Cocoa’s introduction to milking…

It’s always an unknown, how a cow will respond to being milked.

When I think of a milking cow, I see a picture in my head. It’s of a mellow cow slowly moving to the milking trailer, browsing around inside the head stall, searching out her treats & munching away on a bits of hay

Extra fine hay & a bit of grain

while she stands patiently, and is milked. I don’t even need to lock her into the headstall to prevent her from backing up.

She knows, and is comfortable with the whole routine.  It’s an expected part of the day. If I don’t come soon enough, she will stand at the gate waiting for me, with large patient eyes. No fuss, no mooing, no impatience… she just “waits”.

I open the gate, and she marches right in.  I don’t even need to put up a paneled run to make sure she doesn’t “escape” and go somewhere else.  She knows right where she wants to go, and we are on the same page.

A Different Kettle of Fish

But now, a brand-new cow to milking, is whole different kettle of fish.  As I’ve mentioned before, we like to leave the calves on their mom’s full-time for the first few weeks, and then we will start to share milk with the calf, milking once a day. She has recovered from the birth and bonded with her newborn. (In the industry, she would never see her calf again, after the delivery.)

I run through my head of all the possible “problems” and things I need to get ready “just in case” we run into one of those problems. She could be frightened of the milking trailer… you go from bright sunshine into a shadowy area; it’s spooky to a cow.  The smells should be OK… calm cows have been in there before her so have not left the “scent” of fear/anxiety/stress.  (Under stress a cow will shoot out a VERY icky, smelly, liquid poop! guaranteed to tell the next cow, DANGER).

Competition & other misc matters…

Panels confine the space, for milking in the protected trailer

She might not like the confined feeling of the trailer, or she may not like the hen who is trying to nest in her food/hay in the head stall (a BIG problem… I have no idea why the hens seem to think that is the optimal place to lay their eggs)!

I have even seen a hen squawk so much, when her “laying time” is getting interrupted that Bessie will back out and WAIT until the hen is done!

Quite funny to see a 7 lb hen, dictate timing to a 1000 lb milk cow!

And then the big problem that must be ready for… what if she’s a kicker? or a tale swisher.  We’ve had a cow before that would just wait (and remember… they can keep one eye on you AND one eye on their food, AT THE SAME TIME)…until you are in position and let loose a kick or swatch your face with her tail. (Oh yes, they can hit a fly at 30 paces, I swear! they are so accurate with that tail). Heaven help you if that tail is a bit yucky with manure… ’cause you are sure to wear it, if she’s that kind of girl! 

Our 9 yr old standard Jersey…  Bessie is as mellow as they come, and she is a treasure to work with… very, very good for beginners to start with. But like I said, a new cow is just unknown territory.

A beef cow… you can’t get anywhere near their udder… unless you have them locked down in a squeeze chute where they absolutely can’t get away from you.  Amazingly… they never have ANY problems with their udders… tiny, petite, and absolutely functional ’cause their calves grow like weeds. At least, that is our experience with our Lowline Angus… great moms & healthy calves.

Breeding Stock for small family farms…

Because we are working on developing stock for the small farm, we decided to branch out a bit from the traditional milk cow and beef cow.  Each have been bred for a specific purpose and if you have lots of room, they are generally your best bet to utilize.

If I want a beef cow to give milk… I’ll probably have to give up milk quantity.  If I want a milk cow to be good for meat… I will probably have to give up high-end quality  meat (i.e. tenderness & taste).   It will still be good, just not 5 star rated!

And then there are temperament issues.  Like I said, a milk cow tends to be mellow and gives up her calf easily but a beef cow is very protective of her calf (and her udder). She may not want to be separated from her calf or follow you dociley into a metal box and just stand there.  (Remember, her world is the wide open pasture and she must protect her young from predators!)

Jersey/Lowline (aka Jer-Low)

Cocoa, is our first result of crossbreeding a milk cow with a high-end mini-beef bull.  She was a bit taller than we expected, her coat is darker than her mother (but not solid black like the Angus), and she has more of the dairy build with a more pronounced udder and excellent teat size and placement.   Something you don’t really know until she has her first calf. (Bessie has teeny, tiny teats which makes hand milking very difficult!).

