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Knowing what side my bread is buttered on

December 7, 2009

One of the things on my list of things to do by the beginning of December was to dry Della off.  She’s old for a house cow, and needs the rest.  Her calf is due next spring, so she will have an ample dry period over the winter.  This lactation with her was one for the record books for me – I have never in my milking life, milked one of my cows without having a calf to be my relief milker.  After 30+ years of milking, I wondered out loud and to myself  if I could actually do it.  And against all that I believe about milking, I have milked Della for 15 months.   I usually milk for 9 months.   When she didn’t re-breed last fall, I decided to wait out the winter and spring and breed her for a spring calf to get her back on a decent schedule.  I posted about that decision here.

It’s hard to explain my relationship with my cows and especially my relationship with Della.  She gives so much and asks for so little in return.  I want her to stay in good shape through the winter, and deliver a healthy calf.

She looks slick and shiny but she has her winter coat.  A sign of good health on stock is a coat that lies flat, and is slighty oily.  She also is carrying fat on her back.  Contrary to popular belief a dairy cow should not look emaciated.  Period.  I know this goes against conventional dairy show cow and dairy wisdom – but it shouldn’t be.   I have been able to maintain her condition on pasture, one coffee can a day of grain, and now she is getting a flake of orchard grass hay in addition to her free choice pasture and our grass hay.  She is a much easier cow to maintain than her mother.   The difference?  She nursed for 9 months, her mother was raised on a dairy and bottle fed for two months with grain started early.  She never was quite right, and she always lost condition, no matter what she ate.  She was a peach of a cow, but a metabolic nightmare.  If it takes the rumen 9 – 10 months to fully develop with full fat milk, what must happen with milk replacer and grain.  I have come to believe that cattle are tough animals – they have to be, to survive human beings.

You can see how long her coat actually is.

And the fun thing, the yellow in her ears indicate high percentage butterfat.  Guernseys used to be common around here, and maybe they should be again.  Here is a link to a recent Acres article about A1 and A2 milk.  You can read it and draw your own conclusions… .  Sure to be controversial in the states, since Holsteins reign supreme.  Nothing against Holsteins, I had one and she was a doll who lived to a ripe old age.  I am just glad I have my Guernsey.  Who knew her type of milk would be so old, it is new again??

And to answer the questions Vicki and Kristen had about the milk – I froze enough milk in half-gallon canning jars (2/3 full)  for about 3 months.  She will be dry for 5, so I will have to buy milk or do without.  The cream is a little funky after freezing, but we deal with it, since it is more of a texture thing than taste.  And I think I have enough butter to last… .  And Kristen, the plastic would be OK if that is what you had, I like glass, but it’s expensive, and it has taken me a long time to build up my stash of jars – and glass can break.  So it depends on what you have.

37 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2009 12:37 am

    She’s in beautiful condition and what a shine on a winter coat! Here in Wales, I live next door to a dairy farm, and quite apart from the fact that he only sees his cattle as £££, he isn’t a good stockman and many of his cattle look like hatracks, especially the older ones and the halt and the lame who bring up the rear at milking time . . . Interesting what you said about the difference between a calf being on the cow for a full weaning period, and those taken off the mother at a few days old and being on a feeder and grain. I never knew it took a long time for the rumen to develop properly.

    • December 8, 2009 8:35 am

      Jennie, thank you for the compliments about Della. Beef calves get to nurse until weaned, as a general rule dairy calves are not so lucky. But we humans are good at justifying our actions, we need the milk, money etc., and our animals suffer from it because we have taken it upon ourselves to be their “caretakers.” There is all kinds of scientific evidence that calves do not need their mothers milk or if they do get it, they don’t need it for long. But nature does know best. It’s hard to find the happy medium.

  2. Kristen permalink
    December 8, 2009 4:59 am

    That is the yellowest butter I have ever seen 🙂 mmmm, I can almost taste it!

  3. localnourishment permalink
    December 8, 2009 5:24 am

    Della is just beautiful. I had no idea about the ears, that’s fascinating! What a peaceful, happy face she has.

    • December 8, 2009 8:38 am

      Localnourishment, thank you! We love her! She’s a little discombobulated now with the routine change – and I am glad I am drying her up – it was 9F this morning! Very cold for west of the Cascades!

