Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Morning Milking Routine

Milking has finally become a smooth and predictable routine!  As soon as she hears me turn on the vacuum pump to rinse the sanitizer out of the bucket, LaFonda ambles over to the barn door to be let in. She knows there is yummy grain in the stall and she heads right into her spot.  I tie her collar to the wall and her back leg to the post using dog leashes so she can't kick and will stay right where I want her. She gobbles her grain up very fast, so I layer it with hay in her dish and sprinkle it on the floor around her dish to slow her down and give me more time. The floor of the stall has pine bedding for easy clean-up, but happily, since the first stressful week of milking with the machine, she has not peed or pooped during milking.
First I wash her udder with warm soapy water.  This is for cleanliness, of course, but also to make sure her udder has no cuts or injuries and it triggers the milk letdown.  Next, I use a dairy wipe to wash each teat.
It is good practice to discard the first few squirts of milk in case there is any  bacteria in the teat canal. I hand-milk a few squirts fromeach teat into my palm, looking to make sure the milk appears normal (if it has any lumps it would indicate a mastitis infection.) A few times a week, I also squirt milk from each teat onto a mastitis indicator card.  LaFonda hasn't had any mastitis, but if one of the circles turned greenish, I would milk that quarter last and not mix it with the milk for human consumption because I do not want any bacteria in the milk.
Now I can milk. I attach the "claw" to her udder.  There are four "inflations," one for each teat, but I am only milking three quarters, as her calf is nursing from the left front quarter. (The third inflation, plugged, hangs down to the ground.)  My vacuum pump is very small with no vacuum tank, so I must attach each inflation one at a time. The first one is easy  - I hold the inflation up to her back left teat and  open the valve;  the  inflation jumps onto the teat and begins a pulsating vacuum that simulates a calf's sucking.  You can see the milk start to surge through the hose to the bucket.
The remaining inflations are plugged with blue plastic plugs.  To attach each one, I pinch off the inflation tube, remove the plug, hold it up next to the teat and unpinch the hose - hopefully it grabs onto the the teat and begins pumping (but if I do not  pinch off the tube well, I lose vacuum and everything falls off and I have to start over!)
It sounds easier than it is-- for me, the claw is like handling an octopus and has taken a significant measure of strategy and coordination to master.
I am constantly watching to make sure LaFonda isn't going to kick (the dog leash tie is helpful, but not fool-proof.) She never has kicked me, but if something is uncomfortable or she thinks she is done, she stomps her foot - and if I don't respond fast enough, she picks up her back foot and pushes the claw off. (I hate that because usually she has mud on her hoof and if the inflations fall on the ground they can suck up straw or pine shavings.) Once she did this when I was not paying attention and caught my wrist with her hoof- resulting in a lovely bruise.  Now I remember to pay attention.
I can tell she is nearly empty when the amount of milk flowing through decreases. When she is done, I remove the claw, hang it on the bucket and untie LaFonda while she finishes up the last bits of grain. I spray each teat with Fight Bac teat spray.  The opening in the teat does not totally close up until about 20 minutes after milking, so if she were to lie down in mud or manure,  bacteria could be introduced and she could get mastitis. The teat spray seals out the bacteria.
Those other products on the ledge are horse shampoo for a beauty bath I intend to give LaFonda one of these days, and Udder Comfort - an  herbal  lotion smelling of peppermint that I used to  cool and soothe her udder when she first calved and it was so swollen and tender.
LaFonda's part is now done - I brush her a bit,  thank her and let her out into the pasture with the rest of the herd.
This morning's frothy, creamy two gallons in the bucket milker.
Normally I  pour the milk through a fine sieve into 2-gallon jars or 1-gallon pitchers, but today I used a big pot because I am making yogurt.
The sieve catches any material that might have gotten into the milk. Filtering was critical when we hand-milked and inevitably a few cow hairs or specks of dirt fell into the open bucket, but now there is rarely any contaminant.   I love the bucket milker for saving my poor aching hands and I also love that it is a closed, sanitary system. The milk goes into a tub of  ice-cold water in the kitchen sink to be chilled before being sealed up and put into the refrigerator.
I don't love so much the clean-up aspect - not because it is hard, but because I have to haul heavy buckets of very hot water from the house.  The first bucket has a bit of dishwasher detergent. I take the gasket out of the lid and wash it, wash the blue inflation  plugs, and scrub out the inside of the inflations with the niftiest brush designed for the task. Then I turn on the vacuum pump and run all the hot, soapy water through the system, cleaning out the  hoses and the claw. I dump that water out and repeat with the second bucket, which contains dairy & food sanitizer in the hot water. You are supposed to be able to let the sanitizer dry on the surface without rinsing, but I always run pure hot water through the system prior to the next milking to avoid any trace chemicals in the milk bucket.