I was running over in my head the need to take her into the milking trailer and just feeding her there a few times to get used to the space, adding the milk strap that goes over her back (which will hold the milk bucket under her), and in a few days, actually turn on the pump (noisy, although it IS placed outside the stall)… but letting her build up a tolerance to all the “new” stuff.  All the while rubbing, brushing and sweet talking her.

In the meantime, Job (our intern) goes out to the pasture, brings her into the stall. He just skips to the end and gets it DONE.

Now I grant you, she needed some rear pressure to get her in the first time but once she discovered the fresh hay and a bit of grain she was a convert! The next day, she headed in without missing a beat, and Job, with his long legs stretched out under her, proceeded to hand milk her. I think, after milking her, he did turn on the pump so she could near the noise from it and realize that it wasn’t going to hurt her, or take her food!  The next day… you guessed it, Job put the portable milk machine on her and that was that.

Except, bless her udder, she gave more and more milk each day. Luscious sweet raw milk, with a rich yellow tint that speaks of lots of vitamins,  from the pasture she has been on. When the milk “settles” it has a layer thick with cream that we will harvest to make butter (or ice cream or real whipping cream).

All my worry and problem-solving down the drain… Job just goes out and does it.  Did I mention that he is brand new at this game?  Awesome!

It was wonderful to find that Cocoa has kept the best traits from her dairy side… while her bull calf will be valuable to the small acreage for very usable meat… he is 3/4 Lowline Angus and will have excellent genetics for quality beef. A Two-for-One package deal: milk and beef. We call that success!

Practicing eating!

Caught a picture of our little bull calf.  His muzzle was dripping with milk but he slipped around mom, up to the hay feeder where all the cows were munching away.  He nuzzled up to the feeder and took a bite to check out what everyone was up to.

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At this age, he is beginning to practice eating forage.  He still does not get much nutrition from it, but his gut is being colonized by the bacteria he will need on board, to help digest the cellulose (tough fibers). That’s what makes ruminates (cows, goats, sheep, etc) such useful creature.  They can take forage on land unusable for crops, and convert it to food.

At birth, the four parts of the cow’s stomach are not “active”.  Milk is shunted to the last stomach; the only one that can absorb nutrition from the milk. A calf lifts its head up to nurse, which shuts off the entrance to the other sections of the stomach.  Calves that are fed from a bucket, with their heads down, do NOT shut off that entrance and tend to be very sickly; despite getting milk. They are NOT getting the food into their system.

Commercial cattlemen finally figured out they needed to raise the bucket up and the calves would be much healthier. Such a small observation of how mother nature works, made a huge difference in the health of calves off their moms.

Calf stomach compartments

As small amounts of milk & microbes, from the practice chewing/eating gets into the rumen, it becomes colonized with the different microbes that will handle different types of forage. A different group of microbes for grass, for alfalfa, for orchard grass, or teff, or blends. Once all the areas are colonized, the four compartments have very specialized functions. After eight weeks the calf’s rumen should be fully functioning. The rumen, his bulk storage container where food is first inoculated with microbes to break it down, will grow 25 times larger from birth to adulthood.

One of the things we do is transition any feed changes slowly, over a week or two, to give the microbes a chance to catch up! Otherwise we end up with cows with very “liquid” deposits!

Food/Forage management by poop analysis, would be a “polite” way to put it.

Milking Chocolate

Henry, at 2 weeks old, waiting while mom gets milked today.

At two full weeks, Chocolate was still leaking milk from her udder.  Obviously she still had much more milk than the calf could use so we decided to go ahead and start milking her.

The first time she was not too thrilled… until she saw some GRAIN.  Then she willingly went into the milking trailer. She fussed a little bit (we put a hobble on so she could not kick), but after the first milking she got into the rhythm of it… and no longer tried to kick.

I guess we were taking a little toooo long, the first time. When she was DONE, she was DONE. Uh, never mind that WE WERE NOT. She backed herself right out of the stall with the milking equipment still attached. Our poor intern was thunder struck. All I could do was laugh; it had happened to me in the past. Go with the flow. BUT, have to get the head stall bar put back in, so she could not back out of her own free will.

