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Cream check

November 19, 2008

I haven’t written about Della for some time.  In this case, no news is good news.


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A cream check is just that – a check for the cream you have sold to the Dairy Cooperative.


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This is a cream check stub from 1945.  The coop was paying  51 cents a pound for cream in those days.  I have no idea what it is worth to sell now.  Three Collie?

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This is an AI calendar.  The top date is freshening date, the next number is what day in the year, and the third date is when you can expect your cow to come into heat if she didn’t take. 😦

I did it.  I had Della bred, even though I was toying with the idea of waiting until next year.  Reality always sets in.  It would cost a lot to carry a dry cow for an extra almost two years just to get her calving date more in line with where I want it.  If she takes, she will calve earlier next year.  If not, you will hear me moaning and groaning on November 28th.

Even after her difficult calving experience this year, she had no signs of infection, and she was having strong heats at regular intervals.  I tried to get the AI guy here three weeks earlier, but he refused.  His reasoning being that she would not be healed properly.  He did agree to the next heat though.  Of course, the day she came in heat we had appointments in town, and couldn’t be home until noon or so.  I left a message, and hoped he could fit me in his regular dairy route.  His territory is huge.  He arrived at the same time we did.  I caught her and questioned him while he was doing his exam.  He could not believe what he was feeling.  He also could not believe that she had not received any conventional drugs and would be healed so well in two months.  So, keep your fingers crossed that she is “with child.”

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Thanks Trace, should I tell everyone that you really aren’t doing anything?  Della goes to her stall without any help…

So now my big concern is keeping her weight on.  I don’t need extra milk.  I plan on feeding milk to Lath, the bucket calf, until spring, but making Della produce to her full potential is not important to me.  I’m not selling milk, nor do I need the cream check.  Think of the family milk cow’s udder like the speedometer in your car – sure you can drive at 100 mph, but how long can you keep that up and be safe.

A while back, I was toying with the idea of once a day milking a little earlier.  It would lower her production, allowing her to gain weight or at least not lose weight during the winter months.  Normally, I don’t do the once a day until late lactation.  But, this year with no calf from Della, I don’t have to push her so hard.  Plus, she will be 11 in March.

I got my chance about 6 weeks ago, I forgot one night to open the gate to the pasture.  Della had to spend the night in the loafing shed eating hay, instead of grazing all night.  Her milk production was down a little due to dry feed, and the next day she came into heat.  So she didn’t graze too much that day either.  I seized the moment and started milking once a day at that time.  I have to say at this point though, that if your cow has had ANY sign of mastitis during her current lactation, do not do once a day milking.  Mastitis thrives on that kind of schedule.  The cow’s udder needs more milkings per day if she has mastitis.

Kate Yegerlehnerwrites extensively about once a day, seasonal milking in the Stockman Grassfarmer.  Her family dairy story is interesting in how her family has changed their management to allow the next generation to have a viable business to step into.

Full, but not full capacity.  She is now giving 3 gallons per day.  That is plenty for us and Lath. 

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Empty.  I have a harder job this year.  Usually I let Della’s calf do the stripping, but now I’m elected, so I have to make very sure that every last drop of milk is out of that bag.

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Surprisingly, those scratches don’t bother her.  This is a side view of her empty bag.  There should be no hard quarters, and the bag should be floppy.  This is a good time to give your cow an exam.  Feel for lumps and oddities.  When the udder is full of milk, it is hard to tell what is going on.  Della has one quarter with a little scar tissue from mastitis when she was younger.  So I have to monitor that quarter to make sure I get all the milk out, as it doesn’t drain as well.  If you ever watch a calf strip a cow, you will see them make the rounds of all the quarters trying to get every last drop.  That is what you have to do as the human milker. All except the part of head butting the udder.   😉  After a cow freshens, her bag will be somewhat swollen for a week or ten days, after that time period, when milking is finished, the bag should be very floppy and empty feeling.  If it isn’t, you should find out why.  Infection (mastitis) is the first place to look.

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I want to have Della enjoy a long and productive life, but to me, productive on our minute dairy,  means maybe giving the same amount of milk over a longer period (years) of time.  So watching her weight is a first priority.  I don’t care how much she weighs, I’m looking at her body condition.  I look at her to see what condition her coat is in, how much back fat, and if her ribs are sticking out.   It’s easy to spot the unthrifty cow in the herd, but how to measure the severity and what to do about it have always been somewhat of a mystery to me.   Most people assume the stomach is where to look to see if a cow is fat or not, (they are not people) that bulging side is all the stomachs, not fat.  When you butcher a cow, you would not believe the size of the paunch and all the guts that go with it.  it takes up the entire stone-boat just to drag it away!

So when a newsletter arrived containing an article about a simple way to assess Body Condition, this time I paid attention.  Usually this newletter contains so much feeding information for high production, and other articles for large dairies, I don’t usually read the whole thing.  But, I have learned over the years that I can usually glean something from books and articles that don’t necessarily apply to my operation, or task at hand.