Another flawless milking session completed!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Bringing in the Experts

This week my wonderful parents drove down from Bemidji to help me set up our little Farm Store.  My mom and I share a weakness for pretty dishes and she is  extremely talented at setting a stunning table or arranging an artful display. I was delighted when she was so eager to help.  We spent two long days cleaning and pricing my inventory of ProFound Objects and arranging them in the various shelves and cases I have acquired. I could never have made so much progress or accomplished such eye-catching displays without her touch.
Meanwhile,  my Dad assembled and hung shelves and took care of miscellaneous odd jobs. I think he even had fun.

There is still a lot to do, but we plan to have a "soft" opening this weekend- sort of a sneak preview for anyone who cares to stop by.  Next weekend we will open fully.
Early this morning,  On Site Sanitation dropped off a portable toilet, a requirement of our Township Board when they granted us a Conditional Use Permit for an on-farm business. I ordered a Contractor version (subdued brown and green) rather than an Events model (bright sky blue) and I had them set it up between two bushes on the west side of the granary.  If we have to have a porta-potty in our yard, at least we can't see it from our house and it pretty much disappears in the bushes.

Goals for today:  paint the sign, work on the garden, order business cards, finish setting up the store  to be ready for potential customers this weekend.
P.S. Thanks oodles, Mom and Dad!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Patios and Logos

We are working feverishly on the Granary to be able to open our Farm Store & Gallery next weekend.  Rog has installed a charming brick patio in front of the building and is now reconstructing the steps and pergola. He has been working on this project between rainstorms, before and after work - one day he got up at 5:30 a.m. to lay bricks!  I hope it stops raining and dries up a bit one of these days so I can mow and plant. It is so saturated the ground is squishy.
After much vacillation, we have finally settled on a color scheme for our  farm logo.  Now I can get busy painting the sign, ordering business cards and T-shirts --nothing like waiting until the last minute!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A New Logo!

Squash Blossom Farm has a new logo!

Rog came up with this stylized blossom design, which I really love. We are still playing with the colors - your feedback is welcome. Looking at it now, I think the text needs to be the yellow color for contrast, but I want to include the red-orange of the text somewhere.

Besides using the logo on business cards and marketing materials for our farm store,  I am painting a large mandala of the circle with the blossom for the peak of our barn. We are thinking it will make a spiffy T-shirt, too.

Wordless Wednesday: Evening, with Bovines

Monday, May 16, 2011

Contented Cows

The past  few sunny days the cows have been allowed into the lush upper pasture all day, making them very happy.

It  has made me a bit nervous, however (worrywart mom that I am.)  If cattle eat too much fresh young growth, especially alfalfa and  legumes, there is a risk of bloat, a life-threatening emergency.  Our pasture is probably fairly low-risk, being mostly grasses with a small amount of clover mixed in, but I still worry.

In order to ease my mind, I make sure that the cows have eaten some hay before going to the pasture (both for the fiber and to reduce their appetite.) I wait until the dew has dried and I  got them an anti-bloat mineral block. They seem to be adapting to the new diet very well.
Jitterbug alternates between racing around the pasture and resting up for the next frolic.
LaFonda has been giving 3 1/2 to 4 gallons of milk a day, not including the milk her calf, Lindyhop, drinks.  Her milk production may increase now that she is eating all this grass, so I hope her growing calf's appetite keeps up with her production. It is hard enough to use 4 gallons a day.
Lindyhop is brilliant white and as gentle as he looks!   There are some studies of cattle whorls (the little swirl of hair on the  forehead where the nap of the fur changes direction, creating a cowlick) that indicate  that where the whorl occurs is correlated to the temperament of the animal.  Cattle with the whorl  above eye level, or no whorl at all were more easily agitated and those with whorl between the eyes or below eye level tended to be calmer. Lindy's distinct whorl is right between his eyes and his calm nature follows the rule.

Actually, all of our cows' whorls are between their eyes and they are all pretty  mellow. But then, they really can't have much to complain about, pampered beasts! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Cow Pedicures

Lariat and LaFonda's hooves were getting pretty long after the long winter of not walking around the pasture much.  If their hooves grow too long, it can be uncomfortable for cows to walk and they can even break off right down to the flesh - very painful. I got the name of cattle hoof trimmer Bob Hanson from our dairy farmer neighbor. Bob happened to be working on a nearby dairy farm today and was able to come here afterwards.

