Tips For Training the New Milk Cow


Cows are not innovative trailblazers motivated to leap tall building or climb mountains, risking life and limb and stability to conquer new lands or reinvent the wheel. They’re steady, solid, dependable, stable backbones of family farming, born to graze here in the morning, graze there in the afternoon, chew their cuds in between, and vote for Charlie Brown every four years because they know it will work out eventually. They’re patient like that.
Cows love routine, so training a new milk cow is all about developing and maintaining a routine as they learn their new job in the milking parlor. At two and a half years old, Blossom has graduated from heifer to cow with the birth of her beautiful new baby boy.
She joins Glory Bee and Moon Pie, my other two dairy cows, as the newest milker on the farm.
I’ve had Blossom in the milking parlor a few times before. I always like to have an up-and-coming milker in the headlock ahead of time, but there’s nothing like the real deal, when they actually start being milked. There’s so much for them to learn!

Think about it. They have to learn to come into the barn when called. How to enter the milking parlor. How to put their head in the headlock. How to stand properly while being milked and tolerate the intrusion upon their udder. How to back up to get out of the milk stand. (I’ve found this last one is the most difficult part for most new milk cows, at least in my experience. Cows don’t naturally back up out in the field very often–it’s just not something they normally need to do. They want to turn around in the milk stand, which is impossible, so they have to accept that backing up is their only option.) And then, inexplicably, after you wanted them to come into the barn quite insistently, now they have to learn that what you want next is for them to efficiently punch the time clock and head out.

Blossom is the third milker I’ve trained from scratch (meaning they were never milked before I milked them). My first cow, Beulah Petunia, came from a dairy. She was a professional cow. She taught me a lot more than I taught her. My milkers since then have been brand new milkers, first fresheners. I spoiled my first milk cow, Glory Bee. (Bad idea. I still love her, but she doesn’t behave well in the milk stand.) That was the last cow I spoiled. Don’t get me wrong–I’m always kind to my milk cows. But I don’t spoil them with extra helpings anymore, for example. If a cow thinks bad behavior in the milk stand will get her extra helpings, well, what can you expect after that? Blossom gets her ration, and nowhere in her universe of thought is the possibility that more is available. I do, however, take any extra time in the stand to pet her, remove burrs, fly spray her, and generally get her used to being touched.

This is a famous quote from W.D. Hoard, founder of Hoard’s Dairyman Magazine and the Hoard’s Dairyman Farm.

A Note to the Help

The rule to be observed in this stable at all times, toward the cattle, young and old, is that of patience and kindness. A man’s usefulness in a herd ceases when he loses his temper and bestows rough usage. Remember this is a home of Mothers. Treat each cow as a Mother should be treated. The giving of milk is a function of Motherhood; rough treatment lessons the flow. That injures me as well as the cow. Always keep this in mind when dealing with my cattle.

I keep this little treatise on my refrigerator to always remind myself to be patient with the Mothers in the barn. A big part of training a new milk cow involves training yourself, especially in the early days when a new milker is still learning the ropes. Cows are patient, so we should be patient, too.

After patience, routine is of primary importance. On small family farms, we may not be milking at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. twice a day as occurs in commercial dairies, but we still need to develop and maintain a routine so the cow knows what to expect. The cow will behave better with a stable routine, and it makes your job as the milk maid easier when the cow is happy. Happy cow = happy farmer.

Normally, I milk once a day, so my routine with Blossom is to separate her from the baby in the early evening time. Baby goes in the alleyway in the barn, where he spends the night with his new best friends, the goats. Mommy is just outside the barn, so they can hear each other moo and bawl. Blossom bawled herself hoarse the first night. (Oh, to be serenaded all night long by a bawling cow! She’s not sleeping, and neither will you!) But she calmed down after that. She knows where baby is, and knows when she’ll see him again. (Routine!) It took a few days for her to calm down, of course. And it took a few days also for baby to learn his routine, too.

I milk Blossom in the morning. First, the goats are let out of the barn for the day (after milking) then baby goes to a stall by himself for a few minutes. He needs out of the way before I bring his mommy into the barn. He balked at first, but now he jumps right into the stall for me. I bring Blossom in, get her set up in her headlock in the milking parlor with her feed, then I go back to let the baby out. At that point, I open the back barn door and the baby can hang around at the door of the milking parlor waiting for mommy or he can go on out to the field to wait for her there. At first, he would wait at the milking parlor door.
After the first few days, he started mostly going on out to the barn yard to play until mommy shows up. (Routine!) He knows mommy will show up when she gets off work here in a minute, no need to wait desperately at the door.

