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Wee Wee Coos

Wee Wee Coos

There is no question that owning livestock requires commitment, but the time required to coax a full udder of milk from a cow into a pail twice a day is a quantum leap. The issue is that a cow will become agonizingly and dangerously full unless she is emptied twice a day, preferably at the same time every day. Most people cannot commit to that and, since the consequences of skipping a milking are awful for the cow, most people don’t try.

That’s why I prefer to “steal” milk from a cow that continues to nurse her calf. If I don’t happen to be there, the calf will still suckle and the cow won’t be unbearably uncomfortable. We are careful not to steal too much milk so that if I miss a milking, the cow doesn’t suffer. I take about a litre at each milking: two litres a day. Another advantage of taking only so much is that the cream is left in the cow: it floats to the top of the udder just like it floats to the top of a jar, and is the last to be milked out. I don’t have much use for cream. If you do, then you’re going to have to milk more, and increase your commitment.

Of course, any time you take on responsibility for a cow/calf pair, you have to be prepared for the unexpected. A cow can reject her calf, or the calf can die and then you really are going to be stuck milking a cow twice a day, full to empty, for at least a few weeks. In a case like this, you can hire or share milk with someone willing to help you (if doing so is legal — check!). Or you can always throw your hands in the air and sell her or send her to slaughter.

Right now, the cow I am milking won’t nurse her calf unless I tie her up. I have received a lot of advice about how to deal with a cow who doesn’t like her calf, most of it lousy. Just use your common sense if this happens to you. In fact, it isn’t unusual for first-year mothers to hate nursing. One method of easing their relationship along is to smear some molasses on the new baby — apparently the act of licking the calf can trigger the mothering instinct. If this doesn’t work — and it didn’t work for me — the best thing to do is tie the mother up to let the calf nurse twice a day. This is no more annoying than putting the calf away for a few hours so that the cow has enough milk to steal. Six of one, half dozen of the other.

If your cow kicks, you can tie her foot back. Personally, I just jam my head in front of her back leg –this will prevent her from kicking you. The closer you are to the cow, the safer. Same goes for the calf: tie her close to the fencepost (NEVER tie a cow to the boards of a fence, only the post), and push the calf very close to her. The calf will get kicked a bit, but not enough to stop it from suckling. Some people suggest using a springed tool called a cow kick stopper. I wouldn’t use it because if the cow really pitches a fit, the thing will fly off and could hit you in the noggin. Similarly, I would be careful tying back the foot of a reluctant milker; if you do it, use a quick release knot in case she panics.

Sometimes a cow will find milking or nursing to be very painful due to mastitis or injury, yet they must still be milked. In these instances, it is better to lure them into a milking stall or squeeze before attempting to touch them.

My cow, Fiona, will let her calf nurse if she’s tied up. And she is very gentle with me when I milk her, so long as she is tied up. This is her first year milking and, when I started, all I had to do was jam my head in front of her back leg so that she couldn’t kick. I don’t think she would have, though. She is very sweet, and respects me. I trust her.

I have another cow, Charlotte, who is a wonderful mother. I haven’t tried to milk her yet because I haven’t got a milking stand or squeeze that would allow me to try milking her without getting kicked. Once I am protected by the boards of a milking stand, she can kick all she wants — I’ll still milk her. If Charlotte continues to be untrustworthy even after being trained in the milking stand, I’ll never attempt to milk her outside of one. Cows are enormously strong, and can cause profound injury. If your cow really doesn’t like being milked, don’t milk her. Sell her and get one you can trust.

A few hints:

  • I milk with one hand into a smaller container, and empty it occasionally into a larger pail. I do this because I hate milking for 15 minutes only to watch it kicked into the dirt. Also, my hands get tired — I switch hands often to rest them.
  • If your cow fusses, keep going. Quit milking only when she is behaving herself, or you’re training her that fussing lets her off the hook.
  • Your cow will fuss a whole lot less if she’s eating while you are milking.
  • Once you have your milk, pour it through a fine-gauge sieve several times to catch hair and insects. Remember, raw milk is dangerous, and it takes very little to make it safe. See my post entitled Raw Milk.
  • Wash your cow’s udder with warm water prior to milking, or you’ll end up with poop in your milk!
  • Enjoy yourself: this is often the most pleasant, relaxing and meditative part of my day.