The cow I do not keep on my balconata, up here in the High Doganate, is a thirteenth-century animal. Some of these advanced breed cows they have today can squirt fifteen gallons of milk into your buckets, just after lactation. (Daily.) Half that is more common, however, and even that requires beasts that eat seventy pounds of hay, grain, silage, and so forth, a couple more of “protein supplements,” and drink maybe forty gallons of water. (Daily.) That’s too much to lug upstairs when the elevator isn’t working. A full-grown Holstein can weigh the better part of a tonne, herself, and should she lean against my railing, there could be a terrible accident.

Whereas, your typical high-mediaeval milch cow, which stood less than 45 inches in the whithers, weighed perhaps one-third of your modern monster cow, and would be a more manageable proposition for the apartment dweller. She would be something very like the Dexter, that survived in Ireland as the “poorman’s cow” into the Victorian era — whenupon she was spotted by the entrepreneurs for her remarkable domestic qualities, and bred with a vengeance all over the world.

Your Dexter will yield maybe two gallons a day, maybe more if she is in an expansive mood — but how much milk do you need? She is of a sweeter disposition than a Holstein, produces better milk of a higher butterfat content, and is, quite frankly, an easier calver.

However, one of her several eccentricities may complicate arrangements on an urban balcony: for when the calf is born she will try to hide it. But she is generally docile, and also versatile, doubling as beef for her retirement plan, and meanwhile happy to serve as a beast of burden. Young human mothers with small children will find that a Dexter will not try to kill them. Better yet, they can hitch her to a small wagon to pull the kids about, which frees up the hands while shopping. Awkward getting them on the transit bus, though.

Now that I think of it, keeping a cow might be easier on a homestead than in most modern urban environments. There will also be by-laws to contend with, or an unfriendly super in your apartment building. The liberal busybodies in your neighbourhood are sure to report you, the moment they spot your cow. (You’d think a goat would be easier to conceal, but no, a nanny-goat has climbing abilities, seems to know how to open doors, and in no time she’ll be stopping traffic in the most embarrassing locations.)

Still, up to about the Great War, plenty of cows were kept in the city.

Lord, I hate by-laws.


Now, I won’t say a thing against Louis Pasteur. He was a devout Catholic, and meant well in almost everything he did. (I insert “almost” as a precaution.) This is the man who died with a Rosary in his hands, having declared, “The more I know, the more nearly is my faith that of the Breton peasant. Could I but know all I would have the faith of a Breton peasant woman.”

Moreover, he is seldom appreciated for his actual discoveries and inventions, as the father of bacteriology, and much else. We say that milk is “pasteurized,” but the truth is that the methods he developed were for beer and wine. And those, too, were properly speaking rediscoveries, for the Chinese, we have since learnt, were using the same methods in the twelfth century to prevent their wines from souring. No: Pasteur’s accomplishments were much more in the “why,” than in the “how” of things, and it is interesting that he attributed all of his innumerable scientific advances to that Breton peasant quality. Which is to say: to a childlike religious Faith, in God and thus in the cosmic order.

The French government offered to put him in charge of vast industrial operations to which he could apply his technical insights. He refused, with something like disgust. He was a scientist, not a man of commerce. He felt insulted by the offer.

He did not think of his discoveries as his own. They were for anyone to use.


A great deal could be said against the modern dairy industry, little of it directed at the farmers. My diatribe against, for instance, government regulation of the dairy industry in the Province of Ontario could go on for years. And while I hold no brief for the pathogenic microbes that can proliferate in aging raw milk, nor for their effects (diphtheria, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, brucellosis, Q-fever and the like), I am not under the naïve impression that the dairy conglomerates introduced what they called “pasteurization” (not to “honour” the man, but to cash in on his reputation) only for the sake of public health.

It was rather to delay milk spoiling, so they could take more time getting it to market, and thus ship it from farther away — making huge syndicates possible to enslave dairy farmers in the interests of Capital. (Do I sound like a Marxist? Pfft!) A bonus, discovered in this work, is that pasteurized, and better, homogenized milk is useless for the housewife souring it to the purpose of making the whole range of traditional creams, butters, and cheeses. Thenceforth she would have to buy these products separately as branded goods off the shelf at the supermarket, for an inflated price from the same large industrial concerns. And soon, she would need a refrigerator.

The diatribe against big guvmint I have omitted would mention all the laws put in place to protect the syndicates against small private enterprise, which extend finally to making it illegal for the owner of a cow to drink the cow’s milk; and quotas to prevent him from producing so much that the price might fall. Indeed, today, not only in Ontario but most other jurisdictions, your government is committed to making you pay at least double for a semi-sterilized product of inferior taste that will not elegantly sour, but putrefy. All in the name of progress and democracy.

In the name of regress and monarchy, let me point out that the health dangers in raw milk can be mostly obviated by keeping the source of your milk fresh and close at hand. And all you need for that, is a cow.


“Clabber” is the word I remember from my grandparents for what you did with much of the milk that came from your household cow. It is what was done wherever lactose-tolerant people lived on the planet, until the day before yesterday in historical time. With nothing more than the benign bacteria already in the milk, it could be left under recognized conditions of warmth and humidity to curdle into the thick, beautiful clabber that tastes something like (extremely high-end) yoghurt today. This could in turn be eaten as a glorious food in itself, used as leavener in baking, and … well, we’ll leave cheese-making to another day.

But practically speaking, you will need not only a cow, but discreet indifference to the dairy regulations. Which is why I haven’t installed a modestly-sized thirteenth-century milch cow on the balconata of the High Doganate. But might if I thought I could get away with it.