Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Mastitis and the Learning Curve

Over the weekend Ruby developed milk mastitis because of a few things:  1.  I didn't finish milking her out Saturday morning because I forgot the hobbles and she "told me" she was done being milked by kicking the pail over and in general being difficult to milk.  Without hobbles to stop the kicking there really wasn't much I could do (were I an excellent knot-tier I could have just made hobbles quickly, but I'm not, a one year old could slip out of my best knots lol) and 2.  Right as her milk was really coming in we started giving her a high protein grain while she was being milked.  The grain amped her production up and she was already putting out a lot of milk for a heifer, so between the two she got fouled up a bit and had a bit of mastitis for a couple days.  I milked all of her teats out thoroughly and it gradually cleared the quarter with the problem, and now tonight her milk is clear again.  I am SO relieved that it didn't progress and require antibiotics, we're trying to manage her in a "holistic" manner and part of that is avoiding medication where we can.  Pretty thrilled that it cleared with careful milking.
We did make Queso Blanco though while attempting to make Ricotta, and it is delicious even though it isn't what we started out with in mind.  It's a mild crumbly cheese that takes no time at all to make.  We've had it on tacos, eggs, and in soup these last few days and have really enjoyed knowing that it cost a fraction of store-bought and is so superior in taste.  Just satisfying on all sorts of levels :)
We have been watching what kinds of farm land are available out there, and have realized that even though we would prefer to be farther out and not able to see neighbors - for the high quality forages we'll need to grow we're going to have to be somewhere in the bottom land.  Sub-irrigated would be ideal.  It's going to be a long time putting feelers out before we find just the right spot, but once we do we'll be able to finish steers or have producing dairy cows on it without having to supplement with any kind of feed or grain - just let them eat grass like they're meant to.  Plus, whatever improvements we need to do (pasture seed, water system, fencing etc), the NRCS will cost-share with us because we will be working towards organic and sustainable production.  How cool!  Just learned that today.  There are other government divisions that will cost share too for beginning farmers and ranchers (less than 10 years farming), so maybe we'll be much better off starting up than we know.

Oh, and reason #2 to wear mud boots while milking:  when your cow kicks the bucket you don't get milk on your socks and in your shoes!  Luckily I was wearing mud boots when I had this realization (and milk splash half-way up them).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Opal's Growing Up

Miss Opal is filling out and getting sassier by the day.  We'll have to start halter-breaking her soon so that she's easy to handle and has some respect for people.  She gives us space now, and isn't too sure that we're much fun at the moment.  Who can blame her though, we "steal" her milk (she gets so irritated if I show up when she's just woken up and wants to nurse).

We've got a rhythm!

The sunrise when I got to the barn this morning

Ruby and I have settled into a pattern - and it is SO much easier to milk now.  She is relaxed enough to be calm about everything even if its a bit new.  The only thing that I'm working on with her now is to stop pooping/peeing while I milk!  Right after she finishes her grain, every time we milk, she poops.  I have to re-wash her bag and then start milking again.  Kind of annoying, but as long as she isn't trying to kick me I figure I can deal.  Sometimes she won't pee if I say "no" firmly and tap on her leg, but it's not 100% effective by any means.  She has been giving over a gallon of milk a day, and I'm having trouble keeping up with all of it.  There's straining and skimming and bottling that has to be done twice daily (not a big deal if I didn't have the kids distracting me), then making butter and whatever else I can without cheesemaking supplies (they're in the mail, definitely should have ordered earlier).  Our neighbors would like to have some though, so hopefully we'll be able to give them some on a regular basis so that we don't have quite so much.
Headed into the barn for milking

I stopped in to the the NRCS office this morning to introduce myself (and by default, the kids) to the Range Management Specialist that I have been emailing and talking to on the phone.  Justin Morris.  He is such a help!  Just a wealth of information and really wants to see a intensively managed pasture system started in this area, apparently no one here does it and he'd like to be able to show them that with the right pasture mix its possible.  Sure is nice to have him behind us and so forthcoming with related information.  We're hoping to start in the spring, even if its very small, and grow from there.  We've been so distracted by all thats gone on in the last month that its sure nice to start working on our goals again.  We're putting ourselves on a tight budget this year so that we can save more.  Provided we don't have to make any more urgent trips to California, maintaining a savings shouldn't be too bad.  It'd sure be nice to not have to borrow the majority of our start-up costs.  We'd much rather just borrow a little bit.  
All this quiet milking time sure gives me a chance to line out plans and ideas; had I known that this is what it took to have time to think while the kids are around, I would have gotten a milk cow a couple years ago lol.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Our First Butter

