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Making it a Little Easier

October 11, 2013

I mentioned yesterday in the pig post that it was much easier to make it easy for the animals to behave.  Here in photos and a few notes are just a couple of things that make my day go smoother, therefore making the day smoother for the animals I work with each day too.  Observation is the key, and learning the animals natural tendencies that are unique to their species and learning to work around them.

Jane's milk time meal

Jane’s milk time meal

Jane gets to eat while I milk, a farmstead situation is a little different than a large dairy where the cows have to file through and rotate out to make room for the next group to be milked.  As wonderful as all the cows I’ve had have been, they can get a little antsy once they finish their feed and then they start fidgeting, itching, stepping around etc.  I milk by hand so I am in close proximity to the moving cow.  I milk on the right side and act as a barrier to the cow moving my way, and there is a wall/gate on the other side of the cow.  For the most part, just me sitting there is enough pressure to keep the cow in place to keep her from moving sideways, but if she gets bored she may move backwards and forwards a bit.  I block her leg with my left arm to a point, but if she is determined to move I have to move with her and so does the bucket of milk.  That is never a problem when I start milking, because she is still interested in her food dish, and the milk bucket isn’t too full yet, but by the time she is done with her grain and chopped vegetables, I am nearing the two gallon mark and the bucket is heavy.  The bucket itself weighs about three pounds, and the milk weighs about eight and a half pounds per gallon.  So you can see I am in an awkward position, I’m on my stool, the bucket is between my knees and if she moves backwards her belly will wipe me backwards, so I have to keep the milk safe, worry about tipping off my antique milking stool and hold back my cussing.  In the dark days of winter I can offer hay beside the grain and that keeps her busy, but now when she is on grass she is not too interested in hay.


Enter my smooth rocks that I’ve had since I started milking a cow.  My brother gave these to me, and showed me the trick of using smooth river rocks that would slow the cow down while she was eating.  Large enough the cow can’t ingest them by mistake, and no sharp points,  You and I would regard these as irritating, but the cows just take things at face value.  She makes sure all the molasses and barley bits are gone before she lets out a big sigh and takes a breather, and by that time I am done milking.


The next tip is still about milking but involves another problem I have at milking time.


Namely, this crew of barn kittens.  They look so sweet and innocent, but they become pests at milking time.  We feed them milk brought from the house at the beginning of milking time, usually some extra skim milk, and that keeps them busy for a while.  If the dogs are there, they keep the cats at bay, but the cats are hunters by nature.  They watch everything and take it all in.  Which means that if I set that bucket down, they will migrate out of the woodwork as soon as I turn my back.  The dogs know to never come near that bucket and I think the cats do too, but they don’t care, they want that warm, creamy milk.  Even cats know skim milk is missing something 😉

So I hang the milk bucket out of kitty reach.

Foamy goodness - Thanks  Jane!

Foamy goodness – Thanks Jane!

Hangdog made the hook long enough to be within easy reach for me, and out of reach for the cats.  The pigtail design makes it simple for me to slip the heavy bucket on and off and this makes everyone happy and keeps the milk safe.

My last tip is something I do every day too, when I build a new paddock for the beef cows.  Electric fence is the best thing since sliced bread (well, maybe electric fence and my hoop houses) but it’s like the freeway, when it is working and designed right it’s great, but when it fails you basically have nothing.  Meaning a single wire is only a psychological barrier to the cows, not a physical one, so when the fence is down the cows go where they want.  There is always the bad kid in the class that tests the boundaries too, so they will find the weak point in your fencing scheme.  To that end, and to save me a trip with the water wagon, I always put my spool end at the water trough point.  I used to put the gate handle there sometimes, not really thinking but more reacting to where the fence materials happened to be lying.  But I discovered that with the small paddocks that makes high density, short duration grazing work, I was cramming my cows into much smaller paddocks and I did need to think about how I built my cross fences.  In a high traffic area near the water trough, one good switch of a tail could unhook that gate, depositing the gate either on the ground or in the water trough.  Neither option is a good one, but until you see it happen you don’t think about it.  Cows out make you think about your fencing, second only to having a difficult move every day. Trust me, you ponder it if you don’t like being frustrated at cow moving time.  Cows don’t like corners, but placing the water there for my convenience places them there if they want hydration, so again, I have to observe and really see what I am seeing.

