So how’s it going with the new milk cow?

Milk cow calf. Very cute
Bernie is doing great, so far

Man, I forgot how hard it is the first week of milking a new cow! While both Betsy and Bernie are gentle and well behaved, they have been a handful, quite literally. Betsy, who apparently wears a halter only as adornment, isn’t quite up to being led anywhere, by anyone. So far our milking team has consisted of three people. One pulling, one pushing, and one handling Bernie. With three people working, sweating, swearing, and occasionally laughing, we’ve been able to get her into the milking parlor each day so far. The score so far is:

Betsy pooped on my arm. +1 Pooped on Erin’s shoulder. +1 Peed on Erin. +1 That’s three for Betsy.

We’ve milked her twice. That’s two for us.

Yep, so far, the cow is winning although I’m not sure that pee should count for a full point. Seems unfair to me but I didn’t make the rules.

Bernie has made a point of staying close to mom through all of this, as you would expect. In fact, the only way we’ve really moved Betsy any distance is to use Bernie as bait.

Milk calf being carried by two people
Bernie, moving to their new paddock with a little help.

When it came time to put Betsy and Bernie outside for the day, Betsy, who didn’t want to be in the barn, was quite certain that she didn’t want to be outside the barn. I was the one holding the halter and Bernie was scampering about having fun, as kids will. Every time Bernie ran behind something, Betsy became agitated. That means that she went from four legs pulling against me, to suddenly running forward to catch sight of Bernie. Since Betsy came equipped with horns, the immediate issue is getting a face full of horns attached to 1000 pounds of cow who is suddenly in a hurry. So far I’ve managed not to get gored but it is exciting, to say the least.

So once we finally drug Betsy to the temporary paddock, via the bait pictured above, we found that in addition to not being halter trained, she also isn’t hot wire trained. Within about 20 seconds she was out of the paddock, Bernie had also ducked into the paddock with the main herd and mom was quite upset. The entire herd was chasing the new calf around and causing quite a ruckus. Oh, and Mr. Dan. Your customer is here. For about 20 minutes it looked a lot like this.

Luckily Miguel arrived and with Erin, Vicente, Miguel, and Lucy everyone got back where they were supposed to be while I gave a tour to a nice family who was quite keen to see the hilarity of a farm running off the rails while I was trying to distract them.

Nothing to see here meme
What I was trying to do to our customers


The next morning, Betsy was just as keen to milk as before, which was not at all. It takes about a week of successful milking before it becomes a habit. Since we really haven’t had a fully successful day yet, the clock hasn’t really started. We’re getting milk, but we aren’t getting her happy in the milking parlor yet. Today I’m going to get some different feed as she doesn’t like ours. Hopefully that will entice her.

Ahh, new milk cows. How quickly you forget all the fun.

The “new” pig trailer rolls out of the shop, complete

Fortunately we had some “test pigs” to carry out on the maiden voyage.

After pulling out the trailer, Miguel and I quickly cleaned up the shop. I was starting to get apoplectic about how cramped and dirty everything was getting. I feel much better now.

The next project is already inside. We are taking apart an old commercial air compressor to utilize the tank as a vacuum tank for our milking machine. Right now it takes two people to milk and we have issues with moisture getting into the pump. Both are bad. Once we get this tank installed, we should have no more moisture issues and we should have enough reserve vacuum to milk 10 cows at once, not that we ever would. We are only set up with one milking stall. But it never hurts to be prepared, plus the air compressor was going to the scrap yard so the cost for the tank is zero.

Final update on Dottie, our milk cow

Home jersey milk cow
Dottie, when she was only normally skinny. Not super skinny.

We’ve finally heard back from the vet. Dottie is ok as far as any testing goes but she isn’t gaining any weight to speak of. We’ve addressed her teeth, given her food on her own, and stopped milking her but she’s still skinnier than I’d like. For now we are going to keep her on pasture with her calf and continue forward not milking till we see some improvement in her body condition. Not the most profitable way to handle things, but certainly better than overtaxing Dottie. When and if we start milking again, we’ll have that news here as well.

Dottie is looking really skinny

Home jersey milk cow
Dottie, when she was only normally skinny. Not super skinny.

So I mentioned before that we had changed the way we were milking Dottie, switching to the sequestration at night method to assure we received our full allotment of milk each morning. This was because the calf was getting up and milking Dottie even earlier than we were and getting all of our milk. Now we are getting 1 and 1/2 to 2 gallons per day, and of course a hungry little calf is getting her share no matter what the rest of the day which means Dottie is now having to produce an extra gallon and 1/2 per day over what she was producing before.

Today we noted that Dottie is looking thin. Like supermodel thin. Dottie has never been the first cow with her head in the food because she just can’t push the big beef cows around so she has to work for what she gets. We supplement her with grain, the only cow here that gets grain, but it looks like it’s not enough. We’re going to give Dottie a morning off and a chance to eat all she wants today and see if her body condition recovers. If so, great. If not, we may have to look at some sort of supplement for when she is in the stall just to help her recover some body condition. Milk cows don’t tend to recover body condition while they are milking, converting all the extra energy into more milk production instead so it’s better to keep condition than it is to try to recover it.

Dottie also seemed to be tender on her belly today. There was an area that had an unusual shape. It was hard to tell if it was really distended or if her low body condition made something normal look like a bulge. We’ll keep an eye on her the next few days and make sure she looks healthy. The advantage of keeping the calf is we can simply not milk a day or two and let the calf keep her milking, reducing the load but not introducing mastitis or another problem. The disadvantage is you get used to having lots of milk really quickly. Slowing back down on milk is no bueno but her health comes first.

