I’ll break my month-long silence with a post about milk.
We have it in incredible abundance these days; and we’ve not even been giving Gerty any grain! She gets a little bit of lespedeza hay at milking time, and then she eats hay all day. We’re still getting more than a gallon a day (with two milkings per day); and at least a quart of that is cream.
She’s also very obviously enjoying the little clovers and early spring grasses springing up. I do fear, however, that we may soon have onion-flavored milk, once the wild onions pop up around the pasture. Oh well…
I became pretty paranoid about two months ago: I was afraid sweet Gerty might have mastitis. My telltale signs were:
-Tiny clumps in the straining towel when we strain the milk.
-Kicky-ness… she obviously had some tender teats!
I fretted — I read countless blogs and forums, I began revamping my pre-milking routine, and I began worrying that my cow could be ruined.
Well, I was wrong. I soon discovered each of those two symptoms had a very clear explanation. One was due to my ignorance; the other was due to my negligence.
-Tiny clumps: They weren’t signs of infection: they were BUTTER!!! Gerty gives a very nice quantity of cream (even more when we were giving her some grain during that time). And I realized (through reading it on a forum, and doing a bit of reasoning in my own mind) that the milking process is essentially an agitation of the milk — as it squirts at a high speed out of the teat into the pail. And when the milk is very high in cream, that means the cream is receiving proportionately more agitation than milk that is low in cream. The agitation of cream makes butter. So a scary sign turned into a cause for rejoicing!
-Kicky-ness: Poor Gerty’s teats were terribly chapped. It was my own fault: we had recently weaned her calf, and I didn’t think about the fact that the calf’s saliva helps protect the teats from the cold, dry winter winds. Gradually, they began to dry out, and the process was exacerbated by my pre-milking ritual in which I washed her udder with warm, soapy water. You know, like how licking your lips on a cold, windy day makes them even more chapped. The only cure is some sort of lip balm (and to quit licking them!). Same for Gerty’s teats. I didn’t realize it was happening, but those teats had become very dry and very cracked and chapped. :( So I’ve changed my milking ritual. I now simply brush off her udder and belly, and squirt 3 or 4 squirts of the fore-milk onto the ground or into a strip cup (or into the open mouth of my nearby pup!). Then I milk. Then — sometimes — I use an iodine-based post-dip. I pour it into a tiny plastic cup, then dip each teat in the cup. I wait 30 seconds, wipe it off, and then apply Bag Balm. She healed up completely, within a week!
So things have continued along just swimmingly, and we have a pregnant, mastitis-free cow!