XIX. MILKING THE SHEEP. ARDI-JEIZTEA
Milking time and way. Kukurumuku jeitzi
The custom in many places was to cut the sheep’s tails to make it easier to reach the animal’s udder and to milk the ewes better. Our description will move from west to east mainly of the Atlantic side of the watershed because sheep were bred on the Mediterranean side mainly for meat and not for producing milk.
In Triano (B), the animals were milked twice a day, once for the morning and the other for the evening when they came back from the meadow and had fed their lambs. The task was performed crouching down or sitting on a small stool, at the back of the animal and the milk was caught in a zinc container. The ewes produce milk from when they give birth, in January or February, until July when they would only be milked once a day. Some of the people surveyed that ewes gave 100 days of milk and milking would begin when the lambs were sold in March.
In the Valle de Orozko-Gorbea (B), the shepherd would get up at five or six in the morning, egunsentian, and his first job was to round up and milk the ewes, ezi, and to then make the cheese. He would put in a pen the ones that had to be milked, esnedunak, separating those that had given birth, axuridunak. The posture adopted to milk the animal was squatting, kukurumuxu, kukumixu.
Goat's and ewe's milk. Its use
The Lacha sheep, bred to obtain milk, are above all found on the Atlantic side of the watershed. The Churra, Rasa and Merina ewes, bred for meat, have been more typical on the Mediterranean side.
In the past, cheese was made with the ewe’s milk that was not used for feeding, once the lambs had been weaned. A small amount was sold and shepherds would also occasionally make junket. Our surveys discovered that goats were the main animal kept instead of ewes in Álava and in some parts of Navarra. On the Atlantic side, the farmsteads would only have a few domesticated goats. Goat herds raised for meat are now gaining in importance. Cow’s milk has gradually replaced goat’s and ewe’s milk.
The ewe’s milk production used for the artisan production of cheese has declined in recent years and is now nearly only reduced to household use. The milk is sold to dairies or the shepherds themselves and their family members make the cheese on a large scale.
In the past, the milk was kept fresh by storing it in containers that were then placed in cold water; shepherds now have refrigerated churns and even have small cold stores in their vehicles.
Up until the 1930s, many farmsteads produced milk for their own use and then began to take the surplus to the city to sell it in the street, from house-to-house and at market. Bottled or packaged cow’s milk is drunk today. It comes from the capital and is available is different types: full, semi-skimmed, skimmed, pasteurised…
Milking the cow by hand. Behi-jeiztea
The traditional way of collecting the milk from the cows was milking by hand. Mechanical milking equipment would not be introduced until the 1960s and 1970s, even though its use and acceptance quickly spread.
Milking in the Valle de Carranza (Bizkaia) is described below. It can be taken as a valid example for the rest of the territory.
A pail, a small wooden stool to sit on and a rope to tie up the cow to be milk is needed to milk the animal by hand.
The pail is usually made of zinc or galvanised metal as it is easier to clean and was lighter. It also means that the pail will not rust. Despite the introduction of plastic buckets, they have not been used for this task as it is difficult to hold them between their legs because they buckle and it is impossible to hold them when full of milk.
The milking stool is small, made out of wood, with three of four legs and used to always be made at home.
The rope is used to tie the tail to the closest leg where the cowman is going to sit to milk it. The rope is tied once or twice around the tail and then around the leg above the heel with a loop and a knot.
Some people would achieve the same effect by opening up a sack on one seam to form a hood and it was placed over the cow’s back quarters.
Heifers in general kick and it takes time to stop the tickles, in other words, to get them use to milking.
Different methods have been used to stop cows kicking during milking. One of them consisted of immobilising one of the front legs using a stick and a belorto or flexible oak rod in the form of a hoop. The cow’s leg was bent at the ankle and the belorto was put round it. The stick was then put in the gap between the cow’s hoof and the oak rod, so that the animal could not put it on the floor and was standing on three legs. That meant it was impossible for the cow to raise one of her back legs and kick out.
At the end of the 1960s, a gimmick called a milking iron began to be sold at the livestock fairs. It consisted of a bent metal tube but with an open angle. A piece of iron bent in the form of a hooked handle was inserted at each end. The tube had two rows of holes in which a small metal button was inserted to keep each of the two moving parts in place. The iron was first placed in the hole between where the tail starts and the gadget; the other end was placed against the flank of the animal and pressed upwards until the button was in the hole and it was held in place.
- In the Basque County, ewe’s milk was usually used to make cheese. The majority of Basque cheeses were made using the milk from Lacha sheep. The profitability percentage of Lacha ewes in the 1970s was: milk 58%, suckling lamb 39% and wool 3%. See Iñigo AGIRRE. Eusko Lurra. Bilbao: 1974, p. 72.