This spool end placement on the back fence (or front fence) keeps the fence in place (the cows can’t knock the spool off) and also gives me flexibility with my water trough.  On cool or wet days the cows don’t really drink much water, and with the spool at the trough I can just reposition the posts and wire to get another day out of the water.  During very rainy weather I try to plan my fencing to get four days from one trough filling.  All it requires is me to think about it, be aware of the weather report and anticipate the cows water needs.  Then I don’t have to drive the water wagon, and I can walk to do my chores only needing a mineral bucket and my sledge hammer for a paddock shift.  I’m saving time, fuel, wear and tear on the vehicle, and it gives me more time to really inspect the pasture.

All these tiny habit changes are just little things but they really add up to quite a bit when I consider how frustrating each day could be without them.

29 Comments leave one →
  1. Kristin permalink
    October 11, 2013 9:39 am

    So the smooth stones keep the cow occupied? I’ve fed grain on top of hay to slow them down but not tried this.

    • October 11, 2013 11:08 am

      Kristin, it works pretty good, Jane is an inhaler, first the roots and apples go and then it is vacuum time. I’m not giving her much grain either so it’s gone in a pinch. She’s a two rock cow though and her mom was a three rock cow, so I guess that is a slight improvement. She nudges them out of the way, and then finishes by licking off the molasses. It’s also a lesson to me to speed up my milking too.

  2. October 11, 2013 10:28 am

    I LEARN SO MUCH FROM YOU! Your first picture was small, so I was wondering why you cut up most vegetables but not those funny-looking potatoes 😉

    • October 11, 2013 11:12 am

      Marilyn, thank you! It’s funny how much those “potatoes” make that tub weigh, they look much lighter.

  3. nikki permalink
    October 11, 2013 10:52 am

    Great tips! Here’s one for you, wouldn’t electric rope work better or that electric tape, it seems like the wire is just too much of a temptation for those cows to just walk right through it.

    • October 11, 2013 11:16 am

      nikki, they are never tempted at all unless the fence is weak, or someone knocks it down. Been there, done that with the tape and rope crap. Maybe for a more permanent setup, but once you start rolling it up each and every day and breaking those little filaments, or worse yet tying knots in it, pretty soon you don’t have much juice going through there. To each his own though, we do use some our old very expensive Intellirope for the horse though, because like humans he needs to be able to see it, the cows can sense the charge in the wire, or lack thereof, they know exactly where that wire is.

      • Kristin permalink
        October 13, 2013 6:51 am

        Nita, you bring up an interesting point. Cows can sense the electric. I’m in the process of integrating our farm with my best friend’s. They have a blind milk cow and Anna thinks she will not be able to follow the other cows in rotational grazing. What would you do? Yes, cull, but that isn’t an option at this point. You know how people get attached to their milk cows.

        I suspect the cow would be able to be managed in electric.

        • October 13, 2013 7:08 am

          Kristin, I think she would be fine as long as they get the pecking order established first before starting to rotate. If she makes a friend, they will help her through. I am always amazed at how the cows talk to the rental bull the day he gets here…”first she’ll build some fence, and then she’ll open the gate, and we all will go through and start eating…”

          I get the milk cow thing, culling them unless they’re bent on killing me is out of the question, I just deal with whatever cards I’m dealt. I’ve only sold one that wasn’t supposed to be mine anyway (keeping her for a friend), and I butchered one mean young one who lost her calf. Otherwise, they stay here until…

  4. Emily Summer permalink
    October 11, 2013 12:21 pm

    Oh, this brought back memories. Years ago we used rocks like these when we fed greedy horses their grain so they would not bolt their food. Saved them from many a case of colic, I think.

