We own two Dexter milk cows – Brandy and Sweetie Pie. Brandy delivered a bull calf fifteen days ago and is now in good milk. Sweetie Pie is not in milk, but is very pregnant and should have her own calf within a month.
After getting a routine going and doing some training, Brandy is now waiting for us at the gate to milk her when we show up.
She walks through into the milking shed and calmly puts her head through the headgate to eat a little grain from the manger and lets us lock her in.
It’s amazing to me how these huge animals have been domesticated. We are learning a lot, and I am grateful to God for giving us dominion and letting us benefit from His creation in such an excellent way.
We’re now getting gallon and a half to two gallons of raw milk a day – what a blessing.
The Milking Routine (As of Right Now)
We get up just before 6AM and drink coffee. Rachel grabs a tote containing a couple of half-gallon jars, a clean washcloth and some warm water, plus a few “range cubes,” which are a livestock treat. I grab a few quarts of crimped oats and dairy feed mixed together. (We are phasing out the dairy feed because it has some unnatural ingredients, so when this bag is done, we’re done.)
If we know the cows are low on water, I also fill up a couple of 5-gallon totes and put them in our rolling cart.
Once we have our supplies, we head across the street to the pasture. There we turn off the electric fence and head to the milking shed.
Brandy is usually waiting for us, sometimes with Sweetie Pie, but often she is ahead of her companion. If she’s out in the field, she’ll come over to the milking area when we call her or she sees us. The milking area has an electric line with a handle and loop we can detach to open a gate to the milking shed. We open it and let Brandy through and shut it behind her so Sweetie Pie doesn’t come in. Brandy is the dominant cow, so this works well. Sweetie Pie is always behind her and knows she has to wait her turn.
Brandy now comes through the gate and walks right into the milking shed, then stands there until we put some grain in her manger, then she’ll usually stick her head right through the head gate. We close the head gate and lock her in, then I spray her down with some natural fly deterrent containing essential oils. The various horseflies really bug her and she gets fidgety, so Rachel got this spray to chase them off. It works great and most of the flies leave her alone after we mist her sides.
Rachel then washes down Brandy’s udder with warm water and a washcloth, then starts milking. Brandy sometimes takes a minute to “let down” her milk, but is pretty good about it.
I sit on an overturned 5-gallon bucket and give Brandy occasional handfuls of grain to munch, while talking to her and Rachel for the next twenty minutes or so as Rachel milks. We usually get about 3/4 of a gallon per milking. Sometimes it takes longer than others, as the ground is a bit mucky after rains so Rachel sometimes milks the cow with one hand while holding the milk container in her other hand. We’re working on better drainage today to see if we can dry that area out.
If I talk to Brandy, she is calmer than if I walk away. It’s a funny thing to talk to a big animal like that as she stares blankly back at you with huge, liquid brown eyes. She would happily eat massive amounts of oats, but I have reduced the amount we give her and am counting more on routine and the relief of being milked to keep her content.
Once Rachel is done milking her, we let her out of the stanchion and open the electric line, then give her a little encouragement out the gate. Usually I just have to give her a little push and say “Get along, little doggy!” and she’ll shuffle on out.
Then Sweetie Pie runs in and gets in the milking shed (sometimes with a push or two, to keep her from going around the back and dipping into the manger without being restrained) and puts her head through the head gate and munches for a while. We lock her in for a couple of minutes and pet her. She’s very pregnant right now and won’t be milkable until after her pregnancy but we are training her to a routine ahead of time. My guess is she’ll have a baby within a month, then we’ll be milking two cows.
I have let Rachel manage all the milking part of the operation because my hands are a bit too big for Brandy’s teats. She only has one teat long enough for me to milk, and that’s not much help.
Once Sweetie Pie is done, we chase her out of the milking area and close the electric line, then gather up our milking supplies and head home.
At home, Rachel strains out the milk into clean jars and reserves a half-gallon for the bull calf and puts that in a bottle. This is given to our middle son R, who is happy to be a nurse to the calf. The calf absolutely loves him now. The calf is consuming a lot of our milk, so I may start buying milk replacer for a bit. Ultimately, I think I should just sell him, as we really aren’t set up for raising a beef steer or a breeding bull. Alternately, I might be able to borrow some pasture to raise him. I have to make these decisions soon.
At 6PM in the evening, we repeat the same process again. Originally we were milking the cow at 7AM and 7AM, but that made it hard to get the kids to church on Wednesday night, so we bumped the times earlier. There may be a point at which I am not needed, but I am happy to help Rachel for now. Raw milk is a superfood and I am so grateful to her for learning to milk a cow and making it happen. I am better at wrangling the cows than she is, and she has the right-sized hands and the temperament to milk them well.
Also, it’s like a date, twice a day. And instead of spending money, we’re making it.
Raw milk costs $12 a gallon around here. That means we’re getting about $18-$24 a day in milk right now – and soon we’ll double that. Plus, I know this milk is being made from unsprayed pasture grass. The bull calf is drinking a gallon per day, but we should end that soon.
Now I just need to find a good affordable treat for the cows that I know is completely uncontaminated with pesticides and herbicides. I bet the oats have some in them, as they’re conventionally grown.
I’m really tempted to grow a patch of kudzu for hay – but that’s a topic for another post. Owning cows has been a wonderful learning experience.