Countdown to May – Part I

It’s times like this where I truly see the benefit of having my own milk cow. Like right now, when I have a carton of Lactaid in my fridge. It’s ok. It’s not terrible. I can drink it. But it’s not even comparable to the delicious, creamy freshness of raw milk!

I took a break from milking this winter. Partly to save my hands from the bitter cold (and what’d ya know I go and frostbite them anyway) and partly because I sold my cow Fancy back in Oct. 2014. It’s been nice not having to traipse out through knee-deep snow to the barn to milk in minus fifteen degree weather but I still have to traipse out to feed and water the two heifers and muck out the stalls (when it’s warmish out and everything isn’t frozen solid).

"Look. She's got the camera again."

“Look. She’s got the camera again.”

Just the other day Mom asked me if I really wanted to continue doing this. She’s mentioned to me before how she’d rather raise animals during the spring to fall (like piggies) and not have the stress of worrying about caring for them during our long, harsh northern winters. She is right about that: it would be easier. And sometimes, in the long run of things, I do pause and ponder if all this is really worth my time and effort? I mean when one considers all the mucking out; the tons of wheelbarrow loads of manure I’ve carted (wonder how many tons in the past 5 years); constantly repairing fence and moving my electric paddocks during summer; the long harsh cold winters; etc. The list could go on.

But on the flip side of the same coin, I know it IS worth it. How do I know? When I open my fridge and see that red carton of Lactaid on my shelf.

So while I’ve enjoyed my break I’m so excited to be getting back into the milking routine because in May Hazel has her calf! Of all the heifers I’ve raised Hazel is the first who has been born on my farm and bred to have her own calf – and that to me is just beyond exciting! Not just because I’ve raised her myself but because after 5 years of working towards a goal I have finally reached it: raising small-sized, grass-fed, grain-free milk cows. But I never would have reached this point if it weren’t for Faith at Misty Morning Farm for getting me started and giving me that extra push to make a dream a reality.

Hazel's baby-bump. 7 months prego and I felt the calf! I've had 4 calves born on my farm and the excitement is always new for me

Hazel’s baby-bump. 7 months prego and I felt the calf! I’ve had 4 calves born on my farm and the excitement is always new for me

Hazel still has 2 more months to go but already her udder is starting to fill out and it’s so adorably cute! Her teats are perfectly sized and a good length for hand-milking, something that I try to pay attention to since my first cow, a Jersey had 4 teats all different sizes.

"What are you doing human?"

“What are you doing human?”

Hazel has always been a bit wild, a free spirit. She has never been calm and complacent like Briar, my 6 month old Jersey heifer who is Hazel’s half sister. While Briar will do anything I tell her, Hazel is more stubborn and even though I’ve raised/gentled/trained (still training) her I’ve recently run into a problem: she won’t let me touch her udder. I’ve always trained my girls this way, teaching them that I’m the boss and that they have to let me touch them so that when they calve and it’s time to train them to milk they already know it’s not a bad thing for me to be handling their udder.

I can touch, rub, and handle Briar’s teeny little udder just fine – she just stands there while I hold her halter and if she raises a foot I gently but firmly touch her leg and tell her “No.”

My Briar Patch - the sweetest little heifer I've ever had the pleasure to raise. She's a keeper for sure!

My Briar Patch – the sweetest little heifer I’ve ever had the pleasure to raise. She’s a keeper for sure!

But I can’t do that with Hazel now. She used to let me. From research I’ve done and asking advice on an online forum I guess it’s not unheard of for heifers to act this way 2-4 months out from calving. And some folks don’t consider it a negative thing for them to protect their udders when it’s not supposed to milked/nursed. Some folks leave their heifers’ udders entirely alone until after calving while some folks don’t. So I guess it’s a matter of personal opinion as well as the personality of the heifer too as to how they respond to training.

The last thing I want to do is ruin Hazel. She loves to be pet, brushed, scratched, and is a good girl overall. She goes into the stanchion just fine (I’m working with her to come out of it better: she gets so excited that she tries to go investigate the rest of the barn when I just want her to just back up and go back into her pen.) So I have to come up with a plan of attack that best fits my situation and Hazel’s needs. But there is plenty of time to fix this issue because after all, it’s only March 3 and she’s not due till 5/22 – give or take a week 🙂 Let the countdown begin!

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