Spilled Milk

Most days milking is uneventful and the cows give over a gallon each for us to turn into yummy cheese, yogurt and ice-cream.  But sometimes this happens:


I choose to say “no use crying over spilled milk”. But I can easily understand why the expression “kicked the bucket” came to mean “dead”.



Baby Daisy

Due to a WordPress glitch, the first part of this post went out prematurely and only half written.  I apologize for any inconvenience!

Our second (and last for the year) calf came into the world this week.  It has been, well, HOT lately (it is July after all) and the heat indices have been 100+ (38+ in Celsius) for several weeks.  A storm every 10 days or so assures that the humidity stays high and the poor heifer – enormously pregnant for the last few weeks – has looked quite miserable as she waddled back and forth between the barn and the pasture.

So when she went into labor 10 days early, we were happy for her pregnancy to come to an end.  We knew the calf was going to be a big one – this heifer looked bigger a month ago than the one giving birth then – so we assumed it would be a bull calf.  Watching her labor and attempt to push the calf out, we realized she wasn’t far from distress, made worse by the high temperatures.  She was laboring at the hottest part of the afternoon and though she was in a stand of trees, we knew she couldn’t labor ineffectively for long before it would become a problem, so we made the decision to move in and help her.

Here is where working with the cattle on a daily basis, handling them, scratching their polls, putting halters and lead ropes on and moving them around, really helped us.  Some animals in labor want nothing to do with humans but this heifer, Star, seemed happy to have our help.  We each grabbed a leg, and also used a hand to ease the head out of the vulva.  it took the combined efforts – a cow and two people – four contractions to pull the calf free.  Once the head and shoulders had cleared the birth canal, the rest of the calf came out in a rush of amniotic fluid.

Seconds after birth

Seconds after birth

The heifer took a short time to catch her breath before turning to see her calf for the first time.


Labor forgotten, she was ready to start cleaning off the baby.


Throughout this time she was relaxed having us there, but became anxious about the presence of the dogs – dogs she has known for six months and never worried about before!

Until now we had assumed the calf was a bull due to its size – it was a much bigger calf than Baby Rose, born a month ago.  So it was with astonishment that we finally checked gender and discovered the calf is another little heifer!  We couldn’t be more thrilled as, being Jerseys, a heifer is far more valuable to us than a bull calf.

Baby Daisy knew she had to get on her feet as soon as possible and it wasn’t long until she had gained enough control of those long, gangly limbs, to stand – somewhat shakily – and then take her first few steps.  She started looking for the udder immediately and found it soon after.


We are thrilled that Star stood still to allow Daisy to get the hang of nursing.  Sometimes first-time mothers are not as tolerant and try to move away any time the baby latches on.  She is also being very protective.  We are simply happy to have a healthy heifer calf, even though it means yet another cow to add to the milking rotation.

Baby Rose

Great excitement on the homestead this week as our first calf was born.  When the cows arrived in January, the two heifers had already been bred via AI (Artificial Insemination) with one due in mid-June and the other due the end of July.  Sweetpea was due first and, two days after her due date, lay down, grunted, gave one big push and out shot her little calf.  Blink and we’d have missed it!

The calf is a little heifer we’ve named Rose.  (We initially considered calling her Zippy after her sire (Zipper) and her speedy entry into the world, but ultimately decided Rose is a more dignified name for the dairy cow she will grow up to be.)  Naturally we couldn’t be happier that she has arrived, is healthy and that Sweetpea is doing a fine job as a mama cow – and now milk cow as well.

Rose figured out nursing quickly and though the flies are driving them crazy, persists at the teat until she is full, even with mama stomping non-stop.  (I’m seeing a case for breeding for Feb/March babies so the bugs aren’t such an issue.)

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Making Butter

I think I was most excited about being able to make my own butter, when the reality of producing our own milk set in.  We use butter on toast, sandwiches and in baking, so go through quite a bit of it.  Falling back on everything I knew about butter-making (which was very little), I decided I would need a butter churn and immediately started to research the various models available to decide which would work best for me.  They range from manual to powered and from about $15 for a small, manually operated device, to several hundred dollars for a larger, electrically powered machine.  I wound up feeling more confused than ever as I read user reviews of the various types.

Eventually I turned to YouTube, needing to see these machines in action so I’d understand better what would work.  And while reviewing videos on YouTube, I ran across one using an ordinary blender – standard in most kitchens.  Intrigued, I watched and decided before buying another gadget, I would try making butter in my VitaMix blender.

I skimmed off the cream and once I had a mason jar full, poured it into the blender and turned it on low. For a couple of minutes not much seemed to be happening.  Having whipped cream on numerous occasions, I knew the cream was thickening, although the blender moves so fast even on low that I couldn’t see the change occurring.  Soon the cream was so thick that it was no longer moving at all.  But, as I watched, it started to move again, and over the next 20 seconds appeared to turn back into liquid.  I turned the blender off and peered inside to find that the liquid was the buttermilk and floating in it were some beautiful chunks of butter.

