Bessie, our standard Jersey who gives wonderful milk, is expecting any day now.
We’ve been without her milk for several months because we wanted to give her time to build her system up before she delivered.
Bessie was purchased from a local commercial dairy in our area, that had been in the business (family) for over a 100 years. They were fairly close to organic in the sense that they did NOT use antibiotics, hormones, or and steroids to increase milk production. They did some pasture grazing besides the grain they fed. Definitely were not certified, which is just about the only way family dairy farms can survive these days.
Organic certified milk brings a premium but the middle man will only buy so much organic milk. The rest may still be organic but brings a much lower price because it must be sold as “regular” milk, once the “quota” has been filled. On the other hand, dairymen have found that their VET costs are much less with their pastured dairy cows… so there is a payoff for them.
Cows in a standard commercial dairy are kept on the average, only 2 1/2 years before being sent to the slaughterhouse (for hamburger). That makes them about 5 years old (2 years before their first calf and then 3 years “on the line”), before the are out the door. Bessie was almost 5 when we bought her from the family dairy that was closing down after a 100 years.
Bessie was perfect for us beginners. Mellow and fairly patient…. except she MUCH preferred being milked by machine (10 min) vrs us hand-milking (45 min). Yep, 45 minutes… you gotta have hand strength, and she has to be happy enough to let down her milk. After about 20 minutes she would get a bit ansiy… looking back, wanting know what was taking so long. My 1-2 cups of milk was not enough to get me through the door and face the waiting crowd who wanted to try her milk! We’d keep plugging on… until I could get at least a gallon.
When our “portable milker” arrived, we suddenly
jumped to 3-4 gallons of milk. Amazing! Raw milk, at least Bessie’s milk, has a sweet fresh taste to it. Very different from commercial milk.
I used to wonder why milk came in different prices.
Now I know (and can taste) that often milk is “made” with powdered milk. It’s cheaper to transport (and lasts longer) when the liquid is removed… and then added back later.
Sometimes the milk is a blend of powered and whole milk.
I used to do that myself when we were dirt poor, 40 years ago, and raising a family. I would mix the milk at home and chill it. It’s now not an uncommon practice in the industry…
But back to Bessie. We did some testing on her and found that her milk was A2/A2… just means that one of the amino acids in the milk is slightly different, and people who have trouble digesting milk, can handled A2/A2 milk without any problems. It’s actually the older gene and a mutation, known as A1/A1, occurred about 6,000 yrs ago… which most dairy cows carry.
We’ve had several non-milk drinkers (because they were lactose intolerant) handle our milk just fine. Glug-glug-glug… a gallon later. Did I mention they have NO problem with the milk, other than keeping some for tomorrow! Now my daughter, who has a RESPIRATORY allergy, get’s worse. For her there is something else in the milk that she is sensitive to… and with A2/A2 milk it gets worse.
When it came time to have Bessie bred we opted to A.I. (artificial insemination) with an A2/A2 Jersey Bull so we are very anxious to see if she will have a heifer that will someday give us A2/A2 milk!
Bessie is now 9 years old and has given us good service… but her genetics are telling on her. For the last two years she has developed weepy areas where her skin is thin. Never an infection… but I think, just the long time stress… she’s almost twice as old as her sister cows got to be; while my Old World Jerseys should be good for 20 years… I don’t know if it’s because of the actual genetics or because commercial cows are really pushed to produce in those early years.
We take it very easy and only milk once a day… because we would rather have the longevity, than quantity. I also dried her off three months prior to her delivery to give her extra time to build up her reserves.
But to my story…
Bessie is due any minute..
her bag has filled up and it was leaking. We put her in the fresh pasture between the house and the mini horse paddock… to keep an eye on her. Chocolate and her calf are with her to keep her company.
The next morning, she stopped eating or chewing her cud.
She laid down and started “laboring”. I raced around and grabbed my camera and cellphone.
I patiently sat quietly for at least an hour. Her companion cow, Chocolate, and her calf, would come over and nuzzled her occasionally, as she labored. She would pant, and then rest.