Basically, the simple tool was a ruler.  If you place a ruler on the backbone and extend over the short rib area, you can roughly estimate your cow’s condition.  The backbone shouldn’t stick up like a ridge, allowing you to see much daylight underneath.  Dairy cows normally appear skinnier than a beef cow, but shouldn’t look emaciated.  But, you also don’t want them too fat either, somewhere in the middle, like the beds in Goldilocks.

Once the cow freshens, they are programmed to produce milk, and feeding concentrates (grains) can increase that production, to the detriment of the cow, more grain will produce more milk.  And a cow can draw down her body reserves to produce that milk.  A cow’s production records may show that she can produce a large amount of milk, but she can have other problems like poor reproduction, and/or other health problems, which really don’t show in the milk production records.  These other chronic conditions could be caused from too high of production.


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This shows a little daylight under the ruler.  According to the chart (rated 1 -5) she is a low 3.  This was taken a several weeks ago, at about 45 days in milk, and when I started the OADmilking.   She has since picked up in weight a little, since dropping her production from 5 gallons a day to 3 gallons.  She had lost weight in her pregnancy, growing those twins.  It has been a struggle to get her to gain at all, with late fall pasture.  The first two months is critical, you don’t want the cow to lose condition, since she will be lactating for many more months.  So check your cow, and make sure you aren’t just draining her reserves.  Maybe a little less milk at the house would do you better in the long run.   Another reason I prefer spring calving.  Better grass is available and cows do best on grass. 


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These folds on her neck show she is in pretty good shape.  Her coat is shiny, and she has a little fat or her hair would be dull and coarse, and she would not have any neck folds. 

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All in all, I think she looks OK for November.  She is slick and dappled.  You can see her short ribs, but she probably needs more dry matter (hay) since the triangle below her short ribs isn’t quite full.  She has a funny shaped backbone (probably from poor feeding in utero, I bought her mom just before she calved and she hadn’t been getting the best feed possible) so it is sometimes hard to tell just how much her backbone is sticking up from a distance.  If she stays at a 3 all winter I will be happy.

The article I read was titled, DAIRY COW BODY CONDITION SCORES CAN SPEAK VOLUMES, BY Dan Leiterman, August 2008.  COW TALES is the newsletter put out by Crystal Creek, the company I buy some dairy supplies from.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 19, 2008 10:17 am

    Much as I love dairy products, I will probably never keep a cow. But I find the art of it fascinating. As a cityslicker, I did know that milk came from cows, and I had been on the obligatory dairy farm visits as a school girl. As an adult, I knew the economic value of dairy farming in my agricultural county, and in my state. The kids and I see small dairy herds all the time when we drive places.

    But it has been the reading of your blog and others that has really educated me about where milk comes from and how not-simple it will be change the way milk is produced in our country.

    The price of milk is regulated in our state (PA) and a gallon of whole milk costs pretty much the same at most stores. It’s $3.85 for Nov 2008. But local organic milk is $7.90/gallon. (Not the not-really-organic Horizon stuff in the grocery store – I mean organic raw milk from specific identified local dairies, bottled, from a small retailer source.) That’s a big leap, and something of a hardship for me to buy for my family. We average 3 gallons per week, with home production of yogurt, lebne, and soft cheese. I am torn between wanting very much to support dairy-done-right, and making my limited food budget cover all we need it to cover.

    I recently found a source for “pet food” milk. Our state allows raw milk sales to the public only by dairies certified for it – and that costs money – thus, the high retail price. Dairies that are not certified sell raw milk “for pet food only.” It’s $3.50/gallon, BYOcontainer. I am considering buying that for our cheese and yogurt making, since it gets heated.

    I’m also looking into starting a cowshare with a friend’s husband, who raises heifers for organic dairies.

    Sorry – I meant this to be a short “thank you for sharing” sort of comment, to let you know that it is valuable even to to people that don’t have cows. Not a rant about how hard it is to know what kind of milk to buy. But, anyway, thanks!

  2. November 19, 2008 10:35 am

    I milking cow and her utter are one of the most beautiful things. I love your pictures. They portray warmth, health and nourishment that a good cow gives. Fingers crossed that she ‘took’. Thanks for your blog.!

  3. November 19, 2008 6:40 pm

    Helloooooo Della! She looks wonderful! Hope that’s she’s in the motherly way with a lone, little genetic copy of a lovely young lass like herself!

  4. November 19, 2008 7:23 pm

    Thank you for the wonderful, detailed post. I never knew there was so much to just keeping a cow at a healthy weight. But it makes complete sense… milk production takes a lot out of you whether you are human, cow, or cat…

  5. November 19, 2008 9:56 pm

    oooh, I’m so confused. It’s important to strip all of the milk, bu† you don’t want to push her to produce too much milk, because it’s at the expense of her body condition?

    ???? What do you do to make her produce less milk? Is it the food?

  6. November 19, 2008 11:01 pm

    Matriarchy, I drink raw milk, and don’t pasteurize, but the temps for soft cheese or yogurt aren’t high enough to kill pathogens, if there are any. Pasteurization requires a temp of 145*F for 30 minutes. I’m not trying to scare you, just help you decide. It helps to see the cows and how they are kept too. Milk shares can work good, in that you are closer to the source and the general upkeep of the animal.

    Thanks for the great comment!

