Calf Update


I haven’t updated about Dumplin because….there’s been nothing to update about Dumplin. She was with the bull last summer during the same period of time as Glory Bee and Moon Pie, who both delivered calves in April. Obviously, the bull wasn’t shooting blanks and he hit them up right off the bat. He was here for three months, so the mystery continued–Dumplin could still deliver in June.

But, the mystery is now solved! And not by a calf.

In order to offer herd shares for raw milk from my cows, West Virginia’s new law requires herd testing for brucellosis and TB. (All cows in the herd must be tested, not just the milk cows.) Along with the farm call charge, there’s an hourly vet charge, so we made a practice run with all the cows on Sunday. Counting calves (who also must be tested), we have nine cows here. Only three of them have ever been in the head lock in the milking parlor–Glory Bee and Moon Pie, who are milked, and Dumplin, who has been taught to get in the stand even though I have no intention of milking her. Blossom, my new Brown Swiss/Jersey, will need to learn to get in the stand on a regular basis, but I hadn’t started her training yet. And, of course, there’s Beau (the Hereford bull) and Bossy (the Hereford cow), who have also never been in a head lock.

Glory Bee and Moon Pie and their calves were eliminated from the practice run. They’re both trained, and calves would have to be tackled anyway because you can’t put them in the head lock. Dumplin was included in the practice run….so she could be checked out.

The first time you put a cow in a head lock is the most difficult. Once they’re in and discover the feed tray, it’s not as hard the next time. However, when we got Blossom in there, she refused to discover the feed tray. She went in the stand all right, but pushed her head under the feed tray and refused to lift it. We finally had to get a rope and pull her head up and shove her forward, but even once she was in the head lock, she still refused to eat anything. We gave her grain, we gave her hay, we gave her time. Nothing. But, she did stand very well. She was cooperative. I decided to give her a check and reached for her teats. My friend Sarah, who I got Blossom from, said she expected Blossom to calve in June. It’s June! And I found there to be milk, lots of it, coming out of her teats. Yay! Blossom should be calving any time now, so we’ll be watching her carefully and keeping her close. But when we brought Dumplin in…. Dumplin has no milk, nothing. If Dumplin was bred from the bull last summer, she should be calving any time now–the timeframe from when the bull was here is running out. Like Blossom, she should have some milk if she’s about to calve.

Dumplin didn’t get bred last summer.

We ran Bossy the Hereford cow in, with her calf Oreo, and Beau the bull. They were both a little confused, but they cooperated well enough that we were hopeful we could run them all through in under an hour when the vet was here, which was our goal. If we went over an hour running the cows through, we’d be charged an additional fee.

Yesterday afternoon, the vet arrived. It was me, Rodney, and Ross (who is out of the Navy now and home for the summer before he starts classes at WVU in Morgantown) versus nine cows with our hour ticking. We expected Blossom to be difficult, so we started with her. But she surprised us and cooperated, putting her head right in the head lock.

Blossom in the head lock with Dr. Katie administering testing. She went in easily this time, no rope required to get her in the head lock. She’ll be easy to train to milking. I think she’s going to be sweet and docile in the stand, like Moon Pie. (Glory Bee is not sweet and docile about anything.)
Dumplin was next, and along with the testing, I asked the vet to check her for cysts. Cows can get cysts which mimic pregnancy and prevent them from getting bred. I wanted to know if Dumplin had cysts, which would explain why she hadn’t gotten bred from the bull last summer.

Dr. Katie said she had no cysts.

But! While it’s still too early to be absolutely positive, the vet also said that she believed Dumplin was in the first trimester of a pregnancy. For whatever reason, Dumplin didn’t take on her first go-round with a bull, but she has been bred by Beau the Hereford. We hope. As I said, it’s early, but Dr. Katie believes what she felt inside Dumplin is an early pregnancy. We’ll have to wait and see, but I’m feeling more optimistic about Dumplin now. Based on this timing, she should calve around November, possibly December.

Meanwhile, we still had seven more cows to run through. We brought in Glory Bee next expecting her to be one of the easy ones. Well, she does go into the head lock like a breeze! But she was in the stand longer than any other cow yesterday, proving herself to still be the bad baby, a spoiled brat, a troublemaker. The vet needed to take a blood sample from her neck, and Glory Bee moved her head back and forth in the head lock, making it nigh upon impossible. She was in the stand nearly 15 minutes, ticking away our hour while she said, no, no, and no. It took a rope to hold her head in position and finally finish her testing.

Pumpkin, her calf, hadn’t run in with her (as we’d been hoping) so we hoped both Pumpkin and Gingersnap would run in with Moon Pie, who likes to mother the both of them.

Moon Pie, the baby stealer, with Pumpkin and Gingersnap.
But alas, Moon Pie had been exposed to another calf–Oreo. She hasn’t been in the field with Oreo in some time because the milk cows are mostly kept separate from the other cows. Moon Pie said, “I need to get to know this other baby so I can steal her!” and brought in Oreo with her instead of Pumpkin and Gingersnap. We got Moon Pie in the stand and she cooperated quickly as I anticipated, then poor Moon Pie had to remain in the stand while Oreo was tackled in the corner behind her by Rodney so the vet could administer the tests to Oreo.

We got Oreo and Moon Pie out, and brought in Beau. He was cooperative, and in and out fairly quickly. It took a bit of convincing to get Bossy the Hereford cow to come in, but she was in and out faster than Glory Bee, that’s for sure.

And then we were left with Gingersnap and Pumpkin, who led us on a merry chase around the back barn yard until we finally got Gingersnap cornered and herded in then Ross tackled Pumpkin and carried her in. I’m not sure we can allow Ross to go to college–he’s too handy.

While we had the calves in the barn, we checked for horns. Pumpkin is about six weeks old, and Gingersnap is going on two months. If they have horns, it’s time to disbud. We discovered, happily, that Gingersnap is polled! But Pumpkin is not. We kept the calves in the barn, and after the vet left, we disbudded Pumpkin.

The vet will be back on Wednesday to lift their tails to see if they have any reaction to the TB test, then we’re done. We probably won’t even put most of them in the head lock for that, depending on who cooperates with having their tail lifted while standing in the barn.

How did we do on our time? When it was all done, the vet’s assistant checked the time and we’d run through nine cows/calves, who mostly had never been in a head lock before our practice run and including mama-raised calves who required tackling and one six-year-old bad baby, in under an hour, with nearly 10 minutes to spare!

Dr. Katie said we were her new favorite people! Because not only did we actually take her advice and practice ahead of time, we didn’t even ask her to help. She said most of the time, she arrives at a farm and people expect her to get the cows! (Expecting her to get the cows in the barn never even occurred to me.)

Now we wait for the results, which have to be sent to the state before I can be approved to offer herd shares at Sassafras Farm. I’ll keep you updated.

A New Complete Milking System


Got cows?
Then you’ve got milk! And the baby doesn’t need all of it. You could use the original cow milking system….you know, your hands.
After all, hand-milking is a low-tech operation. You need hands and a bucket. Clean up is as easy as putting the milk bucket in the dishwasher. But milking the cow…. That’s another story!

Me, hand milking my first cow, six years ago.

I’ve heard of people who can milk out a cow in 15 minutes or less. I’m not one of those people. I hand-milked for a year and it was like trying to cut a hay field with scissors. A milking machine can milk out a cow in under 5 minutes. A milking machine is also clean. The milk goes straight from the cow’s teats into an enclosed container. No exposure to cow hairs or debris or any dust that may be in the air.

That said, in the process of giving workshops at the farm and talking with a lot of people who are planning to get their first cow, or have just gotten their first cow, I always give the same advice. Spend some quality time hand-milking your new cow before you jump into equipment.

First, you need to know how to hand-milk and you need to be good at it–which takes time and practice. Your vacuum pump (which runs a milking machine) could fail for some reason (or there could be a power outage). Or some other issue could fail with the system and you might have to wait a few days for replacement parts to come in. You need to know how to take care of your cow by hand.

Second, a milking machine is expensive. Don’t make the investment until you know you are committed to your cow, and you won’t know that until you’ve experienced some time with your cow. Getting a cow is a life-altering event. Don’t take it for granted that you’ll like it. You may decide it’s not for you.

Third, and maybe most important, hand-milking a cow is a beautiful experience. You will get to know your cow’s udder and teats very well, which will allow you to assess her more knowledgeably later when you are using a machine and will be checking her teats only before and after using the machine. But more than that, you will learn about patience and the rhythm of a cow. Hand-milking is a kind of meditative operation. It’s also a very primal act. It’s old-fashioned and storybook-ish. There’s a very romantic quality to it. A milking machine is….mechanical.

Yet much more sanitary–and clean milk is important. If you can hand-milk for a few months and you still love your cow, then for crying out loud, get a milking machine and quit getting hit in the face with that tail already!

My first milking machine was a Surge.

The Surge is the WW II Army tank of milking machines. It’s heavy, indestructible, and built to win wars. I got my Surge five years ago, but it was probably at least 40 years old already. I’m a fan of the Surge–it’s basic and oddly charming. I like old stuff. You can still buy refurbished Surge systems today, and with its low profile, individually controlled lines, and easy conversion between cows and goats, it’s a good choice in certain circumstances. (I’ll write more about the Surge in an upcoming post.) It also has its downsides and limitations. Among those negatives are its capacity, its weight, and its efficiency.

After using the Surge for five years, it was time for me to upgrade to the 21st century. Modern milking equipment is more effective, offers more choices in capacity, is lighter in weight, and benefits from decades of design improvements. That’s good for my cow–and for me!

Note: When you buy equipment, be sure to go to a reputable supply company that’s been in business for a long time. (The company I bought my Surge from went out of business!) When you have questions or need replacement parts or supplies, you want to be able to go back to them. My new complete milking system came from Hamby Dairy Supply.

The equipment arrived on an 18-wheeler that couldn’t get down our narrow country road, so we met the freight driver at a parking lot near the interstate and the equipment was loaded onto a pickup truck to take home.
It’s a complete system, so opening the boxes was like the best Christmas ever that you remember from when you were a kid. I wanted to get everything to milk my cows right, which includes not only the equipment itself but the parts and supplies to wash it and to keep my cows healthy and my milk clean. Even after milking cows for six years, it can be confusing to figure out what you need, so I got a cow bucket milker package that put it all together for me. Not only did that help me up my game, so to speak, in regard to lining up everything I need to milk as cleanly and efficiently as possible, it also saved money due to the package discount. (You also get free shipping if you buy a package deal, which is another huge savings.)

The star of the package is the 7 gallon bucket milker. You can choose a stainless steel bucket or a semi-clear plastic bucket with stainless steel lid. (I chose the plastic bucket. I love that you can see the milk as it’s filling the bucket!) The plastic bucket and the stainless steel bucket are both Grade A and FDA approved. The machine comes with a commercial pulsator, permanently set at the factory. (No messing it up by accident!) Of course, all the inflations and milk and vacuum lines are included.
Not to mention a brand new 1 HP vacuum pump.
The really cool thing about this vacuum pump, aside from the fact that it’s quieter than my old vacuum pump, is that it can run two milking machines at the same time.

As we unloaded the boxes from the truck and opened them, we laid things out on a table on the driveway to look at everything. And ran out of room on the table, because seriously, there was that much stuff.
Did I mention there’s also a complete washing system, including sinks and an auto washer that runs on vacuum power? You can see the sinks in the picture above, and the legs that come with it. (You can also choose a bracket system if you don’t want legs. Faucets are also included.) The auto washer (for automatic washing of claw and hoses) is to be mounted to the wall above the sinks.
But wait, there’s more!
There are three different brushes plus buckets and jugs of dairy detergent and sanitizer and rinses. There’s a CMT test kit for udder infections, a jug of teat dip and a teat cup, 700 teat wipes, and even two one-gallon wash buckets and washcloths.
You might also notice that there are two milkers pictured. (The goat milker is not part of the cow package.) I wanted a separate goat milker, and adding it on with this package meant I was able to get free shipping on it, too, as it shipped with the total order. This is a 5-gallon goat milker.
See how excited my cows are about this equipment in the video!

I’m really excited about the new milking equipment, so I’m going to be doing a series of milking tutorial posts and videos. Whether you’re planning to get your first milking machine, or are ready to upgrade older equipment, I know how mystifying it can be. Not all of us grew up on a dairy farm! I’ve been milking cows and using milking equipment for years, and I’m still learning. Come on this journey of modern milking equipment with me as I break it all down and show you how it works!
P.S. You can find more details and information about everything I talked about and showed in this post/video at Hamby Dairy Supply here.

Want to know what to do with all the milk you’ll be getting with your equipment, or just learn hands-on about cows, goats, and milking? Come to a workshop at the farm to learn to make cheese, soap, and more! Check out the Retreats & Workshops page for all the information, and email [email protected] to sign up!

May 23, 2016 - The Mother Duck Rides Again

Remember the white Pekin mama who lost one baby then trampled another? (See here if you missed that one.) I took the four babies she had left and put them in a pen for safekeeping, along with seven Blue Swedish ducklings I’d gotten from a hatchery. She wouldn’t leave them. She was dedicated, committed, obsessed...
Read More

May 17, 2016 - The Little White Duck That Could

I love duck eggs. They make a great fried egg, and they’re awesome for baking. Duck eggs are huge, super jumbo size. I buy special dinosaur egg cartons for them, and I sell them when I have enough. I don’t always have enough because they hide them. The ducks are free-ranging, so they make their...
Read More

May 2, 2016 - The Jumbo Journey

Some chickens were harmed in the making of this post. Don’t continue if you don’t want to see some pictures that might include dead chickens. On Saturday, we butchered nearly 30 jumbo Cornish crosses. This is the first time we’ve done the jumbo Cornish. They are advertised as ready to butcher in 6 to 8...
Read More

April 29, 2016 - She’s Back on the Job!

We were out yesterday afternoon and came home to find Glory Bee hiding down by the creek. Of course we had to stop and check on her, and found her with some new company! Glory Bee is a third-time mommy, and pretty relaxed about the whole thing. She let us get the baby down on...
Read More

April 19, 2016 - Rodeo at the Barn

In other words, I’m milking Moon Pie. First, I have to separate baby Gingersnap from mommy. Baby Gingersnap doesn’t like this part. Moon Pie thinks she has a babysitter, so she goes out shopping. And everything is fine for a while, until she realizes THE DINGO STOLE HER BABY and she has to stand in...
Read More

April 11, 2016 - She Picked A Cold Morning

It snowed all day here on Saturday. April! Really??? Then Moon Pie sneaked off to the back of the upper pasture on Sunday morning to make something. Things are happening according to plan, except for the part where she had her baby in a back field. It’s April, time for calves, so I was trying...
Read More