When milking is finished, Blossom is released from the headlock. She heads out of the milking parlor and on out to the barn yard to spend the day with baby. Then the routine starts all over again later in the day when baby goes back to the barn to prepare mommy for milking the next morning.

That’s my routine, what works for me. What works in any individual situation is different, but whatever routine you set up with your cows, stick with it. The cows will love you for it, and your life will be so much better.

Blossom is my first milker trained with my new milking equipment. I think it’s a testament to the comfort of the equipment that she has never made so much as a single objection or kick. She’s been a very good, quiet, calm milker in the stand from the first day.
Good equipment that’s comfortable for the cow and efficient for the farmer is important in developing a steady routine that works for the health of your cow and the ease of your job in milking her.
In this video, you’ll see Blossom on her first day on the job in the milking parlor. You’ll see her hesitance as she learns how to come into the barn, and you’ll also see how calm she was the very first time she was hooked up to my new milking machine. Along with, of course, some cute mother-child reunion time afterward.

My new milking machine comes from Hamby Dairy Supply, and you can find the specific machine I’m using here. It is an ideal system for a family milk cow.

Just ask Blossom!
She’d agree, but she has her mouth full!

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A Boy for Blossom


I was running water for the cows yesterday morning after milking–which is a lengthy process with big tubs and dry weather that has the cows trying to drink the water even while you’re filling the tubs–and kinda zoning out from boredom while making sure the cows weren’t knocking the hose out of the tubs, when I noticed a tan-colored calf wobbling in the midst of the big cows. I thought, vaguely, I hope Gingersnap isn’t getting sick.

Then I thought, did Gingersnap shrink?

Then I woke up and realized THAT’S NOT GINGERSNAP!

And ran back to the house while the cows promptly tossed the hose out of the tub and left it running on the ground (naughty cows!) to grab my camera.
Yep, that’s NOT Gingersnap! (That’s Gingersnap, center, with Moon Pie, and Pumpkin lazing on the right.) That’s a brand new baby! Blossom finally had her calf!
This is Blossom’s first calf. She has officially graduated from heifer to cow. We brought Blossom here in March from my friend Sarah’s farm. Blossom is a Brown Swiss/Jersey cross, and had been bred to a Jersey/Guernsey at Sarah’s farm so this is a full-on dairy calf. I was kind of hoping it would be girl since it’s full dairy, but closer inspection revealed it was a boy. My first bull calf!
He’s cute as can be, but he was promptly “steered” in the right direction (banded) and named Taco, because he will make great tacos someday. It’s been a long run of girl calves here, since Glory Bee, the first calf I ever raised, was born in 2010. I’ve had nothing but girls, girls, girls–which is a good thing, but I’ve been waiting for a chance to grow a steer. And I’ve been waiting to see how Blossom does in the milking parlor.
She has a similar personality to Moon Pie, who is a sweet cow in the milking parlor, much sweeter than spoiled brat Glory Bee, so I’m hoping Blossom will be the same. She’s been in the milking parlor in the headlock a few times already, but now her training will begin in force.

Blossom has a weird fifth teat, by the way.
It’s not as uncommon as one would think. I’ve done a little research on it. Some people actually have them removed. They’re non-functional. Taco will figure that out the first time he tries to suck on it.

I moved Blossom and Taco immediately to the back barn yard (away from the other cows–and the chicken-eating pigs), which made Glory Bee jealous.
But it’s not her turn right now. It’s Blossom’s turn. I can’t wait to try her out in the milking parlor!
Taco will probably be here for about two years before he heads for his final destination (the freezer), and cute as he is, his name is a reminder. A farm has a purpose in the pursuit of self-sustainable living, and while looking into the eyes of your food isn’t easy, it’s real. The hamburger meat found in neatly wrapped packages at the store start out as cute calves, too, and they didn’t live the happy, spoiled life that Taco will enjoy–as is his due, in gratitude for his role. So cheers to Taco–my very first steer!

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