    • October 11, 2013 3:26 pm

      Emily, I agree, our draft horse tie stalls still have their rocks in the grain box part of the manger. Those rocks are like gold 🙂

  5. October 11, 2013 12:36 pm

    That rock tip was worth the price of admission. We’ll be putting that to work.

    • October 11, 2013 3:27 pm

      Or can be used for grit for giant midwest broilers.

      • October 11, 2013 7:32 pm

        I’ll stick to creek sand. lol

        • October 12, 2013 4:48 am

          And since the price of admission is free, then the rock tip is really worth nothing, unless you’re milking a cow 🙂

        • October 12, 2013 5:37 am

          Oh, no. It is very expensive to scour the internets for the useful bits.

        • October 12, 2013 5:40 am

          Yeah, so much is disgusting, read Northview’s post today – a good link in there about the those “terrible” ranchers who “let” their cows die in the blizzard.

  6. October 11, 2013 12:57 pm

    Same situation here, with goats and hens. I work out ways to make my routine easier by using the goats natural tendencies as much as possible. It’s never static, though. What worked fine for a few months or years suddenly doesn’t work anymore – either because of age (theirs or mine, heh) or because of the season or maybe just some mysterious shift in herd dynamics. Sometimes it’s easy to come up with a modification, but other times…well, let’s just say I’m trying to get a bigger barn built at the moment. And after finally deciding in August to bite the bullet and shell out the bucks to do it, can I find a builder? Not til mid-December! So every day I’m spending an extra 15 minutes AM and PM, separating out and moving two particular goats on lead ropes. And it will be a miracle if we have building weather in mid-December here in MA, but I’m trying not to think about it much.

  7. October 11, 2013 3:42 pm

    Absolutely brilliant and THANK YOU for your ongoing teaching. I also learn a GREAT deal from you with each and every post 🙂

  8. October 11, 2013 5:08 pm

    I have a neighbour who also uses rocks when she milks – I must try it. I throw in hay so that the cow has to manoeuvre it around to get her greens and grain, but she usually ends up just tossing it out to get to the good stuff especially with all the spring grass we have going right now. Our cats loves coming in at milking time, one in particular loves the cow, winding around her legs and under her belly……I’m sure he’ll get a boot one day but our girl doesn’t seem to mind. I’ve even had cats sitting on top of the head bale whist I’m milking and she doesn’t bat an eyelid.

  9. October 12, 2013 5:45 am

    I love the idea of the smooth stones, i shall definitely be doing this with Daisy when we resume the milking again. An excellent idea.. thank you..c

  10. Chris permalink
    October 12, 2013 2:40 pm

    Wow, smooth stones to slow them down…who knew?…well, obviously you did! I hope you’re writing all this amazing farm wisdom down somewhere…you know, in case our computers all blow up one day! 🙂

  11. October 14, 2013 6:53 am

    On your comment regarding not culling milk cows unless they have aggressive tendencies, I have a question or two. We have a Jersey (with calf) and a Guernsey. Our Jersey is presently being milked (well she was up until two weeks ago). We have been working with a livestock homeopath to treat our Jersey’s health issues which include swollen lymph nodes that flare and recede and snotty noses. Her health seems to improve and then things come back again. Two weeks ago we finally had the vet do some more targeted blood work on her. She came back positive for Bovine Leukemia Virus (BLV).

    Since then, we have done a ton of research (my husband is a medical doctor so he’s been a great help in deciphering studies). It’s alarming that NZ, Australia and most countries in Europe have all eradicated Leukosis by heavily culling out their herds and testing. In N. America we consider such a direction as “economically unfeasible”. There’s a reason other countries have been aggressive with the culling of these animals. The virus is also enzootic, meaning it can cross species.

