Ella Mae is a 10 year old American Milking Devon cow (Pine View Ella Mae I #720, DOB: 7/28/99). We bought her in July of 2008, and had her bred via AI in mid-November. She had her bull calf at the height of Tropical storm Danny on August 29, 2009, her 8th calf, our first.
After reading Keeping a Family Cow by Joann Grohman, I decided that I would let her raise her calf and I would separate them at night to milk her in the morning. So far, it’s working out really well. There have been a few bumps along the way, but he’s now three weeks old and I thought I would document my routine in case it helps other people who are considering the same situation, and so I can remember what it was like in these early days.
We don’t have a barn, but have many three-sided sheds, and she definitely has a preference as to which one is her favorite. I wanted some place that she would like, would be comfortable for me to milk her in, some place that she would feel like her calf was safe. I have a lead rope in the corner that I tie him to. She can reach him, and often spends lots of time licking him, and that is where I milk her each morning. For about two weeks, she needed encouragement to properly align herself in she shed, but now she’s waiting for me there when I show up. (Whew!)
Getting him into the shed each night is getting easier and easier, as everyone promised me it would, but it’s still hard. At dusk, I find them wherever they are grazing. He sees me and goes for a last snack, which is fine. Then I attach a lead rope to his halter and start the long walk to the shed. It figures I would pick one at the top of a hill, doesn’t it? Elly follows along behind us, which makes moving Danny easier, and the dogs bark encouragement, which actually does help. I took a hint from Frank and will put the rope in front of my thighs, using them for extra strength.
For a few weeks (!), Elly bellowed all night long, and it did progressively get better, thankfully. I wasn’t getting much sleep there for a while and was convinced she’d never shut up. They could hear her all the way down in the village, a mile away, and I had several neighbors ask me how and why I was torturing my cow. Now, she bellows a bit when I tie him up, and for about an hour before I milk her in the morning.
In one corner of the shed, Frank set up some things that I can keep out there so I’m not hauling it out each morning. In the milk crate attached to the corner, I keep a brush that I use on her before I milk her, some bag balm that I put on her udders when I’m done, and wipes that I use to clean up her udders. In the winter, I’m going to have to bring the bag balm out each time or it’ll be frozen, I just realized. Oh well! I sit on the other milk crate while I milk her, and it’s just the right height for me. I use the snow shovel to clean any manure out of the shed before I start milking. Now that she’s settled down, she’s keeping the shed pretty clean herself, and urinates outside, which makes it much more pleasant for all of us in there.
The two things that I take out with me to the shed are what I use when I milk her. She stands pretty nicely, but the first week, her udders were pretty sore and torn up, and she kicked the bucket when it was full once, so now I’m gun shy and milk into a smaller container with a handle, and pour into a stainless steel bowl. I get almost exactly a gallon each morning. Elly doesn’t get any grain or anything when she’s milked. (She’s always been completely grass fed and we want to keep it that way.) I’ve tried putting hay in front of her, but that actually makes her fidget and move around more. She does better if she can just stand and lick her baby from time to time. I’m getting about a two-inch cream line at the top of each half gallon, which is about half of what I was getting before I dried her off. I’m assuming that will go back up after I wean the calf.
I take the milk out to that corner, outside the paddock, on the way into the house, then I go back and untie Danny. I learned the hard way to release him from the other side of his mama, or he’s so strong that he can knock me down in one second and rush right over me. Then I leave him with her all day long, and he’s a happy boy. Elly’s never been allowed to keep her calf and follows him around like a helicopter mama. It’s very cute. She’s a good mama.
I strain the milk in one of those gold coffee filters into half-gallon wide mouth glass jars. I rinse off the milk from the two containers in cold water and run them through the dishwasher with the filter to sterilize them for the next day. I put the milk into my chest freezer and set the timer for an hour, so that it gets cooled to the proper temperature as fast as possible. If I don’t set the timer, I forget, so I’ve got quite the routine ingrained into my head. Then I go feed the pigs when the timer dings and the milk goes into the icebox.
So it’s working out pretty well. I’ll wean him sometime around 3-4 months, and I haven’t worked out yet how that will go. Then I’ll milk her twice a day for twice the milk! Yay. But not bad for our first calf! I’m selling three gallons of raw milk a week right now, at $9 per gallon, all to people I know well. With the rest, I’m actually drinking some myself, which I love and hadn’t done since I was a child. So yummy, so healthy. I’ve been having a glass of milk with dinner instead of a glass of wine, voluntarily! I’m also making yogurt and mozzarella a lot, and I think I’m going to do a farmhouse cheddar today. With just the two of us, we don’t need much milk, but it sure is nice to have real cream for my coffee and homemade cheese. Yum.