Life with a family cow is beginning to define itself for us. Chris, Maggie, and Matthew have gotten very good at hand milking, and they have a rotating schedule where two of them will go down for the morning and evening milkings. Right now we get about 2 1/2 gallons per day, more than we can drink. We figure that once she is up to full production and the calf is weaned we’ll probably get between three and four gallons, or 20-25 per week. Double that when Dory calves. What will we do with the 30-35 gallons we can’t drink ourselves? Some will go to butter and cheese, some will go to pigs we don’t have yet, and some will surely go to neighbors we don’t know yet.
There have been some flavor variations we don’t yet understand. At the beginning the milk was very mild, but then Sunday morning’s milk smelled and tasted strongly of cow, very sharp, almost sour. The strength of that flavor has mostly dissipated since then, but still when the milk is being strained the odor is very strong. We’re hoping that it has something to do with the early spring pasture, and that as the clover and grass comes on things will settle down.
We had a bit of a scare when we noticed that one of Puzzle’s front quarters was very hard. Reading books had us ultra-sensitive to the possibility of mastitis, so we were scurrying to get her milked out and to try to figure out when and how to treat her. It seemed to be getting worse, so finally I called a neighbor who knows cows and asked him to come take a look. He felt her udder briefly and told us to relax, the front quarters were just swollen. Sure enough, the swelling has since gone down and is mostly history now.
At this point Chuck (our original calf) and Puzzle (the new mom) have halters on them, and T-Bone (the new calf) has a collar. We have a picket stake and lead, so after they put the halter on Puzzle while milking her, they picketed her outside the paddock. Initially she didn’t seem to pay much attention, but soon we saw that she was pulling at the picket lead, running around in circles, and even going over to the picket stake and kicking at it. Just what we wanted; she needs to learn that pulling against the lead tightens the halter uncomfortably, so that when we want to take her somewhere we can use a lead to do it. Maggie now uses a lead to bring Puzzle to the barn; she mostly comes on her own, but when she stops to eat some grass Maggie tightens the lead to encourage her on, and it works. Soon they’ll be working with Dory in the same way, so that she’ll be leadable once she calves and needs to be milked.
Right now cow care is very time consuming. It takes more than an hour for each milking, morning and night. And they’re enjoying the grass enough that their 1/8 acre paddock lasts barely two days; the fence should probably be moved daily, and that’s another hour, ninety minutes if the grass is high enough to cause the fence to short out (which it mostly is now). But help is on the way. The barn is wired, and so once we get it inspected and hooked up, in a few days we hope, the milking machine will speed things up—well, actually the time will shift from milking to cleaning the machine, but we’ll probably find that preferable.
And tonight I’ll be figuring out what we need to put together a semi-permanent paddock that can be strip grazed. We’ll be using two or three strands of wire, much quicker and easier to move than the netting, with the bottom wire high enough off the ground that grass won’t short it out. That will hopefully reduce the fence moving time to ten or fifteen minutes.