Bob pulls his complete cow manicure parlor behind his truck, so all we had to do was plug it into our clothes dryer outlet and convince each cow to walk into the chute--a challenge, but not too difficult with my secret weapon: cow cookies.  LaFonda's horns were a bit tricky, but Bob knew what he was doing. And LaFonda didn't.
Two belts  support the cow from underneath so she can't kick or move around and a strap holds each foot in place for trimming. Coincidentally, I scheduled the hoof trim for the perfect time, right after calving.
It's not the most dignified position for a cow.
Bob has  had his hoof-trimming business for 30 years.  He said in his younger days he used to do 60 cows a day; now he usually does 40.  Besides trimming the hooves, he checks for foot sores or hairy warts and treats any problems.  My cows didn't have any problems but LaFonda did have a small stick stuck in one hoof that could have caused future problems if not removed.
After LaFonda, it was Lariat's turn. She was pretty suspicious, but food hound that she is, she couldn't resist the lure of some sweet grain and walked right in.

Bob giving Lariat her pedicure:
Lariat was pretty happy to have this procedure over.  Now she can romp in the pasture without tripping on her toes. She needs to be able to run fast to keep up with her calf, Jitterbug!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Milkhouse Blues

Last week was thrilling, with a new calf and 3 beehives, but overwhelming and exhausting too, with Rog out of town all week and me dealing with the #@* bucket milker.  I am basically a glass-half-full kind of person, but lest you think life on the farm is always simple and placid, and before I erase  them from my memory, today I will write about last week's trials and tribulations, which mostly center around cow-milking.

LaFonda's udder is huge and she produces much more milk than her calf can drink. Dairy cows have been bred to produce lots of milk, and it has to come out or the cow will be in misery and get mastitis. The first few days, she produces colostrum instead of milk, very rich and full of antibodies that are vital for the calf's health. (My beekeeper friend Tom told me that in Scandinavian countries  they make colostrum pudding, but, um,  I didn't try  that.) It is always recommended that you freeze colostrum for a future calf emergency, which I did, although our next calf is at least two years in our future.

Last summer we hand- milked LaFonda, with Cadence handling the morning milking, and I did the evening.  My hands never did adapt - they cramped up in agony after just a few minutes, so I had to alternate hands and milking poor, patient LaFonda took me forever. I thought a bucket milker would be much easier.  Ha! There have been so many challenges:

  1. My bucket milking system is assembled from old, donated & refurbished components (my frugal nature).  While this may have saved me a few hundred dollars, they do not add up to the ideal system. The cover does not fit as snugly on the bucket (this brand is no longer made) as it should - risking losing the vacuum easily -and the pump itself is just barely sized  big enough.
  2. LaFonda has never been machine-milked before, her udder is very swollen and sore, and right after giving  birth cows can have crazy hormones.  I had accustomed her to the noise of the pump - that does not seem to bother her. But the moment the inflation latched onto her teat, she turned into a kicking, bucking bronco.  She has some pretty fancy kicks - sideways with her back legs and  backwards with her front legs. She is normally a gentle soul  and has never kicked me before.  I was so nervous about the possibility of being kicked or knocked over (especially with Rog gone and nobody to rescue me if I got hurt) that I am sure she could sense my fear and it made her more scared. 
  3. Out of desperation, I called in support. Nancy and Angie, from the dairy farm across the road and Marv the equipment dealer tried to help the first night (we got a little milk, but it was scary.) It was especially stressful for LaFonda, having all those strangers crowded in the stall with us. So, the next day I hand-milked for most of the morning and realized, hands throbbing, I simply cannot hand milk. I am so slow, I would have to do it continally, all day long.  
  4. On the verge of tears I called up my veterinarian and asked if they knew anybody whom I could hire to assist/coach me. They sent out their son, Robert, a strong, young man who happened to be visiting home and works with zoo and farm animals - I was so grateful. Even with Robert's fearlessness and strength, it was a challenge to milk LaFonda.  We tied her back leg and Robert held her tail straight up so she couldn't kick. I felt terrible because I know LaFonda hated every moment, and milking time used to be so pleasant.  Robert  came back that evening, and it went a bit better. At least LaFonda was beginning to understand that the machine wasn't going to hurt her. She still flinched and stomped when I attached it, however. 
  5. I was apprehensive the next morning when I had to milk unassisted. It really bothered me how she jumped when I attached the inflations.  Also, attaching all four inflations of the claw is tricky - especially if you are distracted watching to avoid being kicked.  So, I tried turning the vacuum down and I decided to milk just one quarter at a time.  I plugged three inflations and attached just one. She barely flinched! The vacuum must have been set too strong for my delicate cow.
  6. That evening Robert returned with a Cow Can't Kick  that the vet offered to  lend me. It is a big metal U-shaped contraption with a crank in the  middle. You slip it over the cow's back and tighten it in front of her hip bones just enough that she can't kick or move around much. I hope I won't need to use it forever, but for now, it makes me feel much more at ease until LaFonda and I get our routine down. I hope after a few calm, gentle sessions,  she will have a better association with the process.

