Milking the Cow: Days 4 and beyond, and notes

Our first-ever butter from our cow! It's not a lot, but as she gives more cream, we have grand plans...

Our first-ever butter from our cow!
It’s not a lot, but as she gives more cream, we have grand plans…

Oh my, these last few days have been busy! It got to a point that I literally had no time to fix the problems I’d discovered with the milking stall, but because I hadn’t fixed them, milking was taking more time. Needless to say, blogging was totally out of the picture.

I finally found a little time, though.

  • I narrowed the stall, so Gerty couldn’t scoot away from me (and toward the calf reaching in from the other side!)
  • I built a three-legged milking stool
  • I better secured the feed trough

And milking has become a more pleasant experience. She occasionally kicks just a bit, but I’ve found that it’s almost always when a horsefly is bothering her. THE HORSEFLIES ARE MONSTROUS THIS YEAR. They’re the embodiment of evil. Sometimes I just take a break and start swatting them off her back; I pull their wings off and toss them to the chickens. It gives me a little satisfaction.


We were getting about a gallon per milking for a few days there. But over the last couple of days, production’s dropped a bit. One person told me the hot weather can do it. No signs of illness or anything; I definitely keep a close eye for mastitis, worms, etc.

We’ve also noticed that the cream content has diminished since we started milking. And I’m pretty sure I know why. I found the following information from the Family Cow discussion board:

“Cows make milk and store it in the udder for baby. This is the foremilk that we are most often milking and it is higher in lactose and lower in butterfat. When the baby is not satisfied by the available milk and continues to nurse a more nutrient dense, higher butterfat hindmilk (cream) is made to meet baby’s additional calorie needs. Cream is not made until stored milk is exhausted. If a cows let down is incomplete she will not give this higher butterfat milk that we call cream. When a cow has a calf to feed she often does not let her milk down completely for her human milker and when there is no more calf is more likely to let down completely including the hind milk.

If cream were actually present in the udder all the time it would be milked equally at the beginning and the end of milking… but if you have ever watched the milk as you hand milk you can actually see the change in consistency. I often milk this hindmilk into a separate pail when I wish to make butter as it saves the step of separating later.

This on demand feature also allows out calves to survive and flourish as we take all of the available milk from the udder and leave the calf only what is made on demand. A cow can not willfully withhold any component of her milk but rather the natural process allows us to have milk and the calf to still do well with only what the cow can produce on demand later.”

Crazy! So Gerty is basically holding back her creamy milk to give to her calf, whom we put her with right after milking! I would be mad, but it’s kinda sweet. So once we wean the calf, I’ve read that we can expect significantly more cream. Until then, we make do…

We are milking once a day, by the way. The calf is separated from Gerty at about 8:30 at night, and I milk at about 8:30 in the morning. This keeps the calf healthy and fed, and keeps us from having to milk twice a day, which would give us more milk than we need anyhow!

I also recently discovered that allowing the calf to nurse basically is one of the best ways to prevent mastitis (which is when bacteria could enter the teat after milking and cause infection, potentially ruining a quarter, or even killing the cow in some cases!). Most people who milk cows dip the teat in iodine after milking, which helps create an antibacterial barrier while the milk duct closes (which can take 30 minutes). But as SOON as Gerty is out of the milking stall, her ravenous calf Sassafras is suckling away (and, I might add, getting some beautiful, frothy, creamy milk)! Sassy would just suck the iodine off the teat anyhow, and her saliva acts as a nice protective barrier for the teat (this is obvious if you grab a teat that the calf has just been suckling—it’s coated with thick, slimy saliva!)

More about all that on this Family Cow discussion board.

Finally, we’ve recently been mired in indecision regarding the infestation of flies. I mean, they’re not ALWAYS bad, but Gerty regularly has flies on her legs and back (she takes a dip in the pond for some relief), and occasionally, she’ll have four or five horseflies swarming around her. It’s excruciating to watch, and I know they’re draining her energy.

We looked into some sprays, but just aren’t ready to spray synthetic, potentially toxic chemicals on our cow. There’s one called pyrethrin (or pyrethrum), which is made from chrysanthemum flowers. It acts as a neurotoxin for insects. But we can’t find that alone; all the products have other chemicals (some of them petroleum based) added.

For the time being, we have found that a homemade fly repellant has some level of effectiveness. We use:

-Apple cider vinegar

-Citronella oil

-Geranium oil

-Cedar leaves/berries soaked in (to extract some cedar oil)

And we spray it out of a lawn sprayer onto Gerty’s back and legs before milking. It seems to keep the flies away for about 10-15 minutes, which at least allows me to milk for a while without her shuffling and kicking and swatting. But after not too long, they’re back again. I think all the wet weather this summer has really been good for the fly population. Makes me ready for the first freeze, or at least cooler weather.

So we’re learning lots, and overall enjoying having a milk cow. Now, if we could just decrease this dang humidity, and get back to a week ago when the nights were in the 50s and the days were in the 70s. And if we could get rid of the flies forever. THEN things would be really nice! So much for that…

(By the way, now is the time for suggestions, comments, and snide remarks. As long as they’re not too snide. Commence!)

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3 Responses to Milking the Cow: Days 4 and beyond, and notes

  1. danamelana says:

    Yum! Homemade butter is a thing of beauty, more so if you’ve milked her yourself! Delicious!

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