She Delivered! We’re waiting on the last calf…

Bessie, our standard Jersey who gives wonderful milk, is expecting any day now.

Products from Bessie's milk

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.

Hand-milking Bessie, as she patiently waits

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

Portable milker, YEAH! says Bessie

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.

Powdered milk + water =

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…

A2/A2 Milk

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.

Portable milker on a cart, to the barn

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…

The calf is checking on Bessie

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.

And then she started stretching… she began a slight amount of pushing… passed a bit of stool;
I assumed that the calf was moving down the birth canal & called our intern and a neighbor the the imminent birth.
About 30 min later she stood up and did it! She delivered a nice, big, huge… cow pat.
Boy, did I feel dumb.  She stood there for a moment. Looked around.

she delivered a rather large cow pat

She’s so big (not huge, though) and when she lays down there is so much pressure from the calf, on her bottom, that everything swells up. You can see the calf shifting on occasion, and mom shifts around trying to get the calf in a more comfortable position (after having four kids, I remember THAT feeling very well).
Bessie looked around another moment… then she started on lunch….
If she’s feeling good enough to eat, she’s definitely NOT delivering.
Back to the house…. no more excuses not to do MY chores!  I remind myself that a “watched pot” doesn’t boil (or something like that)! I’ll leave her buddies to “labor sit” for now.

He & mom will keep Bessie company, but continue on with their "business"


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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!

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