly. After all, I can understand being brought partridges and pear trees and chickens and (possibly) blackbirds, but what am I going to do with eight milkmaids and, presumably, their cows? I only have a small house, after all. What might be rather nicer would be to receive a bouquet of the flowers below, that are all known as ‘milkmaids’ in one part of the country or another (many thanks to Roy Vickery’s Folk Flora for the details). I am guessing that most, though not all, of the plants got their names because of their white-as-milk colouration, while presumably some were associated with cows through their preferred habitat in meadows or fields.
Can you match the more usual common name to the plants below?
All of the plants below have been known as ‘milkmaids’. Can you match the plant to the name?
a) Cowslip (Primula veris)
b) Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
c) Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa)
d) Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis)
e) Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis)
f) Greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea)
Goat photo by U+1F360, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo 1 by brewbooks from near Seattle, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo 2 by Lawn Weeds, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo 3 by Björn S…, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo 4 by Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo 5 by Sannse at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo 6 by Mark Robinson from Williton, UK, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons