Hand Milking… the first milk


Niki hand milking

Niki, our current intern, wanted to try milking Chocolate.  I wanted to make sure each quarter of Cho’s udder was functioning properly.  The calf had nursed, but it was important to make sure each teat was open and that each part of the udder could empty. If not, it could be a perfect setup for mastitis, infection of the udder.

An udder is divided into four segments, each with a teat.  The first milk, after delivery, is the colostrum which has many health benefits for the new calf.  But the mom produces much more milk than the calf will be able to drink… so we will take some for possible future use.

We didn’t want to separate mom & calf by taking Cho into the milking trailer so Jim just put a halter on her and tied it to the feed stall.  The problem with that… she had much more room to move around.  Cho had not been milked in a year so was not too pleased with the change.  Jim hobbled her back leg so she could not kick.

unable to kick

Preventing any real kicks@

When a fresh cow is milked initially, it will trigger contractions (painful)… so again, she’s not too happy about being milked BUT, very important to make sure each quarter of the udder is working properly.

It’s a good thing the hobble is in place ’cause she does try to kick! She dances around the stall area and Niki has to be quick and observant on what Chocolate is doing. When you lean up against a cow, to milk, you can actually feel when she is getting ready to kick… you grab the bucket and tilt back… she has a very specific range that she can kick into. Once in the milking stall we will have more control, but we’ll wait a few weeks before we start to take milk.

Hand milking is quite an art… as well as requiring some good hand endurance.  You don’t need a lot of strength, but you do need to be able to keep up the motion for a while.  Our other Jersey, Bessie, does NOT like to be hand milked.  She thinks we take way too long!

milking the front quarter of the udder

Enlarged teat... hand milking

Milking is not just clenching a fist around the teat, but a rolling motion. You actually close off the top of the teat (so the milk will not squirt back up into the udder), and then squeeze down, from top to bottom, to move the milk out.  It’s a rolling motion, top to bottom. Once you have enough hand endurance/strength you can get a nice rhythm going.

Hand milking should be done in 20 minutes at the most. It only takes about 10 min to do the job with a small portable milking machine, but it takes me longer to CLEAN my automatic milker , then hand milking takes!  The challenge is to build up the hand endurance.

We check each quarter of the udder, and get a good flow of milk from each. Collect about a quart of colostrum, for freezing. And then let Chocolate go nuzzle her calf, who has not budged from his napping spot.

calf, mother cow

Checking on her calf

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.


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”!

No Calf, yet….

You’ve heard of the watched pot! Well, we’re walking over to neighbors for dinner… maybe she’ll decide the pressure is off and will go ahead and do the deed.  Actually, her due date is Jan 19th! But really, I can’t believe she will hold on that long though.

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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