milk sabbatical

Look what we’re buying from the store, y’all. 

Shocker, right?

The short story is that towards the end of June, we dried off (stopped milking) Emma so she’d have several months to recuperate before calving in September or October. This was the plan, and we knew we had Honey to get us through the few months until Emma calved. 

What was not the plan was that Honey was not generous with her letdown. We (read: my husband) learned to work with her other shortcomings — only 3 functioning quarters and a chronic kick reflex — but the stingy letdown was the straw that broke the camel’s back. 

In the beginning, she gave a little under two gallons each morning, but after only a couple months her supply started dropping. Most days, we got only three-quarters of a gallon, and some days it was as little as one and a half quarts — QUARTS! (As a point of comparison, Emma’s production hovered at two-plus gallons every morning and Daisy’s actually increased almost to four before stabilizing at an even-Steven three.) To make matters worse, since Honey was holding her milk back for her calf, we weren’t getting hardly any cream (most of the cream is in the hindmilk). Some days it felt like what we were getting was more water than milk. This, I realized, was why some farmers say calf sharing (where the calf gets half and the humans get half) doesn’t work.

We toyed with the idea of separating Honey and Redbud permanently and switching to twice-a-day milkings, but then we’d have to 1) milk twice a day and 2) feed half the milk to Redbud (because calves that are raised on their mother’s milk to six months of age are markedly healthier, we’ve read). Bottom line? We didn’t want the hassle. 

In a last ditch effort, my husband got some oxytocin, a hormone which causes an automatic letdown. He’d hook Honey up to the milker, inject the hormone into the milk vein, and about 45 seconds later the milk would come whooshing out of her, all two-plus gallons and the cream.

He did that for a couple days in a row and then tapered off the dose — the goal was to retrain her body to let down — but it didn’t work. Without the injections, Honey immediately reverted to withholding all her milk so we called it quits, and this past weekend my husband returned Honey and Redbud to the farm from whence they came. They were on loan to us — in exchange for milk — so even though things didn’t turn out as planned, it didn’t feel like a huge loss and we still benefited from the milk, all the cheeses I tucked away in the cheesecave, and a deeper understanding of the ins and outs of having a family milk cow.

And then this past weekend, we bought another cow!

Her name is Charlotte and she’s a 6-year-old A2A2 Jersey from New Zealand genetics, which means she’s good for grazing. (I have no idea what that last part means but that’s what our farmer friend said so I’m going with it.) Our friend purchased her from a grass-based dairy, and she has had three pregnancies, all Devon-crossed, at our friend’s farm. (Her third pregnancy was a set of twins that aborted, most likely because they were twins.) Charlotte is currently pregnant with her fourth Devon-crossed pregnancy (this calf will be her fifth) and is due in September or early October, right after Emma.

Charlotte’s a gentle cow, our friend said, and his family was sad to see her go, and then he sent me a photo to prove it.

Now, in case you didn’t catch what I said above about Charlotte freshening right after Emma, the addition of a pregnant Charlotte means that, come fall, we’ll have two cows in milk. It’s gonna be nuts, but in the best sort of way. I am so excited.

But for now, for the first time in nearly two years, my husband isn’t heaving himself out of bed to go milk first thing every single morning, and I’m not turning gallons of milk into wheels of cheese. Even though I didn’t really want this break, now that I have it, I’ve decided to savor the sleeping in and the convenience of milk that comes in plastic jugs, no straining, labeling, and washing of clunky buckets required.

These next two months are gonna be sah-weeeeet.

This same time, years previous: Mamma Mia, farmers cheese, the quotidian (7.20.20), three shining dragon eggs (the video’s my favorite!), the delegation, sweet sixteen, in the kitchen, the quotidian (7.20.15), in recovery, roasted beet salad with cumin and mint, whole wheat zucchini bread.


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