'The Milky Way' - Leena's first blog from La Bastilla, Nicaragua

Hello, my name is Leena and I’ll be the new Field Officer at La Bastilla for the next few months.

Having lived in London for most of my life I’m one of those oblivious city-folk that has very little idea of where my food comes from.  I know, of course, that milk comes from cows, but the specifics of how it gets from the inside of a farmyard animal to the white plastic bottles that line the shelves of my local supermarket eludes me.

So, it has been a revelation to arrive at La Bastilla where the students have their own dairy business.  They manage the whole value chain from breeding the cows, feeding them and milking them, right down to making cream and cheeses in their new dairy plant.

During my second week here, the students invited me to see the process for myself and to even have ago at milking.  So at 5am before the sun was up, we set off from the school gates, down to the cow pen.

The school has seven cows although only two of these are currently producing milk.  I had never really thought about what was needed for a cow to produce milk and vaguely assumed that all adult cows did.  It seems obvious now, but a cow has to give birth before it starts to produce milk.  Three of the other cows are pregnant and will therefore start to produce milk later in the year. 

Being a city-girl, I’m slightly nervous around animals, particularly ones that are approximately 10 times my body-weight.  Therefore I’m amazed by how readily the students jump into the pen, guide the cows in and then secure them into position so that they can be milked.  Not all of the students are used to being around animals either, but from their very first week, they start practical lessons and soon become adept at handling the animals.


Dorling, a 2nd-year student introduces me to Golondrina; a fawn-coloured jersey cow with beautiful big brown eyes.  After making sure that I’ve washed my hands, the cow’s udder and teats, I’m ready to start milking.  Dorling shows me how to squeeze and pull down on each teat.  After each squeeze, the fist must be relaxed in order to allow the teat to refill.  I’m concerned that I’m hurting the cow, but he assures me that far from being painful, the cow actually experiences a sense of relief from emptying her udder.


A small sample of milk is taken in order to test for mastitis, an inflammation that commonly affects cows.  A chemical is added to the sample which allows the students to see if the milk is clear of the illness.

I continue milking for a few minutes before Dorling takes over, skillfully expressing the milk at twice the speed of my efforts.  The pail rapidly fills up with frothy, creamy milk which will be taken to the dairy plant for pasteurization.  It will then either be used directly in the kitchen for the student lunches or will be made into cheese and sold in the local community, bringing in an income into the school.

Once the milking has finished, the cows are led back out of their pen which is then thoroughly cleaned.  Back in the dining room for breakfast, I’m much more appreciative of all the hard work which has gone into making my morning cup of milky coffee.

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