I recently had the opportunity to talk with Liz Schroeder, one of the owners of Molasses and her buddy Blossom. They live together on a property high above Anderson Valley, which includes a large vegetable garden a shed that holds solar powered batteries, a breeding bull, and the bull’s two- month old calf. On our tour we went through a natural stick gate, passed an area recently thinned and transitioning to an oak grassland savannah, and stopped at a small barn. Two meat goats bleated at us. We walked down to the pasture where Liz introduced me to Molasses. I listened to Liz describe her work as I scratched Molasses’ head. While Liz enjoys homeschooling her seven-year old daughter and other land-based activities like maintaining a large veggie garden, her big focus is to keep the cows healthy and productive. Molasses shares her pasture with the other Jersey cow, Blossom, who is pregnant and due to deliver next month. She is storing energy for her calf and is currently not producing milk.
I asked Liz how she finds customers for her milk and Liz replied that she does not sell milk as that would be illegal. She enjoys sharing the milk her cows produce with the other owners of the cow who understand the risk that some health professional identify with raw milk and are still able to appreciate the quality food.
Liz greets Molasses at 6am every morning and leads her from her pasture to the milking shed. There she hooks up the milking machine and within minutes Molasses’ job is done: two and a half gallons of nutritious milk. Liz’s work has just begun. From a large, stainless steel pail she pours the milk through a filter into sterilized half gallon-sized glass jars and immerses them in an ice bath. She leads Molasses back to her pasture. Then she cleans all the equipment. This step is laborious and all-important so that there is no chance of contamination. Once the milk is chilled, she transfers the bottles to a refrigerator in the milking parlor next to the shed. It also houses a large sink, hot water, a dishwasher, and supplies. At 6pm Liz repeats the entire process.
She feeds each cow 25 to 35 pounds of hay each day. She keeps a careful watch on their weight so they are neither too fat nor too thin. Molasses gets the larger amount to maximize her milk production. A free choice mineral buffet supplements the hay: twelve buckets containing minerals such as zinc, copper, magnesium and calcium are nailed to a large board on the ground. Each eats what she needs. This mineral supplementation helps to keep the cows healthy and their milk especially nutritious. Liz also sprouts trays-full of grain such as barley for a nutritious treat. The cows browse grass when it’s available, about three to six months of the year. Rotational grazing is an important part of the land management and pasture improvement to avoid damage caused by overgrazing. The cows’ ample manure fertilizes the soil.
Liz invited me to the home she shares with her husband, Brent, and their daughter, Esther. She and I talked about why she feels so passionate about keeping dairy cows. “Raw milk is much more nutritious and flavorful than what is available in stores. It’s more easily digested and contains healthy bacteria that would be destroyed by the high temperatures used in pasteurization. I also like that my family and I are eating close to the source of our food.” Liz went on to explain that she used to enjoy dairy products from a herd share in Boonville. The owners moved away about four years ago. Liz and her good friend, Abeja, decided to take on the care of the animals to maintain a source of quality raw milk.
“I have always been passionate about living on and improving the land where I live. Manure from farm animals fertilizes the soil. By moving livestock around we can build pasture and healthy soil where it didn’t exist before. Raising cows seemed like a good thing to do.”
Abeja helped get the project off the ground, but over time Liz took over all the daily responsibilities. “I like rhythm in my life. Keeping a twelve-hour milking schedule actually maximizes the milk output. Getting up early doesn’t bother me. I love working with the cows. They are very affectionate animals.”
Liz shares milk with the other owners of Molasses and Blossom. If she has excess milk she makes yogurt and occasionally butter, sour cream, and cheese. Pigs love the leftovers. Liz said she might expand to three cows, but no more than that due to lack of pasture. Her partners say that they appreciate having access to raw milk. Barbara Goodell, who accompanied me on this visit, said, “Each bottle has several inches of thick cream floating on the surface of the milk because it is not homogenized — unbelievably delicious in hot beverages or as whipped cream.”
If you are interested in learning more, you may do so by emailing Liz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(To read previous Connecting With Local Food articles, please go to www.mendocinolocalfood.org. Questions or comments can be directed to email@example.com.)