A few years back, I went to speak at an event in DC and had the best milk I have ever had in my life. This was milk from the Amish farmer Dan Allgyer that the FDA persecuted beyond reason and ran out of business. At that event, because of his wonderful grass fed Jersey milk, I became obsessed with getting a Jersey cow. I also wanted butter. It’s difficult to get together enough cream from naturally homogenized goat milk to make butter, but I have done it a few times and it did turn out well. However, I wanted butter on a regular basis, and I wanted it to be from a Jersey cow…I got what I wanted!
It’s a Jersey Thing!
We’ve had cows and we’ve had calves, but we’ve never had a milk cow. Oh my gosh. I would like to see every single Congress critter and elected (or selected) official be required to have a house cow. They should also be required to milk her by hand. Preferably in a cold rain with no roof over them!
We Call her….Smootchie!
This cow is a real sweetheart. She will let you walk up to her and hug her. She’s learned that I am her calf somehow, and I guess that is a positive and negative thing simultaneously. She likes to follow me around and moo at me, and lick me. However, she doesn’t like to hold still the entire time while I try to milk her short teats.
The reason I keep calling her “She:” is because “She” hadn’t yet told me her name. I thought it was Sadie, Girlie and Celie….but when “She” decided she didn’t want to stand still any more, regardless of the fact that “She” was not yet milked out, “She” didn’t listen to ANY name. Not even expletives. We finally did figure out her name. It may seem silly to some, but “She” comes to it. Her name is Smootchie.
Why, you ask? I don’t know how many of you have ever been licked by a cow, but this cow loves to lick you when she is done being milked. Cow tongues actually feel like gigantic cat tongues. They are much rougher than one might think if they like lengua tacos and such. Smoochie will actually lick you in the mouth if you make the mistake of laughing at her while standing too close to her sticking out her tongue trying to get a lick in on you. She almost got me once, so I learned my lesson. Maybe it’s part of the transference of “my calf” to the human doing the milking. I’m not sure what a bovine psychologist might label it, but it is amusing!
I digress. The issues I really want to relate have to do with ideology versus reality on the homestead. Also, with massive amounts of commitments, stress, and the fact that I have solidly determined that grey hair is hereditary. You get it from your aging parents! Not to minimize the effect that young adults have on the development of grey, but no one ever talks about how aging parents cause grey. That’s likely a story for another a day, but it certainly did affect our cow adventures.
Getting Her Home
The first problem we encountered was the bumping up of the date we were to get the cow. We thought we’d be getting this cow 2 weeks later than she showed. So I thought I would have more time to figure out all the little ins and outs of managing the cow and keeping her safe and happy, and making sure I had a working milking machine in case hand milking didn’t work as I intended. With the desired more leisurely approach to bringing in the cow out the window, I went in to triage mode. This is terrifically necessary skill if one is to deal with livestock. They never read the books and always find a way of throwing things at you that aren’t covered in books. Sometimes they will throw things at you that aren’t even covered by experience.
But first you actually have to get the critter home to find out what kind of fun and interesting experiences they have in store for you.
The morning came to bring her home and we hooked up the stock trailer and began the short drive to get her. About half way there, my husband said, “This transmission is NOT shifting!” We stopped and checked the fluid and there was no problem with it. By the time we got to the farm to get the cow, the truck wouldn’t shift out of first gear. Nonetheless, we were committed, or possibly should be committed, and we loaded the cow and slowly made our way home. We did make it, and after we unhooked the trailer and parked the truck, it wouldn’t move anymore at all. It’s still sitting there. This is after we just replaced the transmission last fall! Yipee, and yeah for old Chevy transmissions, right? What’s another $800 in the scheme of things?
So, Cleo, the ancient Chevy, finished the task of getting Smoochie home and then we got to have some more fun!
First of all, I thought we could house her in our buck pen for a week or two while her compass reset worked it’s magic. There was about 1/4 acre fenced in with four foot high field topped with two strands of barb for the most part, and cattle panel 52″ high for the rest of it. So a 52″ high fence all the way around, with some of it very sharp. We still had hay, so I figured feeding her hay after she annihilated the grass would be just fine and it would give me the two weeks I needed to get the kinks worked out fitting a milk cow into our home routine. Ha!
We had her in the buck pen, and she seemed as content as a cow that just was pulled from it’s herd might be. She wasn’t lowing too much and was on a bit of high alert, but didn’t appear too worried. Some friends came over in the afternoon and we went out and introduced them to Smoochie and they petted her and were duly impressed and wanted to make sure we knew they wanted milk from her. This was about 3pm and it was rainy and cold on that fateful day. We went inside and visited for awhile and then 5pm came and it was time to milk the cow and do all the other normal chores around here.
Time to Milk the Cow
I got my stuff together and went to the buck pen. There was no cow. She’d jumped the fence and was nowhere to be seen! As I said, it was rainy and cold that day, assuring a pleasant experience. I began walking all over the 30 acres looking for the cow. I found three good tracks and it indicated she was headed to the pond, and I found where she’d gone over the fence. She wasn’t in or around the pond. “She” was MIA.
I looked for almost 2 1/2 hours. My husband drove all over the roads near us while I tramped through the woods and we both found nothing.We now were the proud owners of a high dollar invisible cow!
Finally, I asked the horses to help me…as I was airing up the flat tire on my other car so I could drive around the gravel roads and look for hoof prints, they went to full attention pointing their ears in the same direction in that alert pose horses have when they aren’t sure what they are looking at. There she was, still on our property.
We got a lead and went out to bring this cow that had never been led by a rope in her life. Long story short, we got ‘er done, but she had to be gently and slowly driven with a lead on her. Thankfully I’d put a halter on her when she was still in the livestock trailer.
After all this, I was ready to milk her by hand. Another “HA!” moment! She stood just fine, but being a first freshener, she has really ridiculously short, teeny, tiny teats. And she wasn’t happy about standing still to be milked out without other cows pressing her into a comfortable position either. We put a rope around her in front of her udder and pressed her to the shed wall and I began to milk her with my index finger and thumb. After 45 minutes, Smootchie and I had both had quite enough. She wasn’t yet fully milked out and her foot in the bucket assured a feast for the dogs and cats.
I decided that I had to get the old Surge milker checked out in the morning because there was going to be a wholesale revolt from my cramping hands if I had to keep milking her by hand.
Several years back, we were setting up to be a full on goat dairy and thinking we’d be milking fifty or so does twice a day.We’d purchased equipment and even stock for the dairy venture, but that deal fell through and we’d cut down our goat herd to simply meet our own needs for milk. The ancient Surge vacuum pump was just sitting there waiting for a rainy day or arthritis to set in. From time to time, I would start it up to make sure it wasn’t frozen and let it run a little bit just for fun. I didn’t think I would need it to just milk one very kissy little cow. But I desperately needed it!
So first thing the next morning I milked her as much as we could both tolerate and went to get the Surge pump and bucket milker checked out. The pump started right up. But there was at least one problem. I couldn’t get any vacuum from it. The motor ran, but the vacuum wouldn’t vacuum. This left me unable to check my bucket milker out and see if the pulsator would work.
My husband got the name of the local man that services the commercial dairies in the area and we put in a call to him. Late that night he returned our call and we discussed the problem and he thought he had a pump in his shop that would work for us and would come out in the morning to install it if it checked out.
The next day he called and told us the vacuum pump he had wouldn’t work, so he couldn’t help us. The problem with the one we had in our barn that didn’t work would require a full rebuild and be both time consuming and costly.
So we began day three of the cow that wouldn’t stay in the pen and the very tired cow-mum who was getting way more exercise than anticipated walking all over our land to find the cow and bring her back to the shed to be painstakingly milked twice a day. To Smootchie’s credit, she was learning how to lead very well. She also hadn’t kicked me at all, and that is something one would expect from a terrifically prolonged milking session on a cow that was used to small commercial dairy set up.
Finally, my brain kicked in, and I decided to put Smootchie in our large round pen with 5 foot high panels that she would have a really hard time climbing or jumping over. Hallelujah, it worked and I cut down on my woods tramping and was able to focus on the vacuum pump problem.
I thought I recalled something about someone using an air compressor as a vacuum pump at some point in my homesteading past. Thankfully, my husband had been in construction for a long time and we had a little air compressor on wheels that I thought might just do the trick. I sent him a text explaining what I wanted to do with his air compressor and he was all for it. After I built a head gate and modified a cattle panel into a swinging squeeze gate so I wouldn’t have to tie Smootchie to the wall, I began to get the regulator, gauge and fittings together to move to the new cow shed, and when he got home from work, we set it up and it worked!
Well, kind of, anyway. The pulsator, as I had feared, needed to have new gaskets. It would slowly begin to pulsate, then it would go crazy fast, then slow down to almost non existent pulsation, then rev up to 300 beats per minute again.
All of this was further complicated by the fact that I needed to go with my parents to the VA hospital for a few nights while my father, who is not in good health due to diabetes and asbestosis from the US Navy, had a hip replacement done. Yes, the VA…and it’s three hours away.
