Get a Grip
People ask me all the time how much time do I really spend on the milk cow getting a few gallons of milk for the house. So I kept track this week, so I could do a post with accurate information.
I spend between 35 – 45 minutes on each end of the day, so roughly 1 1/2 hours per day, 12 hours apart. As you can see from the video, I’m a fast milker. It takes me 10 minutes to do the actual milking, it’s the prepping my stall, walking out to the barn with my buckets, walking out to get the cow, opening and closing gates, processing the milk, and always the washing of the buckets, and jars. Then going back out, and putting the cow out to pasture. The faster you want a cow to walk when you’re leading them, the slower they walk, and if there is windfall apples to sniff, and a pickup mirror they can wipe off, they’ll do it after they have been milked. I have come to believe Della makes a mental note on the way to the barn, and makes plans for mischief while I’m milking!
Milk cow gone bad. She’s pretending to be attentive and cooperative… this is the planning stage. She spanks me every day with her tail, just because she can.
Eau de Flank
Here I’m sending good thoughts her way – just kidding. We are actually milk wrestling, I’m pushing with my head, and she’s leaning on me. Is any of this sounding like your horse? Leaning, swatting, and a multitude of other passive-aggressive tendencies. But, she’s nothing if not predictable. It’s the same morning and night, and she is gentle. I trust her when my back is turned and in close quarters, and that is probably the single most important thing to look for in a cow. She does kick, but never unless she has a good reason, such as a cut, or sore teat. She never has kicked except for those reasons. So I pay attention before I latch on. I do milk her with kickers, just in case, but I never have to tighten them, and she knows how to kick them off. I would say she would be a cow for an intermediate milker, not a beginner. She knows how to open gates, or unhook chains with her horns, so she is smart and would probably take advantage of someone a little intimidated by her horns.
What I don’t count in my milking time is, the time I spend feeding the bucket calf, or taking the skimmed milk to pigs. Feeding those animals are chores I would have to do anyway. Having extra milk to feed them, means to me that I’m closing my circle of production. The more feedstuffs I can produce here, reduces my out of pocket costs.
I also don’t count the time we spend managing, growing, and harvesting our hay. I’m an accountant and homesteading is not a black and white, or should I say, red or black entry on the books. It can’t be simplified that much. I need to maintain our property, should I mow all the grass and not have livestock, or should I have livestock and let them beautify my land for me? And, enjoy them along the way. You know what I would say. But, each individual family has to decide. I grew up this way, I don’t feel left out of life because I’m tied down with a milk cow, because I tied myself down. I feel the same way about my cows as I do about my dogs – I wish they could stay that magic perfect age, never getting sick or old, and never having nerve-wracking health problems. Sigh. I know that will never be… . Truth be told, I have used my milk cow as an excuse to avoid social functions, for that reason alone – Get a cow! :)
Nor do I count my time churning butter for our winter stores. I would rather be home milking my cow, and making butter, than I would be going to work, to earn the money to buy butter and spending the time going to the store to purchase milk and other dairy products. If I’m home I can grow other food we need too. Trust me, growing most of the food you need for a year, IS a full time job.
Trace wants that radish, I’m glad he hasn’t figured out he can just help himself in the garden.
My milking chores change too, as the lactation progresses. This time Della lost her calves, so I will not have a milking helper, so that is increasing my time a little. Also, Della is on pasture, so I’m not cleaning her stall, because she isn’t spending any time there. During the winter she will be pastured closer to the barn and I won’t have to lead her from across the road, I’ll just be able to open a gate and she will walk to her stall to be milked. So my chores change with the seasons, but they seem to roughly take 45 minutes each time. So I don’t know if any of this helps, or hurts if you are trying to decide if you can fit in a milk cow. For most of my milk cow career, I did work full time, I have only not worked off the farm for the last 7 years, roughly the time I have been milking Della, so it is doable, but you have to like cattle, and be motivated to take proper care of them.
I would honestly say there is nothing romantic about keeping a milk cow, unless you are a cow lover like me. You need to have more vested in this venture than just wanting milk.
Cows are thinking and feeling beings, and modern dairy cattle can be fraught with health problems that requires keen observation to detect, and treat. Even a homestead breed like a Dexter requires the utmost attention during lactation. If you are taking too much milk, you are shorting the calf, not enough, and you are short at the house.
This all takes time, you just have to decide if it is worth your time… Next a “new” wrinkle in my dairy plans – you won’t believe what I have come up with this time.