milk training

A new mama heifer is always a bit of a crapshoot. [says I, with great authority, even though this is only the second heifer cow I’ve delt with] Will she tolerate milkings? Will she let down her milk? Will she develop mastitis? How quickly will be catch the hang of the milking routine? Will she be a kicker? 

The first week with Honey was touch-and-go. We milked her 2 to 3 times a day, even though we’d often get only a cup or two of dirty milk (that ended up going to the pigs), in order to familiarize Honey with the milking process. It was a two-(sometimes three)-person job: one person leading her in and the other wacking her on the rump. 

From the start, Honey’s front left quarter was super swollen and produced almost no milk. After consulting with a couple cow-milking internet people, and one long phone call with our friendly vet, we determined that the problem was probably due to an undetected case of mastitis in the first two years of her life. Even though she wasn’t currently sick, the earlier infection meant that the quarter was damaged (and, should we get her lab tested, would probably test positive for mastitis, but the vet said that wasn’t really important since she had no other symptoms). Since it’s fairly common for cows to have a dead quarter, and not really a big deal, we simply quit milking that quarter and — problem solved.

pummel-massaging the bad quarter

Honey did not take well to the milking machine. She was tense and moderately kicky, but then, on the one day when I was at work and not able to help, she kicked the machine with both back feet so hard that one of the metal pieces flew the whole way across the shed. My husband phoned me spitting mad and sore — in the fray he’d wrenched his wrist — while my younger son, I later learned, suffered a violent case of giggles. 

That was the low point. From there, it got better — mostly because we bought a kick bar. 

Snap the bar into place on the same side the farmer squats to milk — one end hooked over the back bone and the other end jabbing up into the back leg “pit” — and the cow can’t hardly lift that leg at all. She can still kick on the other side, however, but my husband holds the milker away from that foot and I stand behind him with a big stick poised over her back side. Every time Honey makes to kick, we both bellow NO and I whack the kicking leg. Gradually, she’s accepting that we’re boss — but that kick bar isn’t coming off any time soon.

The other morning my husband and I had a spat because I wanted to go running and he wanted me to help milk. So I angrily changed my running shoes for barn boots, stomped down to the shed, whacked Honey a couple times until she got into the stall, stomped back up the house, changed back into my sneakers (huff-huff), and left for my run. When I got back, I found this note in the basket where I keep my running gloves:

It’s been nearly 3 weeks since Redbud was born, and Honey’s giving a solid two gallons of milk each morning. And some days when she’s feeling generous, she even gives chocolate milk.

This same time, years previous: Colby cheese, the quotidian (4.12.21), god will still love you, making space, beginner’s bread, the quotidian (4.11.16), when popcorn won’t pop, Mr. Tiny, deviled eggs, on fire, lemons and goat cheese.


  • jennifer

    omg! It must be tough, touch and go, and all that. I hope it keeps getting better and better. Sorry y’all had a spat–aim for that spirit of generosity that is (I find) so elusive. Hope you’re all well. I love all your posts as always. Making your raspberry ricotta cake tomorrow for breakfast and to take on a plane friday–with blueberries and lemon as you mentioned. 🙂

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