  4. Jill B permalink
    December 8, 2009 6:08 am

    Hello from So. Cal. Della gave you a beautiful pose. I also didn’t know about the yellow ear thingy! Cool fact I can share with the kids.
    Once again you astound me with all of your beautiful food. When I read your blog I am once again in my grandmother’s kitchen off of Phinney Bay in Washington. Thank you for another picture treat for us all today :-D.

  5. Jill B permalink
    December 8, 2009 6:16 am

    P.S. My father in law milked Guernsey’s in upstate New York. He said he had 30 head to milk when he was 12-13. I still have a picture of their cows from 1933.

    • December 8, 2009 8:44 am

      Jill B, that wasn’t unusual in those days for a children to milk so much. I would love to see your pictures of the Guernseys!

      I have the Dairy records from the last Guernsey dairy in our town, the farmers passed away and had no children, and their nieces and nephews were going to throw the books in the dumpster. Luckily they thought of me – they stopped dairying in the 70’s when regulations for Grade A changed, but they had kept their books. I love readiing through them and seeing my friends handwriting and remembering their cows on pasture. Our school bus drove through their dairy and it was always a treat to see the cows already out and grazing again by schooltime 🙂

  6. December 8, 2009 6:41 am


  7. December 8, 2009 6:59 am

    Your blog is so interesting to me; I agree with all of your “unconventional” methods, as I was that way too when I was dairy farming back in the 1960s.
    Your butter has that dark yellow color that I remember from my Aunt Fannie’s guernsey cow sour cream butter that I had as a boy, back in the ’30s & 40s. I’m 73 and retired from farming now, keeping only chickens and pigeons as a hobby.
    Do you make sour cream butter? It had a unique flavor that I haven’t tasted in over 50 years.

    • December 8, 2009 8:47 am

      Lee S, It’s funny to see people’s reaction to the butter, when all they see is the pale stuff in the store. But even the pale stuff tastes good to me – just different.

      No one here likes the sour cream butter but me, but I do let it ripen, so it is not quite sour, but is distinctive in taste.

  8. December 8, 2009 7:21 am

    She looks darn good for and older cow.

    • December 8, 2009 8:48 am

      Linda, she isn’t looking too bad – I wish she was 5 though! Just like a good dog, you finally get them where you want them and then bam they get old on you 😉

  9. December 8, 2009 7:39 am

    Della is so beautiful!!! Joy’s ears are an amazing yellow also. Josie won’t let me look. We’ve never had butter that yellow from our farmer’s cream. Amazing!!! I’m hoping we get Josie bred this weekend. This AI just isn’t a done deal. We only have two more tries in January before I quit until Summer.

    • December 8, 2009 8:49 am

      Diane, It may be that I make my butter when the grass is good, and freeze it. Now it would be much paler in color.

      Fingers crossed for the weekend – AI is a pain!

  10. December 8, 2009 10:07 am

    I enjoy your site so much, Colleen. I am learning so much from you. I try my best to live a self sustaining lifestyle too. But when you live at altitude, it is difficult. So, you have to support the growers that are in your area but lower down the slope of the mountain where you can actually grow some great crops.

    Thanks again for what you teach me.

    And, Happy Holidays!

    • December 9, 2009 7:13 am

      Donna, thank you – you have to do what you can, with what you have, and the rest will fall into place. Those farmers are glad for your business, I am sure.

      Happy Holidays to you too!

  11. December 8, 2009 10:09 am

    Homemade fresh butter is the best. I want to try making some butter myself but just haven’t got around to doing that.

  12. December 8, 2009 12:47 pm

    I love your Della. When we milked we had a couple of her type and one brown swiss and then the ever present holsteins.

    My favorite are brown swiss and then the Guernsey. I know all the big commercial diary’s go for the holsteins (lots of milk per day), but I love all the rich butter fat that comes with the brown swiss and the Guernsey.

    Lovly post, once again Dear.


  13. December 8, 2009 1:47 pm

    She’s in wonderful condition and I agree about them looking half starved, NOT being normal! My Jersey cow, Bessie, was 18yrs. old when we had to put her down, the end of Sept., due to a leg injury. I still miss her terribly and can totally relate to your relationship with your cow, I shared the very same with Bessie. Even before the vet arrived on that sad, sad day she looked at me with loving eyes, as if to say I’ve lived a happy life here, I love you and now I’m ready to go home to the ever green pastures. She’s buried right in the pasture she loved best.
    Yes, you’ll have to buy milk, or do without, but in the longrun it will be paid back to you, tenfold.

    We so enjoy your blog, it’s like visiting a dear friend! Blessings, for your day.

