Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cow Knowledge

In the matter of dairy cows, we are on a steep learning curve.  We have learned a lot since getting LaFonda a week and a half ago, but  have a l-o-n-g way to go before we really know what we are doing.

It still takes me nearly an hour to milk her (I milk in the evening, Cadence in the morning.) It is a sweet, meditative time, though, bonding with my contentedly munching cow. She likes it when I sing while I milk, especially when I  make up admiring songs about her.

Rog could not resist the allure of milking her and even though he had forewarned us that the cow was not his project, he decided to try it. He is a natural - his guitar-playing hands are strong and gentle. It also turned out that his milking skill is invaluable--he took over  several days last week when I seriously sprained my knee and ended up in one of those knee-immobilizer braces that force your leg to be straight.  That makes for tricky milking, because if you stick your outstretched leg under the cow, she might step on it, so I had to stick it our sideways and twist around--very bad ergonomics.  (Thanks, Rog.)
All our other cows are pastured and eat grass, but share a cup or two of whole corn each day as a treat.  LaFonda gets a bucket of corn and a bit of hay to munch while she is being milked, but it turns out she does not like whole corn, only cracked. So, last weekend when we ran out of cracked corn I had to hand-grind a bucket-ful of corn in the mortar and pestle for her. The things you do for love!

We are now discovering the more subtle details of cow-milking: The first milk you get is mostly milk, and toward the end of the milking it is much creamier -you can tell when you are almost done by the whiteness and thickness of the milk  running down the side of the bucket.  The stream of milk hitting the steel pail makes the most musical ringing-pinging sound, especially  combined with the rhythm of the squirts. After you finish milking, the udder becomes soft and has slight vertical wrinkles.
I milk LaFonda from her right side because her back left quarter seems to be rather sensitive and if she is going to kick,  it will be with her back left leg.  A few mornings ago,  we noticed a lump on her belly in front of her udder and worried it might be an abscess- perhaps Reuben had tried to nurse from her and jabbed her with his horn? Cadence looked it up on the internet and  learned that  an abscess has to be drained and  then the cow gets an antibiotic. We called a vet who said he could stop over at the end of the day. He arrived after I had finished milking and took a look.
"Is that the  lump you are  worried about?"
"That's her belly button." That will be $40.
I was so embarrassed.
In case you, like me, have never seen or thought about a cow's belly button, here is a photo - it's that  protruding bump in front of her udder. (I wonder if cows can have  either innie or outie belly buttons?)

I am sure the vet had a good laugh later, but he was very kind and assured us she is a very fine, healthy cow.


Becky said...

I'm sorry about your knee. That has to make farm chores so much harder. I imagine that time outside with your cow is a wonderfully peaceful time. The story about her belly button made me chuckle. I probably would have done the same thing. I rushed my daughter into the doctor when she was a week old with "hives all over". Turns out she had baby acne and it was nothing to worry about :) Better safe then sorry, right?

Erin said...

LaFonda - I love that name! That's too funny about the belly-button, you have just saved me $40 when we move to our homestead in a few years, LOL! She is a very pretty cow and I am sure her milk is wonderful - must be that hand-cracked corn!

katiegirl said...

Glad you're mobile again (and feeling better I hope!). I love your cow stories. :-)

Jo said...

Beautiful cow, congrats on your success! Thanks for sharing the belly button story, I probably would have made the same mistake.
In case you don't know about it, I wanted to point out a useful resource for family cow owners:

Hope your knees heals quickly!