Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chickens And Cattle And Goats, Oh My!

This was first published in the June, 2009 edition of the Left Hand Valley Courier as part of my regular Vicinity and Beyond series.

Chickens and Cattle and Goats, Oh My!

As I tell people, I’m a city girl. Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, wildlife in my childhood neighborhood consisted of pigeons, sparrows and squirrels. Or the baby elephant that escaped from a circus train and wandered through town. But that’s another story.

When I was a kid, as far as I knew the only difference between a farm and a zoo was who was more likely to eat who. Which explains why I was snapping pictures of cows and chickens and goats during a recent visit to Windsor Dairy.

As far as the reason for the visit to the dairy, it all goes back to a crazy idea I had about making cheese at home. It sounded like an interesting project, but the more I read about it, the more opinions there were about the value of fresh organic milk for cheesemaking as opposed to pasteurized milk.

In particular, the antibiotics in non-organic milk can hinder the cheesemaking process, and there’s a difference in texture between cheese made from raw milk and those that have been heated to high temperatures during commercial pasteurization.

The problem is that in Colorado, you can’t legally buy or sell raw milk. It’s perfectly legal in other states, and in some areas of the country raw milk is at stores, right next to the big brands.

Here, the only way you can have raw milk is if you own a cow, which is a little easier than you might think. Some dairies sell shares of their herds, which gives shareholders a set amount of milk per week, along with access to other raw milk products. It’s perfectly legal, and becoming quite common.

Windsor Dairy is one of the local dairies that sells shares, as I found out at the Boulder Farmer’s Market on opening day. So I signed up for a half-share and went to the dairy to see the operation and meet some cows.

Besides the organic dairy herd, Windsor Dairy also raises some cattle for meat, and chickens for their eggs. Dairy goats are a relatively new addition to the livestock at the farm. Since there are so few goats right now, the milk will be available first to people who require goat milk for health reasons.

The animals at Windsor Dairy seem to be living the good life, compared to the conditions we’ve heard about at factory farms. Here, the chickens roam free once they’ve adjusted to the idea of coming indoors at night (to keep them safe from predators). Even the ones still being trained had quite a bit of space to roam outdoors.

The cows weren’t quite as under-foot as the chickens, but they also had plenty of room to roam. The cows are all pasture-raised, when there’s green stuff growing on the ground for them to eat.

On the tour, it was explained that it’s not all grass in the fields. Cows like wildflowers and other plants as well, and the dairy plants special mixtures to keep the cows happy and healthy.

Part of the dairy tour includes time to watch the milking operation. A little more high-tech than a guy on a three-legged stool, the milking is automated but not completely hands-off. The cows seemed completely oblivious to the whole process.

Besides offering a tour of the property, the dairy also has a small store where it sells dairy products, fresh eggs, and meat. While aged cheeses are available to the public, the raw dairy products are only available to people who own a share in the herd.

Windsor Dairy offers tours on Friday and Saturday at 3 p.m. or by appointment. The dairy store is open Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 1 – 5 p.m. For more information see