    We are normally pretty relaxed about such things. I grew up on a farm drinking raw milk and have continued to do so my entire life (and happily raised our three girls on it). This, however, concerns me. Dairy, and to a lesser extent beef, animals can have this virus with no outward sign. In fact, I was on a dairy last week where the manager told me that if they tested all of their Jerseys, they would have anywhere from a 15-40% positive BLV rate. This has me questioning what is going on with our dairy system in N. America (never mind, I know what’s going on, but this burying our heads in the sand and not addressing the situation because of cost is just mind boggling).

    We are testing all of our dairy animals. I do not believe in “culling” a sick animal by selling it to someone else and making it their problem. However, if testing all animals shows they all have BLV (and may subsequently all develop Leukosis), we are in a bind. I can not keep animals here that we can not milk or that we can’t breed (passed from dam to calf as well as through biting flies). I won’t bring other dairy animals here until our dairy is free of BLV. I don’t even know where to find BLV free animals anymore.

    I know this isn’t the topic of your post, but I really respect your experience and opinion and I’m taking advantage of your mentioning of Jane to lay this on you 😉

    • October 14, 2013 8:10 am

      Yeah, you laid it on me alright, stuff like this always gets political, like vaccinations and homeschooling 😦

      Okay let me clear up my stance about culling. Sick cow, we kill it and bury it or let the wildlife clean it up…that’s why someone invented backhoes and made sure Mother Nature came with a cleanup crew of carrion eaters, we DO NOT SELL it to some unsuspecting person at the sale barn or one of our meat customers. So a bitch cow with a death wish yeah, you’re going down. Rule Number One (and this is not a guideline) you don’t horn the hand that makes your hay.) My poor sick old Della, we put her out of her misery and gave her a proper burial. Wow, Bam, Done. And for all the frugalistas and their back-to-the-land, road-kill eating husbands, cows like that don’t owe me a dime, calves, milk, butter, manure for years! I owe them. It would be like eating my dogs, ain’t gonna happen. Despite being raised on a farm and farming my whole life, I cannot bring myself to eat one of my milk cows or send them to the sale barn. If I had a dairy things would be different, the sale barn exists for a reason. I would not hesitate to use it for one of my beef cows. I think for me, it’s a numbers game. One milk cow is easy to get attached to, lots of beef cows that I really like but don’t interact with as closely, not so much.

      Okay so the testing thing. Hopefully you did a PCR test so you know if it is real or just antibodies present. That being said, I’m not personally worried about it. Everything I read is so contradictory, humans get it, humans can’t get it. I read where vets say even if the cow tests positive she can be used for meat or milk, then the next thing you read says no, they have to be killed and disposed of, and are not safe for human consumption.

      So I think the best thing is to do what you want to do, and what you can live with. Yeah, a cow with swollen lymph nodes is a worry, I’ve read about that but never experienced with any of our cows. We all have to work with our set of fears whether they are just fears in our heads, or something that is real. I do know on some of these things the more you research the more you get paralyzed and then can’t really make an informed decision. Do the pro and con list and see what column wins out. If testing and then culling is the way for you to achieve peace of mind then you should test and make some hard decisions. I agree, economically it’s hard to keep a cow that isn’t milking or you’re afraid to drink her milk, or eat her meat. What are the laws? Do the authorities in your area not let you sell a positive BLV cow for slaughter? Do you have to just kill her and dispose of her?

      I know this isn’t much of answer for you, he he, gotta be careful, you just might invite a rant by commenting here, but again, do what you feel the most comfortable with. Many cows carry this because they have been exposed, just like you are probably carrying some childhood disease yourself, if they get past a certain age without it showing up, then you’ve made it. There is no cure for the cow, except death by you or the disease. Tough one.

      • October 15, 2013 5:16 am

        Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. I like you and I think your knowledge and experience is such a treasure out on this big, wooly world of the internet. I wrote to you because your thought processes are similar to ours and asking one of the old timers around here gets me a shrug and a “she looks fine” type of responses.

