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.


Allison at Novice Life said...

Oh goodness - I sure do feel for both of you! While I am not a cow....I feel like one ;) I am a new mom and currently 2 months in to BF'ing my little man and gosh, some days I feel like you where all I am doing is 'milking' and cleaning up after a 'milking' - lol - and other days I can totally relate to LaFonda where I don't want ANYTHING touching me - LOL!

Bethany Ringdal said...

Wow--what a trial! If you can make it a few more weeks, we'll help out with the milking! Of course, we'll have a lot of learning to do too, but hopefully it'll take a bit of the load off...

Susan said...

Allison, Congratulations--Your darling little boy is possibly even more cute than my new calf!! : )

Bethany, we can hardly wait for you and Brendan to get here! Don't worry, though, the milking sessions are getting easier each time, as LaFonda and I figure it all out. Best of luck with your final d few weeks of school and graduation!

Hansen Family said...

Hi! Found you via another blog...saw your post about the milking troubles and had to read. Thank you for sharing. I have been hand-milking goats for years but this year will be our first calving and cow milking. A Dexter...Hang in there! "This too shall pass", as my mother in law says and she is usually right :)

katiegirl said...

I hope Lafonda gets used to the milker soon!

Susan said...

Thought I should update that LaFonda and I have reached an understanding. She understands that the milker doesn't hurt an din fact means special treats. And I understand that when she stomps her foot, that quarter is empty. This morning she was waiting by the barn door for me to m be milked. Joy!