The story of how I got to taste the creamiest milk I’ve tasted in eons starts as most good tales do, in an obscure place with a simple fact.
In this case with an energetic lady called Moira, one Dexter cow in Benoni and a friend with a child with an endless snotty nose.
Moira and Rob are not farmers. Rather they fell into farming while running an earth moving equipment company which isn’t typically how tales of great farming finds begin.
Yet this is how this story began. Moira and Rob had a plot in Benoni and wanted a cow for her own milk. She has been introduced to a Dexter, an ideal cow for a small piece of land and a home farm as it is small in stature, yields great milk and is as gentle in nature as soft rain.
Moira fell in love with the very gentle, acquiescent nature of her Dexter and was over the moon with the yield of milk she got from it with little effort.
Sharing the excess of the milk with family and friends, one of her friends, the Mum with the child with the never ending runny nose issue, remarked that when she switched to drinking the Dexter milk from Moira, the child’s nose dried up altogether. Whenever Moira had to put her cow through a dry spell and the milk ran out and the friend returned the child to normal milk, the mucous problems would return.
This led Moira to start researching what might be the cause of this and where she stumbled on the great A1/A2 milk debate.
Like all debates around nutrition, it is a debate that has no resolution. When it comes to whether or not to drink milk from an empowered position borne of knowledge, prior your core debate was around whether to drink milk raw or pasteurised. Arguments for and against hold equal validity and it is one of those things you need to research and resolve for yourself. My own personal point of view on this for what its worth, is that I steer clear from pasteurised milk as I believe the benefits of milk from a nutritional perspective pale to grey once you destroy the beneficial micro-organisms in them. I find a live food that has live cultures of living bacteria a better medium to deal with any pathogens that may come into contact with it, safer than pasteurised where any pathogen can only grow at a rapid rate without them. That’s just my view borne out of my own research and personal philosophy. I also believe that the immunity of the cow is relevant to the conditions under which it is being raised and the quality of its diet – related to what it is predisposed to digesting – is critical. So my first prize is always raw dairy from a small, healthy, pasture raised cow. In this country, I want to know that the herd is tested regularly for TB and Brucellosis and I need to see the conditions of the farm.
There is another debate relevant to the drinking of milk that is rife now and that all revolves around a theory that the casein type that characterises the milk affects health differently.
I’ll give you a quick run-down of the key components of the debate, but I make no conclusion or have no position on it otherwise, other than – anecdotal evidence is important to me and the story of how this child’s nose ran when he returned to ‘normal’ milk but dried up when he drank Moira’s Dexter milk holds relevance to me.
I have also heard this theme repeat and repeat in the store so I know there is something to the noise. The jury is out for me on whether the difference is more about the fact that when he drank Moira’s milk the milk was raw and it is likely that when he returned to ‘normal’ milk it was likely pasteurized, nonetheless there was something different about the Dexter milk.
Milk is primarily made up on average of 85% water, 4.6% lactose (milk sugar), 3.7% triaclyglycerols (milk fat), 2.8% caseins (milk protein) and 0.54% minerals & 3.36% miscellaneous call it. Casein is the largest group of proteins in milk, making up around 80% of the protein content.
There are many types of casein, the second most prominent type is called beta-casein and exists in at least 13 different forms.
The 2 most common types are A1 beta casein predominantly coming from breeds that originate in Europe and A2 generally from breeds that originated in the Channel Islands & Southern France.
Regular milk most typically contains both A1 and A2 types and A2 milk – A2 beta casein only.
The A1/A2 debate centers around some research that indicates that A1 beta casein is associated with negative health effects and that A2 milk doesn’t. The people who believe in the argument here believe that A1 beta casein is associated with higher levels of diabetes, heart disease, digestive problems, SIDS and autism.
Please note that you need to do your research on this argument. As with all nutritional debates that involve science – arguments abound for both theories for and against. I can’t attempt to resolve those for you here but it is an interesting debate nonetheless and I find it exceptionally interesting that neither Moira nor her friend had any idea of this when they made their simple observation that this child had an entirely different reaction to the Dexter milk than others.
So I’ll leave it at that.
The story then evolves to Moira wanting more animals and a larger herd and ending up purchasing a 21ha piece of land in Bela-Bela where the herd is now up at 28.