I poured off the buttermilk (which I kept), then added cold water to the blender, and whizzed it again for a few seconds.  I repeated the cold water wash twice more, until the water ran mostly clean, then strained it all until only the butter was left.  After shaping it into a log wrapped in parchment paper, I set it in the fridge until it was firm.  The result?  Truly wonderful butter that we have since used with great enjoyment.

Building a Cow Barn – Stage Two

Stage one of the cow barn allowed us a place to keep the cows upon their arrival.  It gave them a place to get out of wind, rain and snow, but the transformation of the lean-to was not yet complete.  Stage two began two weeks after the cows had arrived.

The cattle panel that served to keep the cows from wandering away was removed.100_1266And replaced with a real barn door.  We started by building the frame, installing the hardware and hanging the framed door on the rail.


Next we added the tin, one sheet at a time.


We used the clear plastic corrugated roofing sheets to fill the angled gap above the barn door.  Since this is the south side, the clear panels let in a lot of light and some sun, while blocking almost all of the wind.  With the barn door closed, it is noticeably warmer inside than when it is open.

100_1279Once the barn door was installed, we installed another gate that sits just inside the barn door.  This gate allows us to leave the barn door slid open on nice days, while containing the cows.  And by having a gate at the entrance and another ⅓ of the way in, we can divide the barn into two separate areas.  The smaller area we are primarily using as a milking area for now, but it could also be used to segregate a particular cow when needed.

100_1280The cows are settling in nicely to their new home.  The milk cow is giving us about ½ gallon a day on top of nursing her own calf.  The heifers are becoming used to being handled while Trouble, the steer, lives up to his name.


Building a Cow Barn – Stage One

As noted here, our neighbors talked us into forming a cooperative arrangement regarding cows.  They already had plans for housing them, but once we became part of the equation, we felt we should contribute to the transformation of their lean-to – which had previously housed a horse trailer – into a cow barn.  The lean-to is a basic frame-covered-in-tin building that attaches to the garage and is 15′ wide.  Because cows are big, heavy, rub, lean on things and sometimes kick, and we wanted to both keep them from injuring themselves and preserve the integrity of the lean-to, we started by putting boards between the existing framework, up to the level of the cows’ backs.  In this picture you can see a wall we have completed and one that has not yet been started. 100_1262 Next we added a gate ⅓ of the way in.  The 10′ gate was able to hang on one of the existing lean-to posts.100_1263However we had to add two new posts to hang the 5′ gate and have a post for the two gates to attach to.  The 10′ gate will open to allow a tractor to get in there and muck out if necessary. 100_1264Looking in from the front.  Stage one of the cow barn is almost complete. 100_1265 A cattle panel across the front of the lean-to is temporary.  This is to keep the cows from wandering where they shouldn’t.  We had initially planned for the cows to be delivered mid-February and had only 48 hours notice that they were arriving at the end of January.  Stage one will accommodate the cows until Stage two can complete the transformation.100_1266

A2 Milk

I talked here about the factors that persuaded us to get cows.  One that I didn’t mention – because I wasn’t certain if it was even going to be a factor – is the difference in the milk.  Namely, the A1/A2 debate.

This is all new to me so bear with me.  I’ve done quite a bit of reading about it and if I understand what I’m reading correctly, it boils down to this.  Among the many amino acids contained in milk, is one that has been dubbed A2.  Several decades ago, the A2 amino acid mutated into what is now referred to as A1.  The A1 amino acid is less digestible and can cause issues for people who consume dairy products.  These people generally assume they are “lactose intolerant”.

Holstein cows – a dairy breed – now primarily produce the A1 amino acid in their milk.  And, the commercial milk industry is comprised almost entirely of Holstein cows.  Therefore, the vast majority of the milk commercially available is A1 milk.

The A2 amino acid is far more digestible than A1.  Typically people who have long believed they are lactose intolerant can drink A2 milk without any issues at all.  In other words, they are not lactose intolerant at all but rather, A1 intolerant.

For several years, we have suspected that HWA is lactose intolerant.  He loves dairy products in all of their forms – milk on his cereal, cheese, yogurt and ice-cream.  However, the frequent unpleasant side effects of eating these foods have led to him largely avoiding them.

When my neighbor initially raised the subject of buying the cows, one of her selling points is that Jersey cows are usually A2 milk producers.  Not only that but any individual cow can be tested, and the cows she was looking at – and that we ultimately bought – had all been tested A2.  Like us, she has a family member who cannot tolerate dairy and she was hopeful that he would be able to drink the Jersey milk.

We’ve been milking for a few days now.  We’ve drunk milk by the glassful, made a small batch of cheese and last night HWA had a large bowl of cereal.  He woke up this morning and pronounced that there “must be something to this A2 thing” because he was suffering no ill effects whatsoever from his midnight cereal snack.

This is good news for him as we are cautiously hopeful that he will now be able to resume enjoying some of the foods he has missed.  And it is great news in general since our one cow is producing enough milk to keep her calf healthy and happy, and supply the milk needs of two families as well.  The argument we have each time we milk is not “Its my turn to take the milk” but “I took it yesterday – you have to today”.