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!

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.


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 doing well!

Our area got hit with over 6 inches of rain!!! It quickly creates a river that runs between the house and the barn, and pools into a shallow lake in the pasture.  We’re quite lucky that the pasture area drains fairly quickly.  Despite it being winter this was a relatively warm storm.  No freezing temperatures.

Glad that our newborn calf had a few days of warm, dry weather before the start of the rains.  He handled the change in weather without a hitch.  Kicking up his heels and playing…. instead of curled up in a miserable lump as I fantasized.  It’s a pretty human characteristic, to super-impose our reactions onto animals.

Barns are mostly for people… for storing items like tools, hay, feed, etc. We don’t use the barn for our livestock. Overall, it’s not healthy for them.  Cows, horses, etc. prefer the outdoors and tend to choose a tree or windbreaks for their shelter.  Livestock closed up in a barn are at risk for respiratory problems… the build-up of manure and urine produces fumes that are irritating to their lungs. They have survived for tens of thousands of years… outside.

Well, except for our chickens who are closed up inside the barn at night, but only because it was a convenient place to put an enclosed cage to protect them from predators. Not that THEY needed the barn. It could be in a chicken tractor, outside. Now, our weather here in coastal california is rather mild.

We don’t have drifts of snow for livestock to dig through, looking for food and water.  Instead our chickens, turkeys and guinea hens roam freely, except at night, where we have closed down The Heritage Barn Chicken Buffet that a Red Fox, last year, helped himself to.

The calf did not miss a beat… he frolicked and played in the rain. His coat is thick and water-resistant, seemingly untouched by the steady rain.  We had three days, off and on, of rain.

halter, calf, train

Halter Training

Of course, then it came to the time to put a halter on the calf and get him used to being led around.  You can see from the picture how excited he was about this new adventure. He actually acclimated rather quickly and our intern was able to led him around the pasture.

Niki, our intern, also discovered the easiest time to put the halter ON.  When the calf was napping!

They are almost dead to the world.  You can do just about anything to them and they don’t wake up.  And mom has usually parked the calf, for his nap, and she’s gone off to eat so she’s not there to run interference in putting a halter on her baby.

We’ll try to lead him around a short while each day… and spend time with him, socializing.

Then he is let off the lead rope, races over to mom, and get’s a comforting drink of milk!

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

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: