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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Preserving Fresh Milk

 The first winter I had my first two dairy cows, I dried them both off at the same time and I canned and froze milk for the dry period.  Then for about six or seven years, I continuously had lactating cows and did not need to find ways to preserve milk.  Last winter when we went seasonal with the herd, I froze all the milk needed for the dry period.  This year, as I get ready to dry the herd off again, I decided to both freeze and can milk due to my limited freezer space.

Now, before getting too excited about canning milk, I must warn the reader that according to some sources, the USDA does not recommend canning milk at all.  Then, there are some sources that seem to feel the USDA approves only of pressure canning milk.  You will have to research the information and decide for yourself what you feel comfortable with for your family.  Here is a link to  Perky Prepping Grandma where the author gives her reasons along with documentation as to why she feels that pressure canned milk is safe.  She also provides a link there to the process for pressure canning milk.  In addition, here is a link to Mary Jane Toth's instructions for pressure canned milk along with her advice and recommendations regarding the subject.  Mary Jane is author of two books on cheese making and milking dairy goats and she and her family operate Hoegger Dairy Supply.

In spite of the warnings, there are a number of family cow owners who still can their milk the old fashioned way in a hot water bath canner.  I am not recommending that this method is for you and your family due to the strong warnings from the USDA against it but provide it here as a historical reference if nothing else.  Back in the day before Google and the internet, I looked Carla Emery's book THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COUNTRY LIVING to guide me in my quest for homesteading and farming information. I am summarizing  Carla's recipe for hot water bath canning and including my personal notes:

*Fill your clean, sterilized jars with fresh milk from the cow after straining, leaving about one half an inch head space. (You don't want to pour cold milk into the jars and put them into the hot water as the jars will bust.  If you use older milk, it can actually curdle while being processed.  It's best to use milk straight from the cow fresh.  In the event you don't have that option, I suggest heating your milk to at least 100 degrees before pouring in your jars.)

*Wipe rims clean and place lids and rings on jars and screw down finger tight.

*Place jars in hot water bath canner with jars submerged about 1 inch under water.

*Heat to a gentle, rolling boil and then process for 60 minutes.

*Remove from boiling water carefully, making sure they have all sealed before storing.  Be sure to date your jars so that you know how long they have been stored as you use them.  Six months is recommended, but I have used them up to a year later.    

When milk is processed, it does change color and the flavor is greatly affected.  The closest thing that I can compare it to would be the canned, evaporated milk that you would buy in the grocery store.  I only use my canned milk for cooking things such as baked good, gravy or puddings.  When used in recipes, it is wonderful but isn't really the best for drinking.

The best way to preserve milk for drinking is to store your fresh milk in freezer safe containers or bags and store in the freezer.  Frozen milk is best used within six months.  A lot of people are put off by the texture of frozen milk and if that is something that is of a concern to your family, you can warm your milk up to body temperature (99-101 degrees approximately) and stir vigorously.  This will give the milk more of the texture that you are use to when drinking.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Historical Account from a Journal Entry Dated 1950

The following is an actual journal entry that includes in it's story, Mike's grandfather, Boyd Cupp.  I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Mr. Cupp and how he cared for his farm and animals.  Boyd Cupp milked Guernsey cows on his farm and also had a non paying position as a lay minister with the local Church of the Brethren community.  The farm mentioned is where Mike's mother still lives and the farm that we rent in addition to the 50 acres we have where our house is built.  

April 1, 1950

The week before Easter, a friend sent M money to buy a calf to raise as a family cow.  Fletch took M to get the calf this evening.  It was dusk when they got back, M and the calf crouching in the open trunk, their heads looking out together at the twilight and the radiant excited faces of L, K, G and M who had come whoopping when they saw the car coming up the lane.

A and the kids had been busy that afternoon in the straw shed making a pen of saplings and cardboard cartons.  "That wonderful Mr. Cupp," M said, "wants us to make a good start.  He says we are right to buy a calf.  A good beginning.  And to wish us luck, he sold the calf to us for $20 instead of $30.  How he loves each cow in his herd.  And how he knows them!  Whose grandmother, whose daughter is each one.  And how he feeds them!  Such a fat farm!

The calf was established in it's pen in the straw shed, and all evening, M or one of the children was there, talking to her, fussing around so she wouldn't be lonely.

April 4 or 5, 1950

"I don't think the calf is doing so good," M said after the first few days.  "she is too quiet.  She doesn't have the joie de vivre.  She doesn't run or jump in the air.  She is too quiet.  Not good."

At first we thought M was too sensitive.  The calf ate.  Didn't have scours.  Perhaps she hadn't a lively temperament.  She lay in the sun, played with the children.  But M was worried that if anything happened to her first calf, she would lose her nerve.  It would be a bad sign.  We reminded her that all spring calves had had their troubles, and all spring, Doc Berry had been giving shots for colds, pills for scours.  Some calf always in trouble or just out of it.  M had been anxious over each one, and Madame had cried havoc and wolf-wolf so often in the kitchen that I was mildly fed up with the pessimism.  All the calves had recovered.  Why worry because this one was quiet?

Then one morning M knocked on the West Room door, as she always did, and came in and asked me to call the vet, Doc Berry.  "It is silly, I think, to spend $20, on a calf and not to spend another $2.50 on a vet when it is sick.  Something is wrong.  I don't know what she has, but she doesn't eat good."


So Doc Berry came and gave a shot to M's calf and to one of ours, said they probably both had colds, and to call him if they weren't better in 48 hours.  Everyone feels considerably cheered and M is pampering the calf with a little more hope.

"I do for the calf simply what I would do for a small child who is sick.  The rice water for the tender stomach, the coffee for blood and spirit."

All day she had been running from house to barn with rice water and coffee.  Sometimes, of course, the rice on the stove was forgotten, boiled over and burned.  There were cries of distress and Madame would appear on the gallery, wringing her hands.

But in spite of Doc Berry's shot and the rice water and coffee, the calf grew weaker.  It got to it's feet only with urging.  Thursday night, about ten o'clock, M came to the West Room door.

"Dear lady, I  know I am mad, but what is there to do about it?  I must live with my madness.  I think the calf will die unless Doc Berry can do something.  Will you do me the favor to call and ask him to come now?  I am afraid to wait until the morning.  I think it will be too late.  If I am mad, I am mad - nothing to do."

I called Doc Berry again, who in his horse croaking voice agreed to come right over.  M went up to the barn to wait for him, and soon afterwards, I heard his car.  When he had gone, she came down to the house.

"It is bad.  He says the calf has the bloody scours.  They nearly always die.  Now and  then one lives.  It is possible.  He has given me pills - sulfa, I think - to give every four hours, night and day.  If the calf lives another 48 hours, it may get well.  He says the rice water is good.  The coffee is good."

At about four in the morning, I wakened, hearing M's steps on the porch.  The calf still lived.  Perhaps it would pull through.  I slept again, dreaming it was miraculously recovered.


Today the house is deep in gloom.  The calf still lived but can no longer stand.  M was constantly at the barn.  Madame was full of sorrow for the young thing that must die and for the ill omen of this first venture.  We kept assuring each other that it was, after all, only a calf, but when M asked late Friday evening for the spirits of ammonia, K dashed frantically off to town, and even A got up in the night to give the calf it's pills.  But it died.

I had heard M or A up in the night at twelve and again at four, and thought surely the miracle has happened.

"And so it seemed to have, " M told me.  "When I went to the barn at four, the calf was standing!  It's ears were up, it looked bright, curious, well again!  And it drank all the rice water.  I threw my arms around it, and went back to bed, full of joy that the calf had recovered.  But at seven, it was dead."

After all the tender care and affection, dead.  Saturday morning, A dug a deep grave in the garden.  When he had finished, he went to the wall of the straw shed and removed some of the weather boarding.  Together, he and M lowered the calf into some burlap and carried it to the grave so as not to contaminate the barn yard.

(You may like to hear a good sequel to the unhappy calf story.  Mr Cupp, the full time dairy- man and part-time preacher who sold M her calf, insisted that he either give her another or return her money.  She felt that such generosity must be accepted and so she has another calf - a pretty little thing which has been from the start, she says, more lively and happy than the other.  In spite of the heartbreak over the first and anxiety over the second, M sought words the other day to tell Fletch that "life in America is an idyll - everyone is so kind, so gentle, so tender.  A man like Mr Cupp - so practical a man, with so beautiful a farm, to have the idee to give me another calf.  Mostly in life, the ones have have so generous a wish have nothing and those who could give, have not the wish.  Mr Cupp is a beautiful man.")


I love written words almost as much as I love cows and it was a pure delight to me when my dear father-in-law (now deceased) shared with me a hand typed copy of a journal.   I can still see the delight and anticipation shining in his eyes as he handed the paper to me to read.  I can't remember who actually gave Marcus the journal entry, but I believe it was a member of the Collins family.  The journal entries were said to have been  written by Margaret, wife of  Fletcher Collins.  Professor Collins, a neighbor of the Cupp Family was a " legendary professor emeritus of theater at Mary Baldwin College, was designated Cultural Laureate of Virginia, and established the Oak Grove Theaterthe secluded woodland stage he created with his wife, Margaret, which has nurtured countless actors and booked sold out perfomrances for decades: according to the information given by Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, VA.  To his wife, family and friends, he was simply known as "Fletch".

Just as a point of interest, although my notes are incomplete, the journal mentions Margaret being away for four days and returning with their new baby.  The dates of the journal coincide with the date of birth I uncovered for Margaret and Fletcher's  very well known son, Francis Sellers Collins.  Francis was born April 14, 1950 and is a physician geneticist noted for his discovery of disease genes and his leadership in the Human Genome Project.  He is currently the director of National Institutes of Health in Maryland.  

 The family interacting with the Collins Family in this particular story were Latvian immigrants who had found a place of refuge on the Collin's farm.  I believe my father-in-law told me that the Collin's opened their home to them.  It appears that the "Madame" must have assisted Mrs. Collins with helping in the main house.  I copied the journal as it was written with the exception of leaving out the full names of the Latvian family for the sake of privacy. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Where Have All the Farmers Gone?

Are farmers at risk of becoming extinct?  Possibly to some extent.  While there are many reasons for the decline in agriculture as the chosen profession for today's younger adults, the fact remains that we may very well see a time when the majority of our farmers pass on and there are not enough younger farmers to take their place.

According to the, a service of the National Agricultural Library (USDA):

"“We have an aging farming population. If left unchecked, this could threaten our ability to produce the food we need – and also result in the loss of tens of thousands of acres of working lands that we rely on to clean our air and water.” – Secretary Vilsack, August 12 Opening Comments to the Drake Forum on America’s New Farmers.

The average age of a farmer today in America is 57 years of age. Five years ago it was 55. We have had an increase of 30% of the farmers over the age of 75 and a decrease in the number of farmers under the age of 25 by 20%."
This subject happens to be one close to my heart.  My husband, Mike is a third generation farmer, is 54 years old and I am 47 years old.  None of our children or any of our nieces and nephews have chosen to pursue farming as an occupation.  Unless some of our grandchildren develop a love of farming, then what has been lovingly nurtured and tended to for three generations at the Cupp Farm will be no more.  This breaks my heart.  Of course, we would never try to coerce our children or grandchildren into a career that they don't willingly choose for themselves, but I do feel there are things we can do as adults to help the children learn to appreciate their farming heritage.  This doesn't just apply to farming families.  We need to be educating all of the children in our country of the importance of farming.  We should do so  not in an effort to convert them to choosing farming as a career choice (although that would be an awesome benefit) but rather to insure that regardless of a child's chosen path, he/she learns to really appreciate and support the farmers that put food on their table.  At one time it was common to have a kitchen garden and a family milk cow.  Now most of the families in the United States rely on a farmer to provide their produce, milk, and meat.  So many times, children are so far removed from their food source, that they don't even make the connection.  Unfortunately, a lot of adults are similarly removed.  I will never forget a conversation with a lady almost old enough to be my mother, who stated she didn't want my farm fresh eggs because eggs from chickens were disgusting and she would rather buy her eggs in the store.  I just had to shake my head and wonder if she knew that the eggs in the store came from chickens as well.

I believe educating our children is the key to insuring that we continue to grow future farmers and equally important,  a society that supports those farmers.  And how do we do that?  I have a few ideas that I would like to share.
1.  Make everyday activities into educational opportunities:  Talk to children of all ages about where their food originates.  Having eggs for breakfast?  This is a great opportunity to talk about chickens and the farmers that care for them.  Making a salad for dinner?  This is a good time to discuss how things grow seasonally.  One can expand the conversation to fit the age of the child. Look for opportunities to discuss farming and agriculture as you travel in the car or watch a movie.  Any opportunity you can find to discuss agriculture with your children is a learning opportunity for them as well as a way for the two of you to connect on this important issue.  

2.  Grow something.  Anything.  Even if you don't have ground to grow a garden or access to a community garden, plant something simple in containers and let the children in your life help.  Let them see the progress as the plant grows and produces.  And, if what your planted ends up dying, use it as an opportunity to explain that many times farmers face crop failure.  Anyone who gardens, produces crops, or tends to animals is going to eventually have loss and failure.  In addition, empathy for the farmer who struggles and joy for the farmer when he is successful is a good lesson.  
3.  I am not one to advocate everyone trying their hand at raising livestock.  There are so many people who do not understand the level of expense and commitment it takes to raise their own livestock.  However, if you are up to the challenge and have done your homework, raising livestock is a great way for children to learn more about the agricultural lifestyle.  If raising animals is not the right choice for your family for whatever reason, then see if you can find a working farm with livestock for your child to visit.  (Please be considerate of the fact that not every farm has very expensive liability insurance it takes to welcome visitors and be respectful of the fact that not every farm can accommodate visitors for this reasons or simply because of their work load.  Consider it a privilege when you are able to visit a working farm and don't begrudge any cover charge for your visit as it helps to offset the expense of the insurance needed to provide the opportunity to the public.)

4.  Support your local farm stands produce auctions, and farmer's markets and take the children in your life along with you.  In this manner your are teaching your children to support local business, and to make healthy choices while they absorb the ongoing educational opportunities of being submersed in agricultural environment.

5.  Introduce your kids of all ages to books and literature that promotes farming.  Even the smallest of children love books of farm animals.  Read with them and discuss the things your read.  If you are unsure of something, then take the opportunity to research an agricultural subject together.
6.  Take your kids to the pumpkin patch, the local orchard, or the small family owned creamery if you have one locally.  Visiting the County or State Fair is a fun agricultural related field trip for the family.  (Make sure to visit the livestock and home preservation sections of the fair and discuss what you see!)  Some areas host Agricultural Field Days which can be a great conversation starter for you and your children.

7.  Get involved in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.  Don't just buy the products but talk to the children in your life about the products you receive and the work that was put into producing them.  Teach your children that we shouldn't take these things for granted and that someone worked very hard to provide this service to them.  
8.  Buy your milk from a local farmer if possible.  Depending on where you live and your personal preferences, you might be able to purchase raw milk or buy pasteurized milk from a small farm with a creamery.  Let your children help you make simple dairy products such as butter.

9.  Find blogs and Facebook pages on the internet that are age appropriate for the children in your life and share the pictures and stories with them.  A few to consider:  USDA for Kids, National Agriculture in the Classroom, My American Farm, National Agriculture in the Classroom, Education World, and others.   
10.  Get kids involved in agriculturally minded programs such as 4-H, Farm Based Education Programs, and  Farm to School among others.  
11.  Learn about food preservation, buy produce locally, and spend time together drying, canning or freezing summer garden goodness for future enjoyment.  A few links to help you get started:  National Center for Home Preservation, Ball Canning, and Canning Granny.  Here is a fairly simple and great starter project that I posted earlier on our blog for home canned grape juice.

My desire is that this blog entry will be an encouragement to all of us to support agriculture in every way that we can.  It may sound trite but No Farms/No Food is not just a nice bumper sticker but a reality.  It's up to all of us to see that our farms remain and that farming continues to be a career choice for our children.

Note:  Educating children about farm life is so important to me that I recently started a blog specifically for children.  I would love it if you would check it out and share it with the children in your life.  You can find T. Cupp's Junior Farm Friends at this link.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Thank You ~ Six years and over 94,000 Views

I started this blog six years ago, basically as a type of farm journal.  I didn't expect but a handful of people to view my posts or show an interest in what I wrote.  Sometimes I seemed to have a clear direction of where I was going with the blog and other times, it was hit and miss.  And, I did the unthinkable in the blogging world for anyone who is serious about statistics and wants to keep their blog active:  I took a break.  In fact, I have rarely written on this blog in the last two years.  I have a total of 6 posts for the year 2013 and this particular post will be only the 5th for 2014.  In spite of that, this humble blog of a small time farmer in nowhere Virginia received 1, 877 views just last month.  In the last six years, we have received over 94,000 hits.  That tells me that within my meanderings, soul searching, journaling, sharing experiences, posting recipes, introducing folks to our animals, and instructional posts, I have somehow unexpectedly provided information that a niche of the public is interested in reading.   Just some interesting trivia regarding the blog is the following break down of views from various countries around the world:

United States




United Kingdom







In reviewing statistics, I found the number one farm related post during the history of this blog is the entry I wrote about Dominique Chickens with1,901views..  The second most popular post is my instructional on Making Cottage Cheese with 1,403 views. It Ain't Pretty, an entry about our makeshift milking parlor, comes in third with 668 views.

 From the bottom of my heart, I thank each of you who have taken time out of your lives to support this blog.  It is encouraging and extremely humbling to think that the words I have put here have reached so many people in the past six years.  

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Preserving Grape Juice ~ An Old Fashioned Method

If you have never tasted home made grape juice, then you need to try it!  The old fashioned method for canning grape juice is simple. One can put up a large batch of juice in a short amount of time.

This is a great activity in which to enlist the help of children to give them a "taste" of home preservation.  They will feel great pride in being a part of the process, especially when they are able to sample the juice and know their efforts helped produce it.

CAUTION:  Don't allow children to assist in the pouring of boiling water or in taking the jars in and out of the hot water bath canner.  These steps should be done only by a responsible adult.

Items needed:

Hot Water Bath Canner (Or pot large enough to hold jars covered with boiling water)
Rack for canner 
Quart Glass Jars produced specifically for canning (Jars not designated for canning can crack and break during processing.)
New lids (small or wide mouth depending on the size of your jars)
Metal Rings/bands to screw down on top of the lids
Sugar (optional)
Pot or Kettle to boil hot water
Old Kitchen Towels and cloths for cleaning up spills and to set the hot jars on once removed from canner (Grapes/Grape Juice will stain, so it's best to use old cloths you don't mind getting soiled.)
Jar Lifter
Grapes (Approximately 5 pounds will make seven quarts if you use 2 cups of grapes per quart.)

If you are new to canning, here is a couple of good posts from other sites to help you familiarize yourself and get your started:

1.  Wash and sterilize your glass jars.

2.  Fill your canner or pot with enough water to cover the jars when they are submerged and put on the stove to begin heating.  (It takes a while to get that much water to a rolling boil if you are using a quart sized hot water bath canner.  

3.  Fill your kettle or additional pot with water and heat to boiling.  (This water will be used to pour over the grapes in jars.  

Next few steps are fun for the children to get involved:

4.  Wash your grapes.  Hopefully you can find grapes that have not been sprayed.  Either way, wash them well because spiders, spider webs and bugs like to hide in the clusters  

5.  Remove grapes from stems.

6.  If you are using sugar (or other sweeteners) pour into bottom of glass jars.  (Suggested amounts are 1/4 to 1/2 cup per quart.)  I do not sweeten my grape juice.  Sugar is not necessary for preservation and is only added for taste.  Note:  You may see sugar in the bottom of your jar after your have processed the juice.  It sometimes takes several days for the sugar to dissolve in the jar.  

7.    Put 2 cups of grapes in each quart jar.  (Some recipes call for as little as 1 cup of grapes per jar, but we like our juice more concentrated.  One can always dilute the juice later by adding more water adjusting to individual taste.)

These next steps should be performed by an adult as children can easily get burned:

8.  Pour hot boiling water over the grapes (and sugar if you added it) filling to 1/4 of an inch from the top of the jar.  (Spacing is important when you are canning, so always follow the instructions regarding the fill line.)

9.  Carefully wipe the rims of your jars.  You don't want any juice, sugar or debris on the rims as this could keep the lids from sealing properly.  

10.  Place your new lids on the jar.  (Follow the manufacturer's instructions for prepping lids.  It use to be that one was instructed to place the lids in hot water before putting them on the jars.  Recently, some of the manufacturers have changed the instructions for their lids and boiling them in hot water first can actually cause them NOT to seal properly.  Each box of lids will have the individual manufacturer's instructions written on them.)

11.  Tighten down (finger tight) the bands/rings over the lids.

12.  Place your jars in the canner once the water has come to a boil.  Always be very careful as you work around the boiling water.  It's really easy to get burned.  The water should cover the tops of the jars.  You want them to process at a gentle boil.  

13.  Process for 15 minutes. (Some recipes call for processing as little as 5 minutes but I chose to process for the longest recommended time.)

14.  Carefully remove jars and place on towels in a safe place where they will not get bumped, pulled from the counter/table by little hands or burn someone while they are cooling.  As the jars begin to cool, you will hear the lids pinging.  It's always fun to enlist the help of the children to count the jars as they seal.  It's a great feeling to know they have all sealed properly.  

15.  When the jars are cool and sealed, you should remove the rings.  Leaving rings on the jars sometimes causes them to rust and they can be very difficult or next to impossible to remove.  They are only needed temporarily until the lids have sealed.  

16.  Wipe down your jars to remove any sticky residue, label the lids if you like.  I always at least put the year the item was canned on the lid so that I can rotate my stock.   Storing  your juice in a cool, dark place is the best way to preserve the quality of the product.  

17.  Allow your grape juice to set on the shelf for several weeks to  a month  before sampling.  Simply strain off the juice from the grapes, dilute if desired (or not if you like a stronger taste) and enjoy!  I actually drink the juice and then  smash and pour water over the grapes that remain and get a bit more juice from them!  You could also use a cheese cloth or flour cloth and squeeze the grapes into the jar of juice or simply just eat the yummy grapes.  

Note:  This may seem complex and overwhelming if you are inexperienced with canning, but once you get into the swing of it, canning grape juice is actually quite simple and moves along rather quickly.  In my opinion, it's a great first time project!

Monday, April 7, 2014

How Do I Train a Cow to Milk?

I am often asked if it's better to purchase a trained cow or buy a heifer calf to raise and train as a family milk cow.  It seems that most people are persuaded to get a cute little calf with the idea they can bond with it and then train it more easily.  While this is true on some levels, the process can be a lot more difficult and involved than what many family cow owners have considered.   Sometimes we tend to forget that animals are not human and while human/animal relationships can and are formed, bovines are bovines and process accordingly.  We rely on their instinctive nature to birth and nurture a calf, but we often times get frustrated with them when they don't understand what we are asking of them.  For this reason, I always recommend  to start out with a healthy, well trained family cow. Starting a home dairy is hard enough without adding the stress of teaching a newly freshened heifer how to be a milk cow.

With that said, there will be those who can't resist the chance to buy a cute little calf to raise.  Or, if one does buy an already trained cow, eventually that cow will have a heifer calf and your family might just want to keep her  to raise as a replacement or to provide additional milk.  Training a first calf heifer without some prior planning is probably not a good idea.

A lot of people like to halter and lead train their family cows.  In theory, this makes it easier to move the cow from place to place, to trailer the cow if necessary, and to direct the cow to the milking parlor and stanchion.  This blog post is not about halter breaking and lead training a cow.  To be honest, I do not halter or lead train my cows and have not had any issues in getting them to respond to me.  If you will find it necessary to move your cow across a busy road or through an area that is unfenced on a regular basis, then haltering and leading training would be beneficial.  Otherwise, with a good set up, it's not a requirement.  Knowing more about the nature of cows and how they think will help a person regardless if they halter and lead train or not.  An excellent chapter in the book ANIMALS MAKE US HUMAN by Dr. Temple Grandin explains the nature of bovines in detail and is a must read in my opinion.

So, let's assume that you have a cow that is not lead trained and you want to milk her.  Perhaps she is tame but even if she is not, most cows can be lured into a stanchion with treats.  For most people this would be grain but for those who choose not to use grain with their cows, it could be a piece of hay or some alfalfa pellets.  It won't take but a few times for most cows to understand that their treat is waiting for them in the stanchion.  (And that brings up an important point.  There are some cows that can be milked without a stanchion but most cows require a headgate to secure them and bars on either side to keep them from swaying . ***** Don't have stars in your eyes and your head in the clouds and assume that your sweet cow is just going to stand in the field and let you milk her.****  While this is true of some cows, it's not true of most.  Most require a restraint of some sort just to provide them with boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not.)  There are some cows who may completely refuse to go into a stanchion if they have not previously been in one.  This is why it's advantageous to begin even before the baby is born to acclimate the cow to the stanchion  and begin familiarizing her with the process. If your cow is not lead trained and can't be lured, then you will have to drive the cow into the stanchion.  This is sometimes easier said than done and often requires at least two people, especially if the cow has not been handled a lot.   (On a side note, bovines will fall into a routine within a few days.   If you have other cows to milk, the heifer in training can be a nuisance wanting in for their treats while you are trying to milk the others.I also advise to only offer treats or grain in the stanchion and not in the field.  Otherwise, you can create a monster that approaches you quickly and aggressively in the open field looking for a handout.  This can be dangerous and is not advisable.)

Getting the cow into the stanchion and comfortable can sometimes be the easy part.  Many times a cow does not want her udder handled.  She instinctively knows that part of her anatomy provides for the baby and she is protective.  If you are able to touch the cow's udder and let her familiarize herself with your touch before the calf is born, this is good.  Word of caution:  Do not actually milk the cow before she gives birth.  Just touch her udder and her teats and let her learn to trust you.  She may kick at first,  so be careful.

If you are fortunate enough to have your heifer trained to come into the stanchion and tolerate your touch before she calves, you are miles ahead of the game.  However, once the calf is born, the heifer's body will be under the influence of some powerful hormones making her extremely maternal and protective.  Your sweet, compliant cow may be a beast you don't recognize.  BE CAREFUL.  Even if you think she is completely trustworthy, be smart and very aware as you handle her and the calf.

I personally allow the mother and calf to bond and don't try to milk her for the first 12 hours after the calf is born.  The calf gets as much colostrum as he wants during that time.  After 12 hours I bring the cow in to the milking parlor to be milked.  I personally DO NOT bring the calves into the milking parlor, although there are a number of homesteaders who do.  They bring the calf to keep the cow happy and they sometimes use the calf to get the momma cow to let down her milk.  This post is written with the assumption that you are milking the cow separate from the calf.  At first the cow may be hesitant to leave her calf but she will learn with time that the calf is fine there without her.  (I am also writing this on the assumption that the reader is leaving cow and calf together and not taking the calf away to bottle feed.)

At this point the cow's udder is very tender and often very swollen.  Remember that it's just a normal reaction for them to kick at something that is uncomfortable to them.  Wash the udder gently.  I use barn towels and a solution of iodine.  Some people use just water or water and vinegar.  If you are hand milking, you have the advantage of a quiet environment.  If you are machine milking, it's actually important to expose the heifer to the sound of the machine as she is in the stanchion prior to milking her for the first time.  If you have not done this, the first time she hears the vacuum pump start it will be an additional fear for her.

We personally always try to milk without using restraining devices on  the heifer/cow.  We don't want them to get use to being restrained in order to be milked (aside from the boundaries provided by the headgate and stanchion bars). Training them from the beginning that kicking isn't acceptable is our goal.  However, if one is a novice, afraid, or it is evident that the heifer is going to be uncontrollable, then one would want to use some method of restraint.  There are several ways a cow can be restrained.  There are several different types of anti kick devices like the Kick Stop and the Kow Kant Kick, hobbles, or even a rope used properly can work. Do be careful using restraining devices.  If used improperly, they can cause injury to both the cow and the individual milking the cow.  Always remember to remove the restraint when you are finished milking.  This may sound evident, but it's not uncommon to forget this step and cows can be injured when turned out with restraining devices still in place.

 If you have two people available, you can also do what is called "tailing" a cow.  One person simply stands directly behind the heifer/cow and holds her tail straight up firmly where the tail and rump meet.  When held straight up, theoretically, the cow can't kick.  My husband and I actually use this method quite often the first time we milk a heifer if it is evident that she is going to kick.  (Warning:  Heifers are nervous and will often poop and pee while in the stanchion the first few times.  If you are tailing a cow, you will end up very dirty.)  While this method works in most cases, if done incorrectly it can be dangerous.  It is best if you can get an experienced individual to show you how to tail a cow and then let you try it with help.

Try to stay calm, no matter what happens when you are milking a first calf heifer.  She will pick up on your fears, anger, frustration, etc.  Be sure to praise her when she does what you want her to do.  Speak gently and firmly to her.  Explain what you want.  She will learn key phrases over time.  On the other hand, don't be afraid to use your voice to let her know when she does something you find unacceptable.  If she kicks, loudly yell at her "No".  I find that cows will either kick at the machine/hand that is milking them (a perfectly normal reaction.  Think about if you just had a baby and someone restrained you and tried to take milk away from your baby.  You would kick as well, whether out of fear, anger or because you were sore and uncomfortable.)  or, if you have a more aggressive cow, she may kick fast and hard at your body.  These are the cows I consider more dangerous.  A cow can have unbelievable good aim and strike with great force causing serious injury.  A balance between being cautious while not being fearful is of great importance.

My way of training a newly freshened first calf heifer is not the only way, but it is the way that works for me.  I believe strongly in allowing the cattle to be cattle and live as naturally as possible.  They raise their own calves, graze, live in a herd setting, are bred by a bull and even my training methods for milking are gentle and as carefree as possible.  I have found that familiarity, gentleness and consistency are far greater teachers than ropes and halters at least for our farm.  Restraint is used when necessary to protect us from a cow that is kicking dangerously but those restraints are used as a last resort and discontinued once the cow is no longer a danger to the person milking.  On a side note, it has been interesting to observe over the years that my cows who were my biggest pets were usually the most difficult in the stanchion in the beginning, while those who were still a bit shy seemed to be more compliant once they learned that a treat was available for them in the milking parlor.

The information in this post is by no means exhaustive but perhaps it will be a starting point for those contemplating milking a first calf heifer for the first time.

Happy Milking!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Better Late Than Never! (Why Doesn't My Cow Calve?)

Humans often get worried when babies aren't born when they think they should be born, and sometimes there are some reasons for concern.  However, often, the time simply isn't right for the calf and the cow.  We try to let nature take it's course here at the farm.  That is why we prefer our cows to be pasture bred rather than artificially inseminated.  We also prefer to not use any types of hormones or antibiotics unless they are deemed absolutely necessary.  Inducing a cow that is "late" is not something that we do.  Don't get me wrong.  If there were some type of life threatening condition that warranted such, then we would do what was necessary but too often we as humans try to take matters into our own hands rather than just letting nature take it's course.

One issue that comes up when a cow does not calve on schedule is the question of if the cow is actually bred.  This is a valid question and for beginners who aren't able to palpate or "bump" a calf to determine if the cow is bred, it is always wise to have your local Vet come out and verify that the cow is indeed bred.  This is especially important if you don't have a bull that runs with your herd.  A cow that was simply exposed to a bull once could very well not be bred.  If your cow has been in with a bull for many months, it is likely that she is bred, but sometimes there are other issues that cause a cow to not conceive.  Making sure the cows is indeed bred is important.

In our case, we have a cow that was put in with the bull when she cycled and her due date was set for March 5th.  Her due date arrived and I told my husband that she didn't look anywhere near ready to calve.  I decided then that she was either late or hadn't bred on that initial cycle when she was serviced by the bull.  We waited and counted the days, watching her carefully for signs of change.  Exactly 21 days from what we thought was her initial due date, she gave birth to a healthy bull calf without any assistance from the farmers.  We know now that she was indeed bred on her second cycle after she was put in with the bull.

We welcome Princess' healthy calf to the world on this cold, windy, snowy, spring day.

Good job Momma Cow!