This is one of the reasons why we were supposed to get Smootchie two weeks later than we got her. I was hoping that after the surgery and getting him into an ortho rehab center, I would then be able to focus on the things we might need for a cow. But life has a way of changing one’s plans, and it was “get the cow now or lose the chance”, so we got the cow now.
My husband, who is a wonderful, highly supportive and talented man, has milked our goats possibly five or 6 times in over 10 years. He was going to have to milk both the goats and the cow before and after work while I was gone with my parents at the VA. If we didn’t get the milking machine going, there was going to trouble…
And this is why having a helpful dairy supply company is important. On the way to the VA, I ordered a rebuild kit from Hamby Dairy Supply and they got it in overnight mail that day. That evening and the next morning my husband, bless him deeply, muddled through with the bi-polar pulsator and milked the cow and the goats as well as he could. The next night he rebuilt the pulsator when he got home and then milking the cow was not nearly so difficult!
Now that we could finally milk Smootchie out well, we were faced with another problem. Due to not being totally milked out, she’d developed very mild mastitis in one quarter. We just fed that to the dogs and cats until it cleared up. I gave her kelp and rubbed a mentholatum, peppermint oil and tea tree oil balm on that quarter for a week or so. I also gave her a few shots of B complex and a BoSe shot. She overcame that problem without complications. But we were suddenly completely overwhelmed with milk! She’d also eaten all the grass in the round pen, and we needed to be sure we could keep her on the property as there a lot of beef cattle around us, and if she got out, it was going to be a major rodeo to get her back home…especially if there was a bull interested in her.
The Honor System
She is now fenced in with an electric fence that she, and the goats, respect. She has about 2 acres to work on, and it is evident that she will need more than that in dryer weather. As anyone with livestock knows, fences are really more of an honor system thing than an actual impediment to a large animal that wants to be somewhere else. She’d already taught us that fences were just a small obstacle for her to overcome, and not something she was inclined to respect. So we set up the electric fence hoping it would keep her where she was supposed to be. My husband sat to watch her and make sure she didn’t take off through the fence like some critters do when they get shocked. When she approached a bag, he said, “Don’t do that, girl.” She got zapped on the ears several times and jumped back and not into the fence. Then she lived up to her name and slowly reached out with her tongue to a plastic bag… and licked the fence! She jumped back like she’d been hit with a Jurassic Park level fence. Smootchie decided the safe distance from plastic bags was about four feet. So now we can keep her on the property with judiciously placed plastic bags.
Swimming in Milk
When we got Smootchie, we had no idea how much milk she was giving. I should really say producing. Dairy animals make you pay for the milk one way or another, so they don’t generally “give” it away. I figured that due to the fact that I wanted to completely grass feed her, she would cut down on production. Again, this is where ideology and reality come into conflict. In order for her to be happy about standing in the stanchion to be milked, I had to employ the UN method of using food as a weapon. Bottom line, she is almost entirely grass fed, but she gets a tic more than a coffee can of grain at each milking. And what level of milk is she producing on that scant amount of grain? Four to five gallons per day. Mind you, this is a first freshening Jersey of heritage size. That means she is just above miniature Jersey size. She’s about 45″ at the hip, so she is NOT a big cow.
What does one do with four to five gallons of milk a day?
Part of the Solution!
The dogs are getting fat. I began to make the butter I so coveted on a daily basis. Then cheese two or three times per week. Cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, farmer’s cheese, feta cheese, queso blanco…no cheddar yet as I have to figure out the aging process for that and frankly, I don’t have the time right now! And let me tell you, the 30 minute Mozzarella recipe does NOT take 30 minutes. I logged 5-6 hours of cheesemaking two to three times a week on the 30 minute recipe. We’re also supplying five households with milk, and there is still too much milk! So we had to get a calf.
Actually, we ended up with a sweet deal on that and got two calves, and that is helpful, but we should probably have three calves for all the extra milk we still have. In all sincerity, I have seriously considered taking a few milk baths. While I haven’t done it yet, it is not off the table. Anyone have a good recipe for a milk bath?
Bottom line is this, I love this cow, and I am truly very happy to have her, but goats really are a lot easier.The milking, the fencing, the filtering and bottling, that’s all cake; but the processing of the milk actually takes much longer than all the rest. And unless you have lots of people lined up for milk that understand how to wash out milk jugs when they’re done with them, or a huge family that will drink four gallons of milk a day…don’t have a cow, man.
****Footnote and response to inquiries: Instead of getting one cow for one small family, support someone who DOES have a cow and get the true benefits without the amazing amounts of time. Or just learn from our experience and get some calves right away…And NO, my cow is not, nor will she be, up for sale. She’s staying, and I am adjusting, and I truly do love Smootchie.