Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Red-Letter Day

It’s an old phrase that came about as a result of calendar holidays being marked in red ink. So, a red-letter day was a good thing!

Out here, JOTOLR, we had a red-letter day yesterday. We have IGNITION! MM was able to milk Marigold.

At this point, I don’t have pictures, but by this evening I will be able to get a few shots in between keeping Marigold amused with goodies and collecting the milk, and getting her used to me, now that MM is accepted. We have milked her twice, now. I say “we”…but MM is the milker to start with. I will be milking “my side” eventually, but one at a time for now is easier for Marigold to accept.

It’s been a struggle. She is a flighty little thing, not at all sure what this is about and what we’ve wanted. We have followed the book, taking all suggestions, tried them out—with varying degrees of success or not—including her being tied to a post overnight (an old-timey farmer’s suggestion that was very useful in finally bringing the errant and arrogant young cow to being more tractable, even leadable)--and now, three months after she calved, we are ready to put an end to the calf’s getting the milk. He is sleek and fat!  In the intervening months since drying up our other cow, Johni, I've gotten my BMI (body mass index) down to a respectable 22.  Now, I must be on guard against re-over-indulgence!!

Early today, we added to the milk store; we’re up to having only one pint shy of a full gallon between last night and this morning in the fridge. 

Mind you, she doesn’t have as much milk with this calving as she will next time. But it’s time for us to get it rather than the calf. So, we will have a good deal of noisy complaining from the calf for awhile until he realizes he has grown up. We played cowboy/cowgirl—roping the calf late yesterday afternoon so we could get him separated and unable to accost Marigold as she came in the gate. When we managed to get him tied to the post--installed especially for the purpose-- we only had to wait for mom to return and be directed into her into milking stall sans calf.

Training a new milk cow calls for the utmost patience. At times, it’s been very discouraging. She’s been really ugly. Then, at times, I guess she could say WE’VE been really ugly! But occasionally it seemed that no matter what kindness was offered she remained wary and aloof. Finally, with the continuing temptation of molasses-coated dairy pellets, she caved in and submitted to confinement.

Thankfully, Marigold is not a kicker. She never offers to raise her foot defensively. But she does not like enclosures. She feels…well….trapped. And she IS trapped! Trapped and tied. Having milked outside in all weathers for the past three years, we were determined to put our new milking station under cover beginning with this new milk cow. Right from the start we pledged to work with her until we had it right.

But, it’s been a test of wills getting Marigold to come into the milking stall. She does not like walls. As I said, MM has been very patient with her, though, and gradually narrowing her options daily, she made it quietly into the stall last night without any fuss and MM set about milking her. And, the same thing this morning.

We probably got a quart last night. Maybe. But it was a start. The milking was continuous, rather than grab and go. That’s a landmark. The pipe gate was shut and she wasn’t stressed. She simply munched the dairy feed she’s come to love, and ignored MM as he drained the tank, so to speak. He left a little for the calf, but not much. This morning, it went even more smoothly, with less suspicion on Marigold’s part. She went right to eating her dairy feed, and not even the pinging of her milk into the bucket caused more than a curious look from her at the first musical note.

Marigold has horns, so we have to be very careful working around her. Not that she would intend to hurt someone. She’s not mean. It’s just that she wouldn’t know that she was hurting someone. Cows—even heifers—are large animals. They don’t see the same way humans do, either. So swinging a horn happens without the cow's being aware of what she is wielding.

Well we’re onto a schedule again. Vacation's over.  It’s twice a day no matter what. Early and late…but the rewards are great! A cow gives voice to the term “self-sufficiency.” She gives lots and turns grass into milk products including cheddar, cottage cheese, Mozzarella, ice cream, butter, yogurt, cream cheese and...milk! And the products vary in flavor and availability throughout the year. Marigold, if everything goes right, could be with us as a milk cow for the next dozen years.

BTW, the photo above was last night's unbelievably breathtaking sunset.


  1. Elora -- I find this milking process fascinating. I spent time as a young girl on my grandfather's dairy farm and have fond memories of it. But, being young I did not pay attention to the process. All I remember is that the cows knew when to come in and they would all gather together in the field and take a path down to the barn. I commend you and your husband for the lifestyle that you have chosen.

  2. Indeed, Barbara! Our other cow, Johni, showed up at milking day and night, too. Regular as clockwork, as they say. (BTW, she simply did not re-breed and we don't know why. Hence, the needed indoctrination of Johni's heifer, Marigold.) Once trained, Marigold, just like your grandfather's dairy herd, will know to show up on time. Her milk tells her it's time! If we mess up, she'll let us know by her clarion call!

    BTW, I mentioned you and your blog on At Home With the Farmer's Wife, Suzanne re: your post on the fireflies. She had a post on fireflies, today, so wanted to mention your recent experience.

    Thanks for you oh-so-lovely comments! And thanks multiply for being so faithful and kind!


  3. So exciting! Our Marigold is a few months away from calving -- can't wait for all that fine milk!

  4. That sunset photo is stunning. I still haven't uploaded mine from camera to computer. We had company last night (from the DC area) and they were all talking about the previous night's sunset. Guess they don't grow sunsets like that in the District!

    Good job, Marigold! Keep up the good work! I'm tired of store-bought mozza! Heh.

  5. Congratulations on your success with Marigold, Elora! So interesting to hear about the process of wooing a cow to milking. One of my most treasured possessions is my Grandpa's milking stool. We use it to reach stuff in cabinets, but I recall well watching Grandpa sit on it for the evening milking.

    That sunset photo is truly amazing---what a beautiful place you live in.