Portable Milker attached

In the picture you can see the silver Inflaters, on the teats, which pulsate with a light rhythmic vacuum, and milks the cow out in about 10 minutes, into the large bucket. It is suspended from a back-strap… and goes with the cow when she moves around in the stall. The time consuming part is the cleaning of the udder and the teats to insure they do not contaminate the milk.  The bucket is taken directly back to the house, filtered, and refrigerated.

COMMERCIAL DAIRIES have it backwards!

I was shocked at another dairy, impressively spic and span (sterile almost), to see them do virtually no cleaning of the udder/teats. What they did do, left drainage on the teat that would be pulled into the milking lines.  Now I KNOW why they MUST pasteurize their milk. I would never drink raw milk from such an operation.

We also pay extraordinary attention to the proper cleaning of the equipment, after use, to prevent any source of contamination building up. Understanding  clean aseptic technique is critical. It reduces the transference of organisms, rather than killing every living thing.

Why don’t I keep a pristine clean milking stall? Because 99.9% of microbes are either beneficial or benign (i.e. don’t cause a problem).  If I kill them off all the time (with chemicals, etc.) I am providing a petri dish to grow bad bugs. Those bugs that can survive my killing chemicals!  In nature, there is NO such thing as an empty niche. Odds are, over time, it will be a bad bug we can’t kill off.

With good “aseptic technique” we prevent contamination in the first place.  Any milk that is questionable goes immediately to the pigs… nothing is wasted and there is no urgency to preserve every drop for our personal use. We err on the side of caution… something the industrial business model does not always follow, sad to say.

GRAIN 

Interestingly, during Chocolate’s pregnancy she had NO interest in grain. Now remember, she is an “Old World Jersey”, a heritage breed that has not been quite as domesticated as standard jerseys.  Her body mass is fuller (standard jersey’s can look emaciated as they put all their energy into the udder/milk process). She has more reserves (more meat on her bones).  She does NOT produce as much milk as a standard jersey.  She does well on pasture and has not been bred to need grain.

During her pregnancy she was quite uninterested in any grain, but now that she is producing milk, she has developed a distinct “LIKE” for grain.  She’ll get a small amount, a scoop (couple of cups) each day along with hay, with her milking. I’m guessing that  with the extra milk production she needs more “energy” to provide it. Or, if not needing it precisely, she likes it.

We also add in some kelp meal & D.E. (diatomaceous earth) to her daily ration.  They provide her with micro nutrients that might be missing in the soil the hay was grown in.  The D.E. also functions as a natural dewormer that we use with all our livestock.

Newborn calf’s first steps, pt 2

The calf finally balances enough on his little legs, to actually MOVE around!

Newborn calf’s first steps, pt 1

http://youtu.be/xzGXjXBI-SI

You can hear the pig in the background… he was SO curious about what was going on!

Calf delivery..lots of pics, graphic

We were getting a bit worried that the calf had not been born yet, the weather forecast was calling for rain, in a few days.  All these warm, sunny days had been perfect for a newborn but we were going to lose that window.

But Jim came in from his morning rounds to tell me to get ready…                                camera, coffee, and coat!  Chocolate was pacing around the pasture.

early labor? pacing

Pacing around the pasture

She moved behind the trailer, behind the truck, behind the barn. Never staying long, and not eating… early contractions? She kept lifting her tail head. More mucus discharge.

Bessie watching out for Chocolate

Bessie keeps a close eye on Chocolate

Bessie was following a short distance, keeping her company the whole way.  The neighbors cows came over to stand by the fence, watching her carefully.

If you didn’t know, birthing time is of great interest to all the other livestock!  Often they come peek around the corner to see what is happening.

Chocolate finally chose to go into the barn paddock stall.  Jim closed her in so she would have a protected area to move around in.

Paddock where Chocolate settled

Paddock for the delivery area

Our intern carefully spread fresh straw down so that the calf would have a “soft landing”.  Two interns had just finished mucking the stall area out the day before… . perfect timing.

Our boar hog in the next pen kept watching and pacing, quite curious about what was going on.

Jim made a few phone calls to alert neighbors that the big event would actually be happening!

