When I pictured our family having two dairy cows I imagined us swimming in cream. Cream for butter, cream for coffee, cream for soups, cream for ice cream, you get the picture. In Colorado, I was introduced to Jersey cow milk, which is super creamy. At the dairy where we bought our milk (before our cows had their babies), there would be a four inch cream line on each jar of milk. It was heavenly.
But, two months of milking went by and we were not swimming in cream. We were barley waddling in it. Pitiful 1/2 inch to 1 inch creamlines topped our milk. What was going wrong? Were our cows not really Jersey cows? Were we feeding them right? Were the cows holding back their cream for their babies? Many swear a cow can't hold back their milk, but some do, and we recently joined the "do" group. After many nights of deliberation and one frustrated mommy who just wanted some cream for my coffee, we decided to separate the mama cows from their babies. As much as I love our cows, it is not worth all the effort for skimmed milk. We picked a date and went for it.
The cows bellowed for a few days. We kept the babies where the mommas could see them, to help with their anxiety. We realized that the calves wouldn't drink their milk from a bucket and Jason had to tackle them for a few days to get them to take the bottle. (He had to put them in a headlock, get them to suck on his fingers and then sneak the bottle in there). He actually rode one of the cows accidentally across the calf pen. I think this means he is officially a cowboy. The kids screamed and complained while we milked the cows side by side twice a day. But we decided to stick with it. Now was the wait for the cream. One day went by. Two days. No cream. Bonnie still seemed to be holding up her milk, so we waited it out. Three days. Four- and we got it. Jason was milking Bonnie and exclaimed, "Katie, this is liquid gold!" We got home and chilled it, and it was. Five inches of cream baby. Yeah, I am happy. Bottle feeding the calves has also been really bonding. Aunt Marie (my three year old daughter named the heifer) gives Jason lick downs each day.
So for anyone out there thinking of doing once a day milking and sharing the milk with the calves, here is our advantage and disadvantage list:
LOVE seeing babies and Mamas together.
Feels more humane.
Easy to leave town for an overnight trip.
Little to no cream
Its extremely frustrating trying to milk a cow who won't let down her milk.
Mama cows seem uptight with sharing the milk.
Milking a cow while a slobbery calf tries to milk at the same time is fun, but not very sanitary.
When Jason called up a dairy friend to ask for advice, our dairy friend just chuckled and chucked in a "I told you so" way. There are lots of people who have cows and calf share and milk once a day, but it wasn't working for our family. I know why dairies take the babies away from their mamas and I know why they milk twice a day. Good Creamy Milk. Consistently. I also know why they cut off the cow's tails. (We would never do that, but boy is it tempting when they smack you in the eyes while you are milking!)
Its really great to see how much our hard work has paid off. Our cows come to the milking barn as soon as we call them (Jason used to have to walk around for hours trying to get them to come in), we set up, clean them up and milk. Then we go home and pour the milk into jars. Then we go about our day. Its becoming normal. We LOVE milking twice a day now. The kids run around the dairy barn exploring and big sister is learning how to watch her brothers for the 15 minutes it takes Mama to milk a cow. She earns stars and she can turn in for money. Henry loves to watch us milk and gets excited with each bucket he sees being dumped into the vat. Jason and I love milking side by side and I have so much more sympathy for how his hands ached the first month he milked (BOTH cows, TWICE a day, by HIMSELF!). Is he something or what?In conclusion: I feel like a miser scooping up two to three quarts of cream each day off of the evening milk. The babies are happy, the mamas are happy and we are too. Next time around we will take the babies away from their mamas around 2-3 weeks. If the baby is a heifer we might make an exception; we want her to grow into a strong milk cow!
Enjoy the pics!
Here is Jason in the beginning wrestling the calves to get them to drink their bottles. While this may look mean to some, it really wasn't. Jason has a great story about the first night he tried to get Aunt Marie to drink out of a bottle. They both ended up in a heap, exhausted and panting; but snuggling. It was an amazingly bonding experience.
|Everyone loves to feed the baby calves!|
|Snuggling after an evening wrestling match.|
|I love Aunt Marie's expression in this pic!|
|Henry occupies himself eating blueberries in the family van while we milk.|
|Margaret Mary LOVES the cows. She says that all she wants to do is sit around and watch the cows. We understand, cows really are beautiful.|
|Milking a cow is such a great experience. I always feel so happy and satisfied when I'm done.|
|A pic Jason's mom took of me milking Bonnie.|
|The calves in their new home (our backyard). We moved them out of the calf pen once everyone got used to the new arrangement so they could run, gallop and eat grass. :)|
|Everyone's dressed and ready to go milk!|
|Watching Papa (and Bubba) set up electric fence in the backyard.|
|The fruit of our labor: Tomato, basil and cheese omelet. Everything was grown and produced from our backyard!|
Thanks for reading! We hope to update more regularly now that things are settling down. Right now we are learning how to sprout barley for our cows to eat (instead of the corn and soy mix that we are feeding them during milking now), and trying to fatten them up (with alfalfa hay) to be bred again soon. You think NFP class was fun? Just wait till the world of cow fertility!
PS (from Jason) - for the old time Wu fans out there - Cows Rule Everything Around Me. C.R.E.A.M. Get the milky.