Monday, June 7, 2010

Training a Milk Cow

It’s fresh as a daisy today--a cliche to be sure--one of those mornings that come so rarely in summer. (For, it IS summer already, isn’t it?) Like looking at the world through a newly washed window…these are the kinds of days we get in early fall when summer still has a hold, but Nature offers a kiss of encouragement. Today, instead of hot-already temperatures that make me want to hide out the rest of the day inside, the air this morning is sharp as a leaf-edge.

The garden is weedless. (…you know that’s not true!), and we are on our way outside to tackle a hay-moving project that will culminate with the ultimate goal (dovetailing with “training” a heifer to be a milk cow instead of a wild and carefree young girl--) of setting up a dry and commodious milking shed. 

I am so looking forward to this. We have milked in the rain, in the snow, in the heat, in the wind, in several of those at once!…and it will be such a joy to have this process refined to provide shelter not only for the cow during milking….but for the milkers as well.

Eventually, MM and I will both milk as we have done in the past. He on one side, I on the other. But right now….we have a somewhat flighty new “family cow.”  Marigold is a heifer--(a young first-calf female).  She is the daughter of the milk cow we've had for three years. Her mother, Johni ,decided to take a vacation from having babies, and did not produce a calf this season. So, we are introducing her daughter, Marigold to the routine.

From the time Marigold calved until now, we –mainly MM—have been “instructing” her in proper milk-cow behavior. Cows are slow thinkers. They are also suspicious of human intentions-- especially so of anyone wanting to handle her udder! So, it’s tricky. MM has been petting her (she loves that) at the same time as her calf is on one side, and MM is on the opposite side….both handling Marigold’s udder. MM has gotten a few squirts without incident….so far. The calf gets all he wants.  And, munching her feed ration (bait), Marigold is mostly oblivious. Mostly.

Occasionally, she balks.  And Marigold has horns.  The main thing is to go deliberately and SLOWLY. Cows don’t like change. They like routine. They like feed. That helps. A lot. They like an empty udder rather than a tight, full udder. Mothers know whereof I speak. All these things have to come together to make a “good milk cow.” In addition to a brave and persistent farmer (MM--not me!) The one thing we can plan on? Patience and time are the main ingredients. Like the Internet…we are waiting, and waiting, and waiting……

Someday, though, not long from now, without risking life and limb, we will wind up (again)  with a long-term, resident family milk cow….next year she will have a lot more milk, and she will be handled easily. It takes time and effort to cultivate such an animal They are highly prized, once she yields comfortably to the routine. It takes hours of gentleness. For now, though, retaining her confidence, yet training her to submit to this ancient ritual/ partnership with the animal world is our main goal on the farm front.

Brrrrrrrrrrr…..! The wind just blew in through my window as I sit here at the computer! Amazing! It’s 63 dregrees out, rather than the recent 83 degrees at this time of the morning yesterday. What a delightful day this will be!  
Sundown on the Farm


  1. Elora -- Operating a farm is a big production. You and MM are certainly good stewards of your farm. Milking, weeding, training dogs, and all other sorts of work seems to be taken in stride. What I hear coming through your posts is that you are team workers. What a wonderful life you two have. So enjoy reading your posts -- barbara

  2. Beautiful photos!

    Our Marigold is looking larger every day and is bagging up. She may be closer to her time than we had thought. She's pretty much of a pet and doesn't object to having her udder handled but she's a flighty thing and I anticipate a need for that patience of which you speak!