Archive for August, 2007

Finally: Fresh, Raw, Whole Milk from Our Cows

Sunday, August 12th, 2007

Becky and I are drinking raw milk from our own cows!

Now the fine print:

I don’t know how much milk a first time cow milker should expect to get. My guess is that it probably depends on the cow. Well, the first cow I ever tried to milk was Esmerelda.

She was a little bit stroppy with me, so I only managed to get a few hundred mills of milk out of her before I decided to let her out of the bale.

I carried my sad, little haul of fresh milk back to the house. I chuckled a bit, thinking about all of the effort that went into getting those few sips worth of milk.

The first few ounces of Farmlet milk

“Well,” I told Becky, “It’s not much, but it’s a lot more than we had yesterday,” which was none.

I still felt glad to have it. I used almost all of it with my coffee the next morning, and it was delicious. A small victory.

When Linda and Donald, Becky’s aunt and uncle, came over, we told them how we just got a few squirts out of Esmerelda so far. Linda chuckled and asked, “Do you want a bucket of milk?”

With that, we headed down to the shed and put Esmerelda in the bale (meaning, we coaxed her into the bale with a bucket containing kiwi fruit skins, grapefruit skins with a dribble of molasses on top). Linda went to work and began milking aggressively. The milk came gushing out. Linda was pulling with both hands and the stainless steel bucket rang out as the streams of milk went in. Donald had a go. More milk came out.

Esmerelda didn’t seem to mind. Was it because she knew she was being handled by experts!? Was she just extra distracted by her treat bucket? I didn’t know, but, man, the milk was shooting out of her.

Key Point: The cow actually wants to be milked. It gives the cow a good feeling to release the milk.

My problem was that Esmerelda got sick of me messing around with my too slow and gentle milking manner. Esmerelda wants to be MILKED!

So, how much milk did we get with Auntie Linda and Uncle Donald on the job?

There are five, one litre glass jars of Esmerelda’s milk in the fridge right now!

Some of it is in the tea that I’m drinking as I write this post. Yummm.

Update from the Cow Paddock

Saturday, August 11th, 2007

First of all, we just want to say that Coco is doing ok. So is the little foster calf, who is going by the name of Henrietta Hamburger these days.

Still, a number of things have not gone as we expected over the last couple of days. This is probably very unsurprising, given that we are inexperienced cow-herds in a bit of a pear-shaped situation! Even when the calving, milking etc. is going smoothly, we are facing new challenges and learning a lot all the time. When things get weird, the learning curve sometimes seems impossibly steep. We are very lucky that we have some kind and knowledgeable relatives to help us out when things get rough. What would we do without them!

So, what happened after the foster calf had her first feed of Coco’s colostrum? Well, we returned to the paddock the next morning, expecting that the foster calf would be keen and hungry, but nothing we could do would entice the calf to come and suck from Coco! I milked a bit of colostrum out of Coco, and tried to tempt the calf with it. No luck. I waddled through the mud after the calf. No chance of catching her! Miss H. Hamburger had other plans. Before long, the reason for the calf’s lack of interest in Coco became clear. Kevin soon caught sight of her wagging her tail in satisfaction as she sneaked a feed off Rosie.

Henrietta Hamburger

The good news: Henrietta Hamburger was an aggressive feeder with lots of initiative. One way or another, she was going to thrive! More good news about Rosie, who seems cut out to be a very sweet nurse cow for any extra calves we might want to adopt. But, sadly, none of this was quite the good news we wanted. There was Coco, still without a calf. We wondered: “Perhaps we should just give in, dry her off, and let Rosie raise the two calves”. But, would this be ok for Coco with her big udder full of milk?