Early active labor

Jim gives some TLC to Chocolate

This Jersey birth was quite strikingly different from our lowline angus beef cows.  Much longer process, 1 1/2 hr.  But it makes sense.  Beef cows tend to be out on rangeland, or large pastures.  They are at risk for predator attacks.  They don’t have the luxury of a longish labor.  Those livestock would be dead and their genes NOT passed on.

Beef cows do what I call, “The Stop and Drop”!

Milk cows have been domesticated for thousands of years.  In a protected environment those quick genes were not quite as critical.

Chocolate got up & down, moved around between contractions.

laboring & the chickens stop by for a visit!

Chickens drop by, as Chocolate labors

She finally chose to lay down and completed her labor in that position.  She would thrust her upper rear leg out as she had a contraction and slowly began to push. Nothing to see… just a contraction, a push, and then she would stop and chew her cud for a few minutes.

The important thing is to remember to stay out-of-the-way! Let nature take it’s course.

And finally, she began to push and I had the delicate job of explaining why seeing poop was a GOOD sign.  That as the calf moved through the birth canal, the rectum runs above the birth canal.  As the calf move through and out, it was also pushing out any stool left in the rectum… it meant we were getting very, very close.

some of the observers...

Watching the delivery, from the barn

It was an awesome experience (we had from age 6 – 60 watching).  I think birth is one of the most mesmerizing things to watch.  Our barn setup is excellent because one side is open to the lower stalls.  It’s for ease of taking the hay stored in the barn, and being able to toss it into the feeders, just below.  Perfect viewing platform to be OUT of the way and yet see what was going on.

It’s time!

All of a sudden, more mucus, a tinge of blood, and then a bubble emerging… the bag of waters.

white filmy membrane, bag of waters broken

Bag of waters broken, finally

Under the pressure, it suddenly burst. Clear fluid and the path was lubricated for the calf.

Next contraction and we were seeing a tiny hoof peek out and then pull back.

a hoof, at the birth canal

First sight of a hoof

Over the next few contractions, we would see more of the hoof and then finally a 2nd hoof… a good sign.

Calf was in a good position (only one hoof might mean a leg twisted back that would impede the delivery).

two hooves showing

Two hooves showing!

Beautifully, the beginnings of the muzzle appeared. Perfect position for an uncomplicated delivery.

calf's muzzle

The beginning of the calf's muzzle are showing

Another contraction and the head was through.  Amazingly, the calf shook its head… long ears flopping.

Delivery Done!

Birth is complete!

Over the course of a couple of contractions the calf’s body slipped through, and suddenly he was there.

Breath held we waited, waited to see him actively take a real breath.  No active movement, but watching carefully you could see his ribs rise and fall.  But at first, no movement… scary.

Two of us nurses, again, having to fight the impulse to jump in, and stimulate the calf to breath, to rub it dry. Instead, having to just watch.

Laying perfectly still...

Is the calf OK, He's so still?

Amazingly, Chocolate immediately got up and started lick her calf… vigorously.

This flaccid little limp frame of a calf was a little scary.  Was he normal? He looked like skin and bones.  But the more his mother licked him, the more active he became… and the healthier he started looking!

Finally, I breathe a sigh of relief when see him lift his head, a spontaneous movement on his part.  He’ll be fine.

the calf begins to move!

The Calf begins to move!

stimulating by licking

Mom is quite vigorous at the licking!

His soft white hoofs were hardening up now that they were exposed to air.

At birth, they are soft & pliable.  Think of fingernails after washing dishes or taking a bath.  Makes sense, cause a sharp hoof could lacerate the bag of waters or the uterus or the birth canal.  He did not even try to stand for the first 30 minutes, but the hoofs were quickly firming up.

He begins to stand

Attempting to get his balance & stand

His little legs spayed out as he would try to stand… from legs slipping away from him; ok, try the back legs… same thing.  But wait, rest, and try again… all the while mom is licking him so vigorously she knocks him around a bit.  She’s cleaning, drying him off, getting the “birth smell” removed so he will not be a target for predators. Her instinctual behavior is amazing to watch.

almost up on all four feet

Almost Up!

He finally gets a bit more control and is able to stand, taking his first wobbly steps, he actually begins to explore the world around him. Amazing curiosity.

