Cow report

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.

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6 thoughts on “Cow report

  1. I know that dairy goats and dairy cows are not the same, however some of the same principles would apply.

    You may be right in assuming the flavor of the milk was caused by your pasture grass. Sweet alfalfa, clover, etc., always produced the best tasting milk for us.

    I’m assuming that your children are being sure to keep the cow’s udder and their milking pail, hands, etc. all very clean at milking time. Bacteria and/or plain old dirty can really cause the milk to taste bad and turn quickly.

    Another thing to consider is getting the milk cooled just as quickly as you can once it leaves the animal. The quick cooling was essential for us with the goats’ milk.

    Hope that helps.

  2. Cheryl,

    The kids are meticulous about cleaning Puzzle. We are also careful to clean and sterilize all equipment, since we discovered early on that even reusing a pitcher can dramatically reduce the milk’s keeping power.

    And I don’t think it’s an issue with the milk turning. I’m pretty good at recognizing that taste in aging milk, and this is something different. Plus it’s strongest when the milk is fresh, i.e. being poured through the filter.

    As for quick cooling, we were trying for that by putting the milk tote (into which they pour milk from the bucket every few minutes) in a container of cold water. The milk was much cooler, alright, but it seems to start the cream separating, and as a result it became very slow to go through the filter, so for now we’ve stopped that.

    Mike B,

    That was good for a laugh, since I just spent quite a few painful hours learning about semi-permanent electrical fencing and assembling a parts order. I forgot that problems like this can be solved by just throwing money at them.

  3. Is the strong taste somewhat of a garlic taste? That would mean that the cow is eating chives.

  4. Nicolas,

    That could very well be it. The wild garlic/onions/chives came on pretty early and are thick in the area where the paddock currently is. Since they are everywhere, we’re hoping that either good pasture growth chokes them out, or that when the good clover and grass comes on the cows will prefer it and stop eating them.

  5. My dad recalls that in his childhood in Maryland in the 1950s there were always a few weeks each spring when the milk (store milk, mind you) tasted of onion, much to the dismay of the dairy producers. This problem has long since been solved, of course, by keeping the cows inside at all times so they can only eat what they’re given. Wild onions are not on the menu.

    The only time we had any difficulty with milk flavor was when we fed too much alfalfa hay at once: the alfalfa taste was very, very strong and unpleasant, and could even be smelled while milking.

    We haven’t found that extraordinary measures are necessary for quick- chilling the milk, though the goat milkers we know have to be more careful than we do.

    In the winter, there were actually times when the cold weather (and milk pail) and the “agitation” of milk hitting the bottom of the pail would form little granules of butter. Then as more warm milk filled the pail, these would melt, making tiny greasy yellow blobs on the top of the pail which came out in the strainer. A bit disconcerting until we figured it out.

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