Right now I am milking three times a day; three times a day I get a big adrenalin rush.  I will only have to milk this often for a few weeks until the rapidly-growing calf is drinking more, then I will reduce to twice a day, and ultimately, once a day.  Right now it feels like all I am doing is milking cows, cleaning up the miking equipment, and dealing with the milk! Yesterday, I made a gallon of yogurt and 2 quarts of kefir. Today...maybe ice cream?

I intended to take a photo of LaFonda in her Cow Can't Kick and the bucket milker set up for this post, but as I was carrying the bucket of hot water for udder-washing in one hand and the grain bucket in the other hand, my new camera slung over my shoulder, it slipped off --landing in the water bucket.  I was  totally dismayed--my camera lens was full of droplets of moisture.  Miraculously, last night it seemed to have recovered. Whew - I am lost without my camera.

Instead, here are a couple clips of letting the cows into the grassy the upper pasture for the first time:

When Lariat noticed her reflection in the big windows on the barn, she got very upset about that other cow!

LaFonda feasted.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Refrigerator-Cleanout Day

Our poor refrigerator was already bursting at the seams with all the eggs the hens have been providing, and now that LaFonda is giving us gallons of milk a day, I was forced to tackle the dreaded job, cleaning the refrigerator.

The hens LOVE this job, though.  They get a feast. Leftover sushi rice with nettles (much tastier than it sounds), a container of old stew hiding in the back of the fridge, limp veggies, hummus past its date... all will be recycled into still more eggs.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Dancing with Cows

The calves finally have names!
"Lindyhop" is the white bull calf.
 "Jitterbug" is the Dexter heifer.

They are still mostly eating and sleeping, with brief spurts of frolicking, but I know that soon there will be joyous scenes of calves dancing across the pasture.
"I could dance with you till the cows come home.
On second thought
I'd rather dance with the cows till you come home."
                                              Groucho Marx

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bee Happy

We got our bees installed with perfect timing--it was  perhaps our first two-day stretch of warm sunny weather this year. Yesterday, the dandelions  burst into bloom, and the honeybees were already visiting them. You can see packets of pollen on this bee's back legs. Pollen is high in protein and the bees use it to feed their brood.
Although we weren't planning to do this for a couple days yet, Tom called and said the bees we installed just the day before were already building comb like crazy and he thought we should get ready to release the  queens.
Tom held up a bar from my Warre hive where the bees were building comb in the swag-like shape they create in nature. He told me these drapes of bees are called "festoons."
We removed a few beginnings of comb that were not in the best areas of the hive for us, the beekeepers. The darker comb was built from recycled wax from an old frame of last year's hive. The lighter  comb is brand new comb in one of my new Warre hives.
Such an amazing structure bees  create!
We removed the little queen cage that we had hung between the bars. The queen cages were covered with loyal workers building comb from her cage and satisfying her every need.
Being very careful to not let the queen escape, we removed the cork from the opening and  replaced it with a miniature marshmallow plug. We hung the queen cage back in the hive and made sure the bars were evenly spaced so the comb will be built in an orderly fashion. In a day or two, the queen and her attendants will have eaten her free and she can begin her life-long  reign, laying eggs to build the hive. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Newest Member of the Herd

An exciting day--today LaFonda's calf was born.  I had a feeling today would be the day, because although she ate  her morning grain, LaFonda seemed much less enthusiastic about it than usual. Then, an hour or so later I found her with standing with her tail held up in a funny way - that's a sign. I saw her water break about noon, but she kept standing up, not lying down so labor could progress. I was afraid I was distracting her so I left for ten minutes and when I returned, she was already licking her  muddy, wet calf clean.
He's a little bull calf. I got to watch him stand on his  wobbly legs.
He is pretty big - about 60 pounds, with long legs.
 He is totally white except for his brown ears and muzzle. In appearance he takes after his father's side of the family; his sire is a British White Park, but he is big like his mom.  I hope he is naturally polled (hornless) like his father so we don't have to decide about dehorning him, and I hope he inherits his mother's patient, gentle nature.
Lariat  also checked him over.
He is so darn cute! I had a trying 3-hour session of attempting to milk LaFonda with my new bucket milker tonight.  That is a story for another post, but I am sure the entertaining antics of these delightful calves all summer will make it worth all the frustrations!

Our herd.