Jim approaches the calf, carefully. The calf IS curious and wobbles over to him.

Calf checking out Jim

Who's that stranger???

Mom isn’t to sure.  She lets out a mooooo-o-o.  Jim stays very still and just holds his hand out for the calf to sniff.  Mom is OK with this.

And then the calf decides to take off and explore the rest of the paddock… our visitors have moved the back area of the ground floor paddock so that they could see what was happening.

A world to explore

The Calf take off to explore!

The calf takes off to check these new creatures.

WHOOOPS, I’m thinking we might be in trouble with mom... but no, as long as we stay still, and the calf does the approach she is OK with this.

We had a great groups of folks who moved slowly and quietly… did not bother mom at all.

 She just follows him, still getting a lick in when she can! He is beginning to dry and fluff up… getting that cute fawn look to him, with those big eyes staring at you.

The next big step… for him is nursing. He needs to get that first milk, the colostrum, in his gut before the first 6 hrs are up.

Calf looking for the teat

Beginnings of the search for the Teat

But he’s got time.  Born at 11:30 and exploring the world by 12. Now that is some action.

It will actually be another hour before he is able to find and latch onto the teat… again, much slower than beef calves.

Dried off and his fur fluffed up, he is so soft to touch. a gentle calm little creature.  He’ll be a great addition to our farm stead. He’s turning a light golden color… Hmm, now a name?

And at the end of his first exploration… he collapses… and takes a nap.

Napping

Getting ready to Nap!

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It’s a Boy! An Old World Jersey fullblood…

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I’ll fill you on the story… when we get all the work done, that we put off for “the birth”!

How to tell when it “time” to calve…

Yesterday I was saying that Chocolate is close to dropping her calf (i.e. birthing)… so a few other hints that it is getting close.  Her udder (bag) has filled out! She doesn’t have the huge bag of a standard Jersey, or the ground dragging bags of Holsteins. So when you notice her udder… it means something is going on, as well as when the teats lengthen and start to look full.

The temps dropped to the high 20′s last night… so glad our cows tend to deliver in the daytime when the temps have warmed up.  Chocolate’s udder looks fuller today, and the teats are beginning to angle OUT (the better for a newborn calf to find). And even better some of the teats are beginning to show drops of milk… dripping out.

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When the calf is born, and starts looking for a teat, it is so funny to see.  The teats will just be streaming milk.

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Chocolate getting close to delivery

Warning: there are some graphic pictures of real life, in the slide show!

When a cow is close to delivery her bag will begin to fill up with milk, her teats lengthen, and mucus will show-up on her perineum.  Her very full belly was low to the ground and looking very wide, NOW looks less full. The calf has moved up and back.

The calf has moved into position, to the birth canal. The ligaments around the birth canal have softened so they can stretch and let the calf through. We moved Chocolate to the big pasture so she will have room to move around and to choose her birth place. The other cows will provide security and protection for her.  The birth, when it happens, tends to occur fairly quickly.  Smaller breeds of cows don’t have the birthing issues of the large breeds.

Chocolate is an old world jersey… closer in heritage to the original stock that was brought over in ships when the english colonized the american colonies.  They came

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from the Isle of Jersey (southern tip of the english isle). They are currently at risk for being lost, as their numbers are so small.  Most Jerseys were bred up in size so that they would produce more milk.

Chocolate is just a few inches shorter than our standard Jersey, Bessie, but she looks fuller in body. Standard jerseys have a more boney look to them, while the old world’s still have some “meat” on their bones.  They don’t give us much milk, but for a small family farm, that is just fine.  Our OW Jersey will live for 20 years, a jersey in an industrial dairy has a life span of 4 years, usually. We are after quality, longevity, and health… and give up “volumes” of milk, for that tradeoff. We also choose to milk once a day, which puts less demand on the cow.

We want to use Chocolate for breeding more OWJerseys because she is naturally polled (i.e. no horns), she has an excellent temperament, and gives good milk. She never gets sick (no mastitis, infection in the udder, which is a reoccurring problem in standard jerseys). We don’t want to lose the older genetics.  While she will not give as much milk, the milk she does give is high in butterfat… i.e. will make good butter, cheese, & other milk products.

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