        I understand the politics around this. Sigh.. so many politics. We homeschool. We don’t vaccinate (and my husband is an educated doctor, we’re not some dumb dumbs rocking on our porch all day – horrors!). I don’t want to pull anyone into a conversation about our food systems over the internet so I’ll zip that part of my brain here.

        We slaughter all of our own animals. The healthy ones go for meat, both to us and our dogs, with the gut piles going to the coyotes. We did have a bull we brought in last year that ended up lame because of severe, advanced foot issues that his owner never clued into. We shot him and had the deadstock people pick him up. They then would use that meat as pet food.

        We, of course, would not eat the meat of our dairy cows either. You’re right, the dairy cows are like pets, intimate members of the family. They nourish us and are with us daily. We feel care and we like our beef cows, but they are separate, distinct in their role on the farm. It’s not the same.

        We’re going to have the vet back this week to do the PCR test on all three of the dairy animals and we’ll go from there. Depending on the results, we will make decisions from there.

        Do you outline the progression of Della’s sickness? I found some posts, but not really able to pull out what happened and your decision making process.

        You da bomb, almighty Matron! Thank you for your time and sound words.

        • October 16, 2013 7:40 am

          Tara, whoa I really got off on a tangent didn’t I? I didn’t really outline Della’s downfall because I didn’t really see it coming. My old rock of a cow, she’s my avatar picture, such a sweet calf and devil all rolled into one. When it was time for her first calf, I thought to myself, gee, I better go fetch that heifer and see how’s she doing and get her trained for the stanchion. I had sent her to boot camp (with the beef herd) because she had horn issues with other calves. So the big fish in the small pond became the small fish in the big pond the first day. After that I never saw her use her horns on anyone out of turn. So the crash course in my training her to milk began two days after I went and got her. Dream girl, I put her halter on her and lead her the mile home and she had her first calf within two days, Softie, and then provided us with 9 more as time went on. Deverell, Dale, Delta, Dean, Jetta, Keith, twin bulls RIP, and Jane, plus a couple of orphans that weren’t hers. At age six she had a mild case of milk fever, and that wake up call caused me to change my minerals, then it was smooth sailing until the twins were born dead( the vet had to reposition them and pull them) and then the day Jane was born (pulled by the vet again) Della was down before the birth. Hindsight is clear now, the vet assumed milk fever, because Della was 12, etc, etc. He treated her for that, didn’t help, most likely made her imbalance worse, she was basically an alert downer, so I think she was totally out of whack, and I will take the blame for that because I had felt sorry for her and bought some expensive candy hay for winter. Read heavily fertilized with who knows what? Potassium chloride perhaps? I didn’t change the minerals I offered so the blame lies on me. Now I know to have the blood tested to see is it really a milk fever case? The vets around here are not to into cows, my regular vet was out of town, and he’s a little more reasonable. I should have been more informed and not bulldogged by this younger guy that was just sure she either was down from mastitis, or milk fever despite the fact she wasn’t really presenting signs of either. I know better now – at the time I was so upset seeing my cow down, that’s hard to take. I’m also old school enough to know that the prognosis for old animals, putting them in slings and spending copious amounts of money on just doesn’t happen here. I know a lot folks sent me stories about how they knew of cows down for months that eventually got up etc, but that’s not for me. She was suffering and I made the decision that if she didn’t improve in a week, that was it. She didn’t, and it’s not good for cows to be down, no matter how much Disney you have seen, it’s not right. So that’s what I did, and I have to live with the choices I made at the time. Not easy, but necessary. I still don’t really know for sure.

  12. October 16, 2013 6:32 am

    ” I am always amazed at how the cows talk to the rental bull the day he gets here…”first she’ll build some fence, and then she’ll open the gate, and we all will go through and start eating…” ”

    Had to say I liked this bit from the comments, and of course, the tips in the post.

    You’re still my idol.

  13. Joy permalink
    October 24, 2013 5:03 am

    OMG I’ve NEVER HEARD of the stone trick!!! Thank you SO much for posting that. That will keep Jessica occupied while I finish up!!!! Thank you!!! 😀

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