I called my aunt and uncle to ask for advice. These people know all about cows! The very next day, their ute (pickup truck) rolled up our driveway. Uncle Donald’s advice: If we wanted Coco to be a “good milker” now and in the future, we needed to persevere with getting her to accept the calf. Otherwise, her lactations will tend to be shorter and she’ll produce less milk. Here’s what happened when my Aunt and Uncle were here:

1)We moved the other cows and calves into a different paddock, so that Henrietta Hamburger and Coco could be left alone to work on their relationship!

2)Donald and Linda helped us catch Miss H. Hamburger and put her on a rope in the cowshed. Now she would be handy for feeding each time we brought Coco in.

3)Linda and Donald helped us milk Coco out a bit, to relieve the pressure on her udder. Alas, there was already a bit of mastitis in one of her teats.

So, how are things going? Well, so far the calf is getting a feed off Coco morning and evening when we call Coco into the shed for a treat. Coco’s still not impressed with the calf, and tries to kick it away, but we hope this will improve before too long. For now, the feeding sessions still need our close supervision. Between Kevin and I, and the calf, Coco’s udder is getting worked on twice a day, with particular attention to the quarter that was infected. The last time Kevin squeezed the problem teat, the colostrum ran clear, so we are hoping that Coco has shaken off the infection already. We are giving Coco extra kelp, dolomite, and apple cider vinegar to help her make a good recovery.

Please stay tuned for more updates about Coco and Henrietta Hamburger!

Dead Calf

Friday, August 10th, 2007

Anyone who deals with cows, we’ve been told, is eventually going to run into calving problems. Sooner or later.

For us, it was sooner.

Coco tried to have her calf yesterday, but it went very wrong.

Our neighbors let us know that Coco seemed to be starting to have her calf. Becky went out but didn’t see any hooves coming out. We left Coco alone. We went back out later and saw two hooves and a bit of a tongue coming out, as one would expect. However, Coco wasn’t making any progress.

The calf wasn’t coming out.

The calf definitely wasn’t coming out.

We knew we had a big problem on our hands.

Our neighbor, Dennis, tried to tug on the hooves. The calf wouldn’t budge. He reached inside Coco a bit to try to get a grip on the calf. Coco didn’t mind. She seemed to know we were trying to help her.

“Big calf. Very big,” said Dennis.

Then he got a rope. I knew what was coming next. I tied a knot around the calf’s legs.

Dennis moved the tongue out of the way. The tongue was slack. It didn’t move. I knew the calf was dead but I didn’t say anything. I mean, what the *!&^ do I know about this? Something between nothing and not enough. Maybe the calf wasn’t dead…

And then we started pulling. Oh shit, did we pull. Coco started to walk away, with two massive hooves sticking out of her fanny, a rope and two men being dragged behind. I dug my gumboots into the slop and so did Dennis, but still, the calf would not come out.

“What should we do?” I asked him.

“Tree,” he said.

Somehow, don’t ask me how, we managed to tie the rope to a tree in the hope that Coco would use only enough force as necessary to dislodge the calf. We knew we could easily wind up losing both the calf and Coco at this point.

She pulled and pulled, but eventually toppled onto her back, against some saplings.

She started pushing and Dennis and I were pulling. The calf was finally coming out. And coming. And coming. It just kept coming.

He was shockingly large.

He was much larger than either of the other two calves when they came out of Esmerelda and Rosie.

Before he was out, I could see he was dead. He was not moving at all.

We kept pulling, and he was finally out. We had a dead bull calf in front of us in the muddy grass.

Dennis immediately tried to massage the calf. So did I. Nothing. No spark at all. I kept trying to massage the calf’s heart area. Nothing. I tapped on his nose. Nothing. Clapped. Snapped. Yelled at it. More massage. Nothing. He was gone.

Becky was remarkably calm. Much calmer than me. I was kneeling down in the slop, covered in shit and slime, sand flies biting me, just looking dumbly at the dead calf.

“Well,” Becky said, “I’ll go see if I can find a calf to try to mother on to Coco.” She took off back to the house to call her aunt and uncle.

Dennis coaxed Coco into righting herself.

