Thursday, December 17, 2015

How To Work A Milk Separator (and other things I never thought I'd be good at)

I have a small dairy nearby that we buy milk from sometimes, and they have a handy device that you put a sample of milk into, and it tells you the percent of milkfat present in the sample.  Someday soon, I will borrow that device and tell you precise numbers of how much fat different methods remove.  But for now, the small dairy is letting the cows rest for the winter, and so I have no reason to make the drive out just for the little device but no milk... so it will have to wait.

In our efforts to remove fat from the breastmilk we feed our LPLD baby, Teresa, we started with just pouring a few 8 oz bottles into a larger bowl, covering it, and letting it sit overnight in the fridge.  Then in the morning, we used a large flat ladle to scoop off that fat, leaving as much breastmilk behind as possible, and using that 'skimmed' milk to give to our baby while I was at work.  It worked well, and I hope to provide numbers someday as to how well, exactly, it works.

But then our breastmilk separator arrived from the Ukraine.  The more expensive an object is and effort required, the better the product should be, right?  Well, the instructions were mostly unintelligible, so luckily Amazon pointed us in the direction of youtube, and, lo and behold, there are great, simple instructions for use on youtube, my favorite of which is here, produced by none other than Slavic Beauty.  Hmm.  Of course.

My Slavic Beauty!
It has a lot of parts that when you actually look for notches that correspond one to the next, make a lot of sense for how you put it together.  There are a LOT of parts though.  Actually running the milk through takes minutes.  The hardest part of separating milk is definitely the clean up afterward.  Every little part disassembled and put in hot soapy water and rinsed and dried.  Due to the fatty nature of what you are working with, there is still a layer of greasiness that will never entirely go away.  And throughout, I rather feel like I am working with my own liposuctioned fat (thanks, Fight Club).

These little blue cones are the hardest part to clean.

So many blue cones!
 All you really do is warm the milk to close to 100 F (keeping in mind the baby scootching around on the floor has limited patience for not being held), assemble the milk separator, press it tight together to nothing leaks in between, turn on the motor and let it warm up for about a solid 60 seconds, and pour in the milk.  Then carefully catch your product before it escapes, which isn't that hard but I've still messed up on a few times and lost a heartbreaking amount of good milk.
Slavic Beauty in action
There's also a significant amount of milk still in the parts after you shut it down, which I imagine your average dairy farmer doesn't care too much about since he has gallons of the stuff with which to work.  However, for those of us working in ounces instead of gallons, that stuff is precious.  So I spend a lot of time carefully taking the pieces apart and dumping the good stuff into my bowl.  This is the main reason I recommend practicing with goat's milk (or any nonhomogenized, nonhuman milk) first, so that the stakes aren't so high as you are learning where the most milk collects and how to get it into a bowl.

Overall, I'm impressed with how well it works with my small amount of milk.  I run a batch about once a week, maybe 50 ounces at a time.  I am able to control how thick the cream removed is - at first I produced basically butter that I had to scrap every little bit out of the machine, and that wasn't worth that extra effort.  Now I make a thinner cream, that might not get quite as much 'skim' milk in the end, but since I've found a premature baby that I love that I am giving the breastmilk fat to, I know I'm not wasting it!  This whole process would be a lot more heartbreaking if I was somehow wasting the fat from my breastmilk.  I know it's a little weird, but really, sharing breastmilk from a trusted source is safe than formula feeding.  Think of the centuries humans practiced wet nursing!  But my goal with this blog isn't to convince you of the awesomeness of breastmilk.  So we'll leave it at that I am lucky to have a baby that can benefit from my 'waste' milk, and it has made all the difference in my attitude towards this process.  Pumping milk four times a day while at work is hard enough!  Oh, and Teresa continues to have no problems drinking the skimmed milk.  She doesn't protest a difference, and maybe drinks a little more than usual.  She might also poop less than usual, but it's hard to tell what's just her, and what's a result of the skimmed milk.  I'll share her lab results next time we check them!  I'm also concerned about her electrolytes with this thinned milk, so I'll share those, too.

Any thoughts on this process?  I welcome comments!

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