Tuesday, August 24, 2010

To Milk or Not to Milk?

Before Cadence left for school in Mexico, realizing that I would be the only milker, we cut back our milking schedule from twice-a-day to once-a-day.  LaFonda adapted easily. Her production quickly dropped from 3 gallons a day to 2 1/2, and has continued to decline, settling at about 1 1/2 gallons each morning.  That is fine with me because it is a challenge to keep up with so much milk.

I really do enjoy the hour I spend milking each day, hanging out with LaFonda, singing and talking to her.  She is a good-humored cow and often cranes her head way around to look at me, wondering what is taking me so long, perhaps. Sometimes she gives my arm a sandpapery lick with her gigantic tongue, and once she chomped onto an unruly lock of hair...and gently yanked it out!

But then I also have to deal with the milk, even more-time-consuming than the milking. With one week's milk I can make 3 or 4 large wheels of cheese,  a gallon of yogurt, a pound of butter, and still have plenty for us and the dogs to drink.  Depending on the kind of cheese, making it is often an all-day project.  Today I am making gouda, which I started at 11 a.m. and just got it into the press now, after 5 p.m.  In 20 minutes I take it out of the mold, flip it over and re-wrap it, and put it back in the press with heavier weights. This gets repeated several times yet tonight.

I am also still battling the problem of aching hands from milking. My Udderly EZ milker has only partially solved the problem - it is not really up to for such constant, heavy-duty duty. After a session of helpful hand-massage work from the fellow who does $1/minute massage at the street fair, I went back to hand-milking. And I investigated purchasing a bucket milker.

After going back and forth about it for weeks, I decided to let LaFonda go dry now, rather than waiting until winter.  This way, I will have significantly more time this fall to deal with harvest, paint, and focus on my part-time job. Plus, I  will be able to visit my family up north for a long weekend without abandoning Rog to the milking.  I'll miss the fresh milk and yogurt and occasional ice cream --but we have a refrigerator full of cheese aging that should last us all year.

Drying a cow off is a worrisome proposition -- there is a risk of mastitis, plus there is just no avoiding her being uncomfortable.  My neighbors with 150 holsteins  advised me to restrict food and water for a couple of days and close her in a stall.  I guess I can imagine that being the most sure-fire strategy for such huge cattle that are giving up to 14 gallons of milk a day, but restricting water seems pretty harsh in this hot weather.  One resource suggested tapering off,  milking once a day, then every other day, then stopping.  One said feed her no pasture or grain or high-quality hay (what else is there?) Another book advises to just stop milking suddenly - nature has designed a cow's body to know what to do if she loses a calf, and by intermittent milking you are confusing her system.

I decided to just stop. Since she is only giving a gallon and a half a day, it seemed she should dry off pretty easily. Yesterday was the first day I didn't milk  her --she came running to be milked when she saw me and waited for me patiently at the gate, looking at me like, "Aren't you forgetting something?"   But eventually she went back to grazing with Lariat.

Today her udder was immensely full, but it wasn't feverish and she wasn't complaining.   Not that I would be able to tell. When Lariat moos, it is a deep, grouchy bellow, but when LaFonda moos, it is as musical and gentle as a low note on the harmonica.

1 comment:

katiegirl said...

I don't blame you for drying her off. That's a ton of milk and it's got to be time consuming keeping up with it!

I'd also stop milking cold turkey. I never withhold water, but I do stop feeding any concentrated feed (grain) and just feed hay. Sounds to me like she'll do just fine!