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January 2011
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Milking

Some days are better than others. On the days that are better I think that whatever the problem is, I know that I can figure it out, find workarounds and I will make it work.

The days that are not so great, like today, it seems like nothing is going right and that I’m really not sure that I can do this. I wonder what I’m doing, perhaps this was all a big mistake and I’m really not ready, prepared or able to handle this cow.

This morning it was a fight. I had a hard time getting her in the halter, then since I hadn’t had her food ready because she followed me straight to the barn, she pushed past me, knocking me over to get her head in the barrel we keep the feed in as I was trying to get it out. Then she pulled on the rope and managed to rub the halter off her face. I had thought milking would be easier this morning, the calf had just been nursing prior to her coming into the barn, she should have already let down. Despite all that, I only got maybe 2 cups of milk.

Milking seems to start out well, she comes in, I brush and wipe down her udder, pre-dip her teats. I let them marinate for a minute, then wipe them off with a clean paper towel. I strip out the first couple squeezes and then go into regular milking. The first couple of minutes, flow is GREAT. I can squirt a stream probably 20 feet and get a good froth going in the bucket, so I’m sure my milking technique is OK. After a couple of minutes, her teat fill slows, and I have to wait longer to be able to have enough to squeeze out. I butt and jiggle her udder to stimulate flow. Sometimes I can get a little more, but oftentimes, not too much. I continue this for 5-10 minutes and finally put my bucket aside and dip her teats again, wait a minute and dry them off. Between all this, I’ve been dealing with a cow who has finished everything in her bucket and starts to back up, move forward trying to get to the feed that she’s dropped. Sometimes she knocks over the feed trough entirely trying to get to the stuff that fell on the floor. I have to pick the bucket up out of the way of her feet when she steps forward or backward.

I’ve had some trouble with debris falling from her udder into the bucket while I milk her too. I helped this by starting to brush her udder before I milk, and then at the suggestion of a dairyman, I took a set of beard trimmers to her udder. That must have been quite a sight. Me, leaned over this cow, practically upside down with a pair of beard trimmers, shaving the cow’s udder. But, now it’s got much less fuzz for mud to get stuck in and makes it much easier for applying stimulating creams like Dynamint and the like. They say you can singe it off too, but I’d be more likely to toast her udder and I didn’t want to press my luck.

And I get to repeat this frustrated scenario twice a day. I’ve noticed that I’ve been dreading getting out of bed in the morning because I know I’ve got to repeat this futile scene.

One of the things that I want to put together is a proper milking stall with a head gate/stanchion. I need for her to stop moving around so much for one. If I can get her in a head gate this may help. I’ve been looking at something like this. It has a head gate with a manger in front of her, but also has a hinged squeeze gate on the side with room so you can get to her to milk, but it has enough squeeze that she can’t sway back and forth when she’s restless.

Yesterday we got a couple of stall mats for the milk shed too. It rained a couple of inches over the weekend and it’s turned everything into a sloppy mess, including the entry to the barn and the first four feet into the barn. I figure if I can put the rubber mats in, I can at least scrape the poop off of them, something that I can’t do if there is nothing but mud underneath it.

That would answer the question of standing still and fixing having to put my bucket in a pile of mud and poop but doesn’t answer the question of let down and quantity of milk.

I’ve had several people suggest that I get some oxytocin to give her prior to milking to encourage let down. It’s been a solid week of me trying to milk her, and I’ve not been able to get more than a quart tops out of her any given milking. Usually I get 1 1/2 to 2 cups – which is ridiculous for a 1000 pound, 9 year old milk cow. I’m working on getting the oxytocin and needles to give it to her intramuscularly but I’m not sure if that’s going to make a marked difference. I suppose if I can’t get flow from that, perhaps I need to look into seeing if there’s some other problem. Nutrition? Minerals? (Though I’ve got mineral packs on order from Agri-dynamics to help with this – I’m just waiting for delivery.)

She’s also still got mastitis in her one good back quarter. We treated it last Friday with an intramammary infusion but my test yesterday confirmed that it’s still quite mastitic. I gave her another round today, following her all over the pasture until she stood still enough for me to administer.

It’s only been a week of milking her, but it’s been a very stressful couple of weeks. Between the retained placenta, the mastitis and the lack of milk, it’s been making me second guess the entire process. Many people have told me that having a home milk cow is easy peasy, I just got an exception. I can see why they say to get a good, easy milk cow as your first home milk cow, or you won’t ever want to keep doing it.

I’m not at all saying I’m giving up, I’m much more stubborn that that, but I will say that some days (like today) I reach the end of my rope in patience and being able to deal with the frustration in a constructive manner.

2 comments to Milking

  • Katie

    Oh, Joy, hang in there. You probably don’t want to hear the pep talk right now so I think it’s good that you’re writing down all of your frustrations now. Later on, when you’re a milking pro, you’ll look back and be so proud of your determination and perseverance. Sometimes the best things in life are the hardest. Don’t give up. Sending you a great big hug.

  • The wooden structure that is to the right of the calf in your first picture, shaped like an “a”, could very easily be make into a milking stanchion. Bolt it to a wall, then bolt two boards upright and drill a hole through the upright and top board so you have a place to put pins in. Does that make sense?

    As far as let down, she has been though a lot. We got our cow when her calf was about 4 months old. I would separate them for about 4 hours and then let the calf nurse for a few seconds, pull off the calf, milk out three sections and leave the fourth for the baby. If the milk would slow down I would let the calf nurse again, get a few headbutts in to get the milk going and then pull her off again. The baby had the hard work of getting all the milk out by nursing last and as the calf got older I would separate them for longer periods of time.

    I personally don’t give my cows drugs if I don’t have to. I’m guessing that the oxytocin would be a synthetic and I would check and see what kind of preservatives it has in it.

    I was milking a Scottish Highlander until about a month ago, we are waiting for her to calf and then I will have to start milking again. I am just hoping for a weather warm up b/c right now the high is 18. I can promise you it is worth all the work, there is nothing better than fresh raw milk.

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