Training milk cows
This might be one very boring post to anybody who doesn't have a milk cow, or to someone who has no desire to ever milk a cow. If you fit into these two catagories, feel free to not read this post! But if you are trying to learn everything you can about how to milk a cow, then maybe this will interest you. Maybe it will encourage you to just keep going if you are in the middle of trying to train your cow to be a good milker.
I am in the process of training a three year old Irish Dexter cow into being a milk cow. I have milked a trained milk cow, but have limited experience with training a new one. In fact, I am not sure if this process should be easy or hard. It's not a horrible experience, but it also hasn't went as smoothly or as easy as I was hoping. However, I am determined that she will become a good milk cow! Isn't it good to be stubborn sometimes? :)
Honeycrisp is a mom for the first time, so this is a good time to teach her to be hand milked. We started training her when her calf was almost 2 weeks old. We put her calf in the barn at night.
Honeycrisp can still see her baby