When we ask Josep about industrial farms, he says “They are not farms, they are milk factories. Each cow has a number, and they watch their numbers on the computer. If they don’t meet their number, they are sold and a new one is brought in. They’re not thought of as cows… they are milk making machines.”
Josep milks his cows twice a day - in the morning and at night. However, in the morning he only milks the cows that want to be milked. He puts out oats and the cows that come get milked - about ten of his thirty. The others he lets be. He averages 5 liters of milk per cow per day. On an industrial farm, cows are expected to produce five to ten times that.
Josep says “The cows are my family”, a sentiment reflected in the way he treats them. Most of his cows have names. “Not all of them. It has to be a name I like calling them.” His farm feels more like a place that sells cheese for the sake of providing a home for cows, than a place that houses cows for the sake of making cheese.
Each night Josep goes to the pasture and calls “Petitas! Petitas!” - “little ones” in Catalan. Three cows too young to be milked jump up and follow him to the new stables he built last year. Behind them follow seven pregnant cows who he milks, feeds and keeps in the new stables away from the rest. He doesn’t have to tell them where to go - every cow knows its place and goes on its own.
After those ten cows are secured, he walks back down to the field, and the rest follow, single file, up to the 120 year old farmhouse carved out of the stables (if you walk out of our bedroom and look down through the inch-wide cracks in the 100-year old floorboards, you see, and smell, the stables.) The largest stable holds fifteen cows, the smallest just one.
At the house he milks 20 cows each night, and puts up a small fence to keep them in the general vicinity to make morning milking easier. That’s why it’s not uncommon to be cooking dinner and see a 1,200 pound heffer standing outside the kitchen window. We hear cow bells all night long.
After morning milking the fence is dropped, the cows make their way out to the pasture for morning feeding. They lay in the pasture all day, bathing in the sun and chewing their cud, until the evening comes and the cycle starts over again.
The result of this labor, aside from some very happy cows, is 120L of milk a day in the slow season (now) and up to 300L of milk per day in the summer. Josep uses the milk to make cheese which he sells to small markets, restaurants, and the occasional consumer that finds their way up the long dirt road to buy directly from the source.
If you enjoyed this post you may want to follow me on Twitter.