We’ve changed our milking process with Dottie

Since we started milking again this year, we’ve elected to go with the most simple form of milking which is getting your milk cow up early in the morning, milking her once, and then leaving her on pasture the rest of the day with her calf. The theory is that the calf is snoozing overnight and not nursing. Momma is happily snoozing in the grass as well and making milk all night. Once we milk in the morning, the calf gets the scraps but has all day to nurse and catch up on her nutrition. Everybody wins and the handling is very minimal for everybody.

The downsides to this method is the calf is getting a lot of the milk, maybe more than half but if you are just milking for your family that’s ok. Plus if you need to go out of town, you simply don’t milk and the calf takes care of everything. A nice, low stress way to have a milk cow and it works, most of the time. However Lightning, we have learned, is an early riser. Some days we get almost two gallons of milk, some days considerably less. But after two days of milking a completely empty cow (less than an ounce) at 5:30am, we switched to the next level of milking. Now every afternoon Dottie gets put into one of our barn stalls while Lightning stays with the herd in the pasture. She is kept from the calf overnight and the calf cannot nurse. Dottie is now milking a solid 1 1/2 gallons every morning and going out to Lightning for the rest of the day. This means we have to deal with the cow both in the morning and the evening, and we have to clean a stall every day so the workload had gone up. However we are back in the milk/cheese/butter/yogurt business because we now have consistent supply of milk, so it all works out.

Dottie, our milk cow, is being bred back, again, again.

For the last two days when we’ve gone out to get Dottie for her mornings milking, there has been Barry White playing as we pull up. Dottie is in heat again and Benjamin is definitely on the job. Since Benjamin is a force of nature and is currently thinking with the little brain only, we decided to just leave Dottie and Benjamin in the pasture to consummate their relationship. Dottie had been giving little milk already the preceding few days and we were already out of milk at our house so giving up two mornings milkings wasn’t exactly a treat. Especially since we had to get up, get the milking equipment prepped and ready, open up the barn, then find out we weren’t milking.

Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be able to milk.

Hopefully Ben’s work will take this time and we’ll have a little calf next May.

Morning milking in the dark and walking from the back pasture

This post is a bit of a time warp. I accidentally never posted it. It’s actually from a few weeks ago. I was testing out posting to Instagram rather than posting directly to our website. Then I link the picture from Instagram inline with the post. Extra steps but I’m hoping some of the odd formatting that WordPress does to our pictures will go away.

Today we had our cows in the back pasture. This pasture is at the far corner of our farm, and at its lowest elevation. Normally our milking routine has close and closer pastures so each morning is not so much of an adventure. Walking completely across the farm, up the road, past the houses makes for a long trip. We don’t normally put the cows in the back pasture but there was grass galore and the cows needed some grassy fun after being in the woods for a week.

So this morning everyone got to enjoy hiking through the waist-high grass looking for the cows. Of course they were sitting in the woods, snickering at us as we went the wrong direction. Finally we found them and walked Dottie out and up to the barn. It was a long walk, and up hill the entire way. Of course we will tell the kids it was uphill both ways but that’s another story.

It was a long trek in the dark but everything worked out fine and milking went smoothly.

Tomorrow should be easier as Dottie will know where to meet us. The first day in a new area is always a bit confusing.

More 4th of July weekend, we are milking again.

Milking a homestead cow.
The Clarks and their first day of milking

Ok, it’s actually their second day but the first day the vacuum pump was locked up so we just brought Dottie in and gave her a trial run. Pictured above was our first successful day of milking, day 2. For those of you who may be wondering who the new people are, The Clarks have moved into the house previously occupied by the Goldbergs who have moved away to another town although they do make an appearance now and then. Bar-B-Jew was in attendance for our beer and BBQ fest.

Milking a homestead cow
The Clarks and Dottie, first day of milking.

It takes two to get our milker onto the cow, making milking a two person job. I’m sure there is something we are missing in the instructions, one of these days I’ll stop and figure it out.

Fresh raw milk from homestead milk cow.
Our first milk harvest of the new milking season.

Dottie yielded 1.5 gallons of milk. We only milk once per day and leave the rest of the milk for Dottie’s calf Lightning. We don’t have to worry about maximizing milk production since this is just for our use so 1.5 gallons is fine.

Processing raw milk
Processing the milk and getting it into the fridge.

Straining and bottling the milk, then into the fridge for a quick cool down. Tomorrow we’ll have real milk again for our cereal.

I’ve been getting up at 4am as we get back into milking. By weeks end I should be back to 5am like normal. So far things are going well. Hopefully things will run smooth this week and having fresh raw milk on the farm is just another normal thing in a week or so.

Raw milk regulations easing? Or just the media getting around to reporting?

5 gallons of raw milk, making cheese
5 gallons of raw milk, making cheese

Darling Wifey sent me an article on Fox News about raw milk and how some states are pushing to ease regulations. At $13 a gallon in Florida, seems to me we’re causing people to pay black market prices for something that shouldn’t be regulated in the first place.

If I didn’t have my own milk cow, I’d be worried about all the quotes from the different alphabet groups listed in the article that raw milk will kill you. Funny how it’s not killing people where it’s normal, like California and Europe. Unclean milk will get you sick in my opinion, no matter where it’s from. However the less handling between you and the cow, the better off you’ll be.