    • December 9, 2009 7:29 am

      Kelle, so sorry to hear about your Bessie – I wish they could stay young forever! It’s always so hard to lose a dear friend. 😦

      I imagine by now you’re feeling the full effect of this cold – it sure seems to be hanging on.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  14. Vicki permalink
    December 8, 2009 2:57 pm

    Thank you for sharing. I was wondering how the cow milk would hold up. I have found raw goatsmilk separates too much when unthawed. Pasteurizing it before freezing produces a smoother milk. But either way the taste isn’t as good as fresh.

    I hope my Jersey looks as good as Della when she reaches that age! 🙂

    • December 9, 2009 7:31 am

      Vicki, the cream does get a little funky when it thaws – and I have heard you can heat it a little in a microwave and it melts properly. Can’t say though, since I don’t have a microwave 😉

      Best wishes for your Jersey girl 🙂

  15. December 8, 2009 8:17 pm

    My Dad had Guernsey cows and they were all just delightful. His herd was rated 69 and the WI State’s herd was rated 71. He once sold a calf for $84.50 — don’t know what they go for now. He sold his milk to Golden Guernsey Dairy. He cried when he had to ship the cows when my mom got very ill. Every time I go past the pasture where they used to graze I still expect to see them. I could cry now for the plight of the small family dairy farmer!

    • December 9, 2009 7:34 am

      Joyce, your Dad’s herd sounds wonderful! I can’t imagine how sad he must have been to ship those cows. A lot of dairies are doing that now and it is sad – all that hard work and good breeding going to hamburger! Meanwhile they are shipping in milk powder from China because it is more “cost effective.” What could be more cost effective than a local dairy?

  16. Paula permalink
    December 9, 2009 9:14 am

    That’s a pretty cow. From what I gather, Chook is an Australian slang for chicken. I would love to have that conformed or denied, but from context on Australian blogs, I think that’s what that means.

    Have you ever had a Jersey? I hear they have the most butterfat in their milk. And I believe Holsteins reign supreme because they yield the highest. Just boils down to greed.

    • December 9, 2009 9:22 am

      Paula, chook does mean chicken – I was wondering what she was wowing?

      I had one Jersey – she was a goofball, acting up if someone was coming to look at her for a sale. She didn’t scare us off though, we bought her for an interim cow and our friend who found her was supposed to take her when our cow freshened. The guys wife took one look at her kicking up her heels and told the husband NO WAY is that cow coming to our farm. I am sure Buttercup was laughing the whole time. She was a great cow though…

      The Guernsey has almost as high of butterfat content of the Jersey, close enough for me. 🙂

  17. December 9, 2009 5:27 pm

    Huh, I recently read about the A1 vs A2 in a great book buy a naturpathic doctor who also milks cows. I think it was called Natural Milk (or some such). It was a great book on the case for ‘raw milk’, I’m sure you know it. Anyway, it is also nice to see Della looking fat (healthy) and happy unlike the local dairy cow who I’m now sure you would say is not being fed enough (something I instinctively felt but of course not ever having raised cows …). One day, I’ll have a cow of my own!



  18. December 9, 2009 5:28 pm

    Oh, and not quite related, have you read the book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society? It’s a nice read and I presume where your cow originates from!


  19. Reilly permalink
    December 9, 2009 6:46 pm

    *sigh* – she’s gorgeous. I want to bury my face in her neck and smell her. I miss being around cows.

  20. December 9, 2009 8:39 pm

    I find the weaning difference fascinating. I have a thorough breed Maine Coon Cat whose breeder refuses to consider selling her kittens until they are at least 12-16 weeks old. She insist that the mother cat have the time to naturally wean the kittens. The two full blooded cats I have from her lines vs all the many strays that I have adopted over my lifetime have shown huge differences in temperament AND in health. It makes me think about how many human babies have been bottle fed and/or weaned at too early of an age. Nature knows best.

  21. March 7, 2010 2:22 pm

    Wow! Look at that butter… if only raw milk was available everywhere… A boy can dream, right? Do you find that it behaves differently in cooking and baking applications? Heck, I’m not sure I could stand to use it to cook with. I’d probably save it to spread on toast and buy the grocery store butter to cook with.

    • March 8, 2010 6:36 am

      Chase, you could get butter that color from pasteurized milk too, as long as the cow is grazing grass. It behaves differently in that it adds more flavor to dishes. Other than that it seems the same.

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