    Neohippiemama, thank you, and I hope she took too!

    Paula, thanks, me too – the AI guy told me he forgot my calendar for this year – and we both agreed we didn’t want to see each other for a year! So hopefully, a calf, not a calendar!

    Maria, thank you, a dairy cow is programmed to produce and not put on weight, so it can be rather complicated. And as you say, lactating is hard on the body of anything. A cow is expected to calve every year, which means pregnancy and lactation at the same time for many months. I can afford a longer dry period than a dairy, so that helps some.

    Hayden, stripping won’t cause her to produce more. Actually if you left milk, it would cause the cow to produce less. But, the stripping is important, because once the let down reflex is started, you don’t want the milk in the lower part of the udder. That is a sure-fire way to get mastitis.

    Dairy cows will produce a lot of milk, and if the feed isn’t correct they can lose body condition fast. So say, something isn’t quite right, the cow is losing weight and you up her grain allotment, she will produce more milk, not gain weight. The secret is not to let them lose the weight in the first two months of lactating. Della lost condition growing those twins, and it has been hard to get her to put any on at all. Taking less milk has helped, but winter is upon us soon, and it is a long time to spring grass.

    So to produce less milk, you lessen the demand, and feed less milk producing feed. She has all the pasture and hay that she wants, and she gets 2# of grain a day. Soon I will start supplementing her with root crops in addition to what she is getting now. So far, so good, and when it gets colder, she will get to sleep in the barn – they lose a lot of calories just keeping warm. So when you are in blog land, look for family cows with their backbone really sticking up. Read through the blog and you will find all kinds of maladies. Sure the cow gives a lot of milk, and then they get milk customers or some pigs, and then something “happens” to the cow. So many people just look at the cow as a machine – but really having a family cow isn’t so simple. I am thankful most people get their milk from the store. Just like I am glad we don’t use horses for transportation anymore. Vehicles can’t be mistreated in the same way as an animal.

  7. November 20, 2008 8:50 am

    Boy did that bring back the first years of my growing up and the first 20 years of my marriage!

    We don’t milk now, our cows are all meat types, but I grew up with the Creamery just next door to my Dad’s mother’s house, the cow in the barn.

    We milked for 20 years until the creamery closed down.

    May I link your site to mine?


  8. November 20, 2008 10:02 am

    She’s doing awesome for an eleven year old cow. Great post.

  9. November 20, 2008 8:59 pm

    I hope to do some milking of my own soon, goats still haven’t kid, their getting close though. I plan on watching them a lot closer next breeding. You inspire and inform me. Love reading about your life on a “Real working farm”. Thanks so much for sharing.


  10. November 20, 2008 11:34 pm

    Wonderful post. Glad to see Della again!

    I need to subscribe to Stockman Grass Farmer. My neighbor (the one that I get raw milk from) lends me his copies, but I pore over them so much, I really need to get my own. The sheep dairying article in the last one was intriguing, but not really informative enough.

  11. November 21, 2008 3:04 pm

    It’s funny: I saw a Jersey and her calf at the county fair and I thought she looked mighty bony to my very untrained eye. Her calf was fairly young (under 2 months) so milking sure hadn’t peaked yet. I remember thinking that *I* got mighty bony when I was breastfeeding, but…it didn’t look right to me is all. They were both so beautiful, though. The calf was very pleased to be petted and poked by my daughter.

    So: bramble scratches: do you use bag balm or anything like it? And I am sure (if you’re hunting for post topics that is) there are a lot of us who’d love to know more about the milking process, including how you wash her up and how you strain the milk, etc. Granted it’s not something you could do with a camera in your hand but maybe the girl could give you a hand.

  12. November 21, 2008 10:11 pm

    Linda, sure you can link here. Beef is sure easier isn’t it? There used to be dairies all over here, now our county doesn’t even have one!

    Linda, yeah she don’t look too bad for an old lady. When she was mere child, I never thought she would calm down.

    Chris, you will like milking your goats – I bet you will have lots of help from your best helper too! Thanks for the always kind words.

    Sarah, you need a subscription. There is always something good in the SGF.

    El, those fair cows love the attention. And, lactating is hard work. A fat cow is as bad as a skinny cow, same with people. 🙂 Mama should be a little thin.

    Calendula salve works wonders on sore teats, at least on cows. Am I sensing a cow in your future?

    Maybe as former vegetarian you can answer the comment I received on the turkey butchering post better than I did. I think the guy has pellagra or something…

  13. November 22, 2008 6:03 am

    Yeah Nita I get those kinds of posts every once in a while. I just kind of shrug: they obviously don’t know me, or know the process I went through to go back to meat-eating. I’d say you nailed it, though; you’ve gotta be pretty willingly ignorant if you don’t know what it takes to either go into your hamburger or your soyburger. Frankly, I was a veg because I could make no guarantee that the meat I ate had NOT lived a life of horror. Shorten the chain to, well, yourself and you’ve got that guarantee. But I had to crack up at the thought that the commenter had pellagra. What do their three loved dogs eat?

    But actually, yes, I was aiming for gleaning some dairy knowledge: we’re going with a goat though 🙂

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