Milk production’s been down the last few days.
We were getting more than a gallon on our best day; today, it was less than half a gallon.
I’ve been at a loss. She has plenty of hay and a little bit of pasture. She gets grain to supplement what she might be missing on pasture. She has plenty of water. What gives?
Answer: Sassafras. Or more accurately, “Gerty gives to Sassafras.”
After frustratingly tugging on Gerty’s teats for 20 minutes or so this morning, I looked at the dismal puddle of milk in my 10-quart bucket and sighed in resignation. “It’s just not our day,” I thought. The only thing pleasant about this morning’s milking was the weather: just cool enough where the immense humidity wasn’t uncomfortable.
Then I wondered.
If she’s giving me this much, where’s all the rest going? I mean, I got just over a quart today; a week ago, I got a gallon!
A little white calf was pushing at the fence, eager to go join her mommy, and then I knew. Not only is Gerty holding back a bit of cream for Sassy (see my previous post); she’s holding everything back.
I glared over at Gerty in her stall; she looked back at me, casually munching on a bit of alfalfa. Too casually. She was hiding something, and I was determined to discover precisely what.
My first notion was to put her out in the pasture, separate from Sassafras, and begin training her that, unless she wanted to “hold it” for an hour, she was going to have to give me all her milk, because she would no longer have the privilege of giving me crap in the milking stall and then sauntering out to her calf with a big bag of milk. I’d keep them separate for an hour after the milking.
Then I changed my mind. I was going to put them together now and just see what happened. I wanted to see with my own eyes if my theory was true. Test the hypothesis.
The gate was opened, and little white calf ran full speed ahead toward big black cow. They exchanged a brief greeting and then Sassy commenced head-butting Gerty’s udder and suckling—first at one, then at another, then to the third, then back to the first, then to the fourth, then back to teat number two…
And the white frothy milk began forming at the corners of her mouth.
I looked closer. The front right teat is usually the least generous of the four when I’m milking, and Gerty seems to enjoy kicking me more when I’m fumbling at that one.
It was full of milk. Veritably bursting at the seams… or… ducts.
I’d been had. And I would have felt sheepish if I weren’t so indignant and offended. Doesn’t she know we need her milk just as much as Sassy does? Doesn’t she know we feed her and house her and chase her when she tears the fence down and pat and scratch her and swat horseflies off her back? Doesn’t she know for how long we have ached for our own, fresh, raw milk from our own, sweet cow? Doesn’t she appreciate me?
Screw it, I thought, I’m getting some of that milk.
I grabbed a cup, and as I semi-confidently reached down toward the slimy, slobbery teat, Gerty began swatting and stomping. A horsefly. Of course.
In this most fleeting, crucial moment, I have to kill a horsefly. I mean, I actually did have to kill it. Gerty goes ballistic with horseflies, and there’s no milking her if there’s one around.
I snatch it, furiously—after several misses—squish it in my hand, and throw it to the nearest happy chicken. Then I lock in on my target—that goofy teat, now swollen with milk—and go in.
The milk pours out… gushes out. It’s the creamiest, most beautiful milk I’ve ever seen. I figure, sure, there might be a few molecules of calf slobber getting in this, but we’re drinking it.
Soon, my cup begins to fill, and the whole headbutting ritual becomes too intense for me, so I leave with a nice cup of milk and a problem: What do I do about this?
Will Gerty continue giving us less and less milk, realizing if she can just hold it up in the udder for a little while, she can give it all to her calf? I can’t have that.
I don’t know a surefire solution, but tomorrow I’ll be trying one idea. In the early days of milking, Sassafras was able to get her head between the slats in the milking stall, and she would slobber all over one or two teats, while I floundered at the other two. It was a ridiculous game, but I did get a decent amount of milk. And when she was giving us the most milk, Sassy couldn’t get in the stall anymore, but she was very close—close enough for Gerty to sniff and see.
So tomorrow, I’ll let Sassy get close. Maybe close enough to trick my tricky bovine into letting me have a little more milk.