Tonight I made butter with raw milk for the first time, and it is heavenly.  Mind-blowing-ly delicious compared to "normal" butter.  We have a churn that was my husbands grandmothers but it smells of sour milk and I haven't had time to clean it like I want to, so we just used the Kitchenaide mixer.  Once the butter had formed, I expected to see a murky clear liquid left, but did not.  Come to find out, fresh cream that has not been allowed to age a bit leaves a different (more tasty in my opinion) product behind.  I absolutely do not mind!  Whatever it is, its a sweet, light, creamy thing that surely is much lower fat than the milk is.  We will use it for pancakes in the morning, and I'm sure that they will be amazing with our homemade butter.
One pint of cream yielded a quarter pound of butter.  The cream was so thick that it stuck to the spoon and had to be vigorously swished to even start to come off.
This whole having-our-own-milk-cow thing is just incredible so far.  Tiring, but in a wonderful way.  I can hardly wait for the day that I can walk out the back door and milk instead of driving 5 miles each way (not that this is a distance really, but it is just a few more steps in the process).
We are getting a gallon of milk a day, and are overflowing!  I've ordered the ingredients to make mozzarella and ricotta and will be thrilled when they're here not just because I LOVE these cheeses, but because I'm on the verge of tossing milk!  We'll be making cottage cheese and yogurt too so hopefully that will help.  I now understand how with a cow you can supply so many foods for your family.
May I say that I'm thrilled we didn't go with a breed that gave more milk, I would not know what to do with it all!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Smoother Milking

Tonight went so much better during milking!  I milked while she ate grain and wasn't tied, then once she was done put her in a stanchion with her calf in front of her - she let us have much more milk and it's almost cleared of the initial blood so we'll get to use it soon.  I cannot wait to make butter & mozzarella, guess I better get the citric acid and rennet ordered.
Savanna is starting to help with the cow chores more, she wants to carry the grain bucket and throw hay in the feed bunk now.  It is wonderful seeing her enjoy things that Richard and I both do.  I hope it's always special to her.


Early Milking (tail tied to the ceiling or she'll beat me with it haha)

I love going out to milk at sunrise and sunset!  It is so peaceful (well, once we get the fussy girl lined out and get to milk of course).  When we're in the barn we can hear the birds starting their day or roosting for the night, and when the snow is melting from the roof you can hear it dropping in sheets onto the ground steadily.  Opal usually sleeps in the corner of the stall, curled up almost like a cat.  Savanna loves to get to go, but isn't up in the morning so Cole gets to spend some solo time with us (my husband is going with me until Ruby is well-broke to milking).  This morning while I was feeding the other cows at the barn, I propped him up against the round bale to watch while I fed, and you could just see the excitement on his little face.  He was "talking" to the cows and got so excited that he fell over in the hay (it's hard to move normally when Dad super-bundles you).
This morning we put her in a stanchion and hobbled her, and she was much better with the hobbles this time!  Now we just have to get into a routine so that she'll let down more.  I'm working on getting her bag to soften, but it's difficult when she's just starting to get used to being milked.  This is only day three though so really I think we're doing just fine, she'll settle in soon.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A month of sickness, new calf, and a milk cow!

My goodness - what a wild month!  I apologize for the absence, the last couple weeks have meant nasty virus for the whole family and three days in the hospital for our daughter.  Scary stuff.  But I am back now with wonderful news of all sorts!  Our heifer (now a cow I guess) calved early Monday morning!  She had a beautiful little heifer calf that is such a friendly, spunky girl.  The kids love her: while I've been working with her (milking mostly) Cole sits in the stroller to watch and Savanna looks on from a safe distance.  The calf, Opal (we're going with gemstone names for them, my sister-in-laws idea) regularly checks in with both Cole and Savanna, making both of them laugh and squeal with delight.  So fun to watch.

Opal - Born April 12, 2010
Ruby got her first real milking last night - in hobbles.  She gave a full quart from two quarters (two teats/half the udder).  This morning she stood like a nice girl and gave almost a half gallon!  I can't wait for her milk to come in so that we can start drinking it.  We're saving the colostrum for a friend with cattle though, just in case they have a orphan calf, this way they will have real colostrum to start off with.