This is where we found ourselves yesterday in what was again a first scene for me. Heaven knows I have traipsed many a farm on this journey but never have I seen dairy cows grazing in lush, tall veldt like that.
The grazing conditions so lush that it was literally a case of traipsing through shoulder high and even taller grasses in a bush veldt setting and trying to spot the cow.
I have never seen dairy cows grazed like this. We saw Dexter’s as much munching on bright green grasses buried deep in the vegetation as we did on leaves in trees. It was just incredible.
Also, strikingly serene. No fuss, fear or drama when we came across a cow, just a gentle curiosity as we’d appear from stomping through the vegetation. There is probably a good argument to made that this breed would probably not have done much well in an indigenous African setting without being predated upon as they are just so trusting and don’t have that sort of survival instinct that characterises African breeds, but in this setting, a small, relaxed farm with Moira and Rob just leaving things be because of their love for these cows and passion for Dexter dairy, it’s all good.
The daily herding between Summer and Winter – lush camps – is done by Justice. Justice has one hand, having lost one to the Lucerne chopper – kid you not – at some awful and defining day of his life. He’s just like any good herder, in tune with the cows.
Each has a name, they’re all referred to by their names in chatter between Moira and Justice and Justice’s job is just to be with them on their grazing trails and to notice when anything is off key or illness is spotted amongst any of them, which he does.
This region’s demon is Heartwater, a deadly disease caused by ticks. In high rainfall times like these, any change in the cow’s health needs to be spotted in case this befalls them.
Calves remain with their Mothers, only separated at the evening milking time when whatever’s left of their milk goes to us. They are left with their Mothers, the only weaning effort being the nose ring when they are old enough to do well without her milk. Bull calves are left on the farm and remain until around 2 years of age sold to anybody who wants to purchase their meat.
There are no great commercial demands here that require that the farm can’t just be run this way as Moira and Rob have their base income set in another context. They aren’t looking for higher yields, they have no need to remove calves from their Mothers to increase milk production or to find a more efficient way of dealing with bull calves. The land is sufficient enough to leave the bulls grazing and in the right relationship with grass that helps the farm. The bulls are only separated from the cows and calves to prevent what Moira delicately refers to as ‘rape’.
We had the pleasure of being there for milking time. Always a telling time for me as the atmosphere of milking speaks volumes about how the cows view this part of the day and how they are treated.
Watching them all emerge gently and peacefully out of the bush towards the milking area without provocation was particularly beautiful. A very serene atmosphere. Milking time is something they clearly enjoy as there were certain cows who very definitely wanted to make sure they took first place for milking. This has much to do with the fact that they are given encouragement via a molasses, maize and barley shoot mix that they just love as much as it is about the gentle hand milking they get from their milker Santos.
Santos gently cleans their udders with a soapy solution before gently milking them while they quietly nibble on their ‘treat’ for their day, which Moira says is akin to giving a child pudding for them.
It was such a tranquil atmosphere which thinking back characterises the whole mood of the place.
Moira and Rob have no ideals to make this bigger, to make it more efficient, to meet any need for volumes more than what they can give. They just have a gentle love for this breed and their land that they love sharing and their love is infectious.
Before leaving we got to have a look at Moira’s trailer project where she has a ton of barley sprouts growing because it’s just great feed for the cows and chickens and then we got to taste the yoghurt.
Our visit ended on that note – this thick, luscious, vanilla cream tone of a full cream yoghurt every bit as good as the milk.
I’m delighted to bring the gentle energy of this unassuming small farm to the store and for you to have the joy of tasting the exquisite sweet joy of Dexter dairy.
I reflected before leaving about Irish characters in Africa much. The thing about anything with Irish roots is that the Irish are both feisty fighters and peaceful poets. You’ll meet the side that you deserve. Characterised by revolutions borne out of injustice as much as poetry and lyric that is marbled in meaning and gently connected innocent beauty, both.
The Dexter has no fight in this context and no revolution to overcome, their serenity very definitely poetic and subtly stated.
Having their quiet poem of peace enter our food (r )evolution context is something I find particularly poignant.
And I think you taste that in the milk, a sweet, creamy almost vanilla soft beauty.