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!


Allison at Novice Life said...

Wow - pretty neat!

So does the calf always milk from the same teat?

Sara said...

Thanks for this post, I really enjoyed reading it. An insight to what my life will be like oneday, I hope!

Becky said...

Whew! That's a lot of work each day. I'm sure having such wonderful raw milk makes it worth it though.

Seven Gates Farm said...

That is work! I think you might need the mojito!! What's in your garden? Debi

Creamcup Mini's said...

You know, you can get green plastic valves to put in the milk line that will let you shut off the vacuum to each inflation so you don't lose it when attaching the other teat cups. Use those instead of the blue plugs. Any dairy supply has them.

katiegirl said...

It's great to have a routine down pat, isn't it?

When I was milking cows, I'd attach the claw a little differently so as not to lose the suction. I'll try to explain, but I'm not sure if I can explain it well enough. If you hold the claw in your hand like you'd put it on the udder, let the 4 shells/inflations fall downward. Then start the suction (should be a type of valve on the bottom of the claw?). As you lift each inflation to put it on the teat, point the inflation upwards but push down so the hose is kinked. Then you can un-kink it as you lift each inflation to the teat. You can do one at a time, and as long as you're sure to kink that hose connecting the shell to the claw, it should hold suction. When you put the opening of the inflation up to the end of the teat, then you can release the kink. The inflation should immediately suck onto the teat so you won't lose suction to the other inflations.

Does that make any sense? :-)

Daniel said...

I like your milking setup. I've been hand milking a bit now, and although it has a romance to it, a simple set up like yours greatly reduces the already over-used hands of a farmer. Plus you keep the bucket out from under her so you don't get a poopy hoof in it or get it kicked over. I'd say it's definitely worth the investment!

Susan said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Katie and Creamcup. I think I will try both.
Daniel, you are right about the romance of hand-milking--the bell-like sound of a stream of milk hitting the stainless steel bucket is so musical compared to the the awful vacuum pump noise. But my hands and back sure appreciate the bucket milker, and I feel much more confident in the cleanliness when no hairs or dirt (or hooves) can fall in. Also, nice not to have to nestle your head up to the cow's sweaty flank on these 100-degree humid days!