Dennis said, “Let’s bring the calf over to her, she’ll want to lick it.”

We did. Poor Coco licked her dead calf.

Coco wasn’t bleeding. As badly as this went, it could have been much worse.

Becky came back a few minutes later and said that her aunt and uncle would put a calf in a sack for us and that we could just carry it back here in the ute. (Ute means pickup truck, for those of you who aren’t from New Zealand.)

I washed the slime off my hands and Becky and I immediately drove over to her cousin’s farm. Linda, Becky’s aunt, waved us right over to a shed that was full of calves. Donald, Becky’s uncle, was in the pen with the calves, trying to pick out a good one for us.

He selected a week-old Friesian Hereford cross heifer calf that was an aggressive feeder. He picked her up and Linda and I held an old feed sack open. Seconds later, Donald had a string tied around the calf’s neck and through a hole we cut in the sack. We loaded the sack full of heifer calf onto the floor of the ute and Becky and I zoomed back to the Farmlet.

(Becky noted that we have had goats and now a calf on the floor of this ute. What other creatures will be carried in it???)

We got this new little calf back down to where Coco’s dead calf was lying. I tied her to a tree.

Cows have an instinct that causes them to want to kick other calves—that aren’t theirs—away if they try to get milk. We had to try to trick Coco into thinking that this new calf was hers.

I had learned a lot that day, but I was about to learn even more: We had to try to get the smell of Coco’s dead calf onto this new calf.

“Grab the back,” said Dennis, gesturing toward the dead calf.

He grabbed the front legs and, together, we slathered the new calf with slime from the dead calf. We rubbed it in well. Then we gathered more slime in our hands from the dead calf and rubbed that in.

The heifer calf seemed a bit perplexed, but she didn’t seem to mind these macabre antics too much.

I released the calf and she walked over to Coco and started looking at her udder.

“Please work,” I mumbled.

Coco looked at the calf, and sniffed at her. She wasn’t fooled. She wasn’t fooled, even for a second. The calf tried to go for a feed on the big, inviting teats. Coco kicked the calf away.

It’s tough to explain the sinking feeling I had at that point. Things really hadn’t gone well, and we’d been running around like lunatics. The sun was going down, and that calf just had to suck and Coco had to let her suck.

Coco kicked the calf away again.

We decided to put Coco in the milking bale. (Oh yeah, Bruce and I built a milking bale in Dennis’ shed.) We enticed Coco in there with a bucket of cow treats (black strap molasses and some feed pellets). I captured the calf and walked her over to Coco’s udder. Coco was devouring her treats. I pushed the calf’s head near Coco’s udder and it didn’t take long. The calf hooked on and started sucking. Coco tried to kick but was more interested in eating her treats in the bucket. The calf kept feeding.

It was nearly dark. I gave a cow shit covered thumbs up to Becky and Dennis.

Then I dragged the dead calf back into the pasture, dug a shallow hole and put him in. I looked at him for a few seconds. He just seemed to be sleeping. Calm and peaceful. As I started shoveling dirt onto him, heavy rain began to fall.

I was glad to finally see the end of that day.

– – – – –

This is just the beginning of the saga and it’s still unfolding. We’ve been too busy to write the rest down. Stay tuned…

** Just a couple of points to add/clarify in response to some questions/comments from a reader (thanks Ronnie):

1) Obviously it is usually best to leave a cow to deliver a calf on her own. Most of the time, human intervention is unnecessary and even harmful. Coco had been in labour for a very long time with no progress when Kevin and Dennis intervened. It had become obvious that she would be unable to deliver the calf on her own.
2) When helping to pull the calf out, it is important to wait until the cow is having a contraction. That way, you are working with the forces of the cow’s body and minimising the chances of harm. Coco was having strong contractions when Kevin and Dennis were pulling on the rope.

August Garden

Monday, August 6th, 2007

At the moment, it seems that we don’t really walk around the Farmlet. Rather, we wade and slither. Everything is sodden, and we and our animals are all feeling ready for some spring weather to dry things out just a little. Even though the farm is soggy and the garden scruffy, August finds us full of plans and hopes for the growing season ahead. We have drawn up plans for the spring and summer garden, and the new packets of seeds we ordered have already arrived.


Today, I started organising the area under the front porch that I use for starting seeds. I had the help of my parents’ elderly dog, who is lodging with us while they are on vacation. The “to do” list is long at the moment. A couple of overgrown areas of the house paddock need to be cleared and covered with black polythene sheeting without delay, if we are to extend the vegetable garden for the coming season. Garden beds need to be cleared, and compost made with whatever we clear out. Then the beds need to be prepared for planting. It is certainly encouraging to see how good the drainage is in our vegetable beds compared to the rest of the house paddock. We are glad for all the work we have done over the past year to improve the soil structure. . . but more time and hard work will be necessary to build the soil up to the levels of our expectations.

It is exciting to have some new kinds of seeds to try, as well as favourites from last year. One such favourite is the New Zealand heirloom “Tree Lettuce.” It proved very bolt resistant last summer, and was also remarkably pest free. We have a new lettuce to try, as well: another heirloom called “Asian Red.” It’s also meant to be a good summer lettuce — resistant to bolting and pests. I’ve planted the first lettuces already, in little pots by the window, so we’ll see how they go.

Some of the vegetable varieties that we liked and are growing again this year include:
Green Feast Peas (a shelling pea, prolific, sweet, and every bit as tasty as the name suggests)
Red Orach (a beautiful and delicious salad green)
Tampala Amaranth (also very ornamental, and a welcome addition to salads and stir-fry dishes)
Bull’s Blood Beet (beautiful, burgundy-coloured foliage on top of sweet beetroots)

Some new varieties that we are trying this year include:
Purple-Flowered Snow Peas
Marrowfat Peas
Corn Salad, Dutch Large Seeded

I guess we will be writing more about the different veges in the garden as the season progresses.

Harvest-wise, our garden is not very abundant at the moment, so we are pleased still to be eating last season’s potatoes, and tomatoes in the form of bottled tomato puree. We are also picking all the greens we can eat (garden cress, collards, squire kale, mustard lettuce, swiss chard, and some broccoli), as well as green onions, leeks, turnips, beets, cilantro and pot celery. We certainly can’t complain, with this selection of vegetables on our table! We are also enjoying the fruit of the meyer lemon tree that grows in the house paddock between the vegetable beds, as well as the scent of its blossoms.

And the garden already promises more treats to come: The broad beans are flowering, little rosettes of corn salad are emerging, “red drumhead” cabbages are starting to form heads, and the garlic (planted about a month ago now) is really taking off!

Rainy Day Projects

Thursday, August 2nd, 2007

It is one of the pleasures of winter to have time to work on some craft and sewing projects during the rainy days and long evenings. Recently, I finished making a pair of sheepskin slippers for my mother. These were from an old kit-set that we unearthed when my parents were moving house. The kit-set supplied precut pieces of sheepskin, skeins of wool yarn, and a set of instructions about how to crochet the sheepskin pieces together to make a pair of slippers. Great fun! All this came from a local company called “Baa Baa Enterprises.” I remember that these slippers were pretty popular around here in the 80s, but don’t know whether Baa Baa Enterprises and their ingenious kit-sets are still with us 25 years on.

Wool slippers

Considering that we’ll be having a baby in November, I’ve now moved on to some more baby-oriented projects. I’m sewing lots and lots of muslin baby wipes and cloths, so that we can avoid using disposable wipes for cleaning the baby. Other projects include a couple of simple cotton flannel baby blankets, and a couple of different types/ sizes of slings/ baby holders that should give both Kevin and I some options for carrying the baby comfortably close to us. I also need to work on re-covering the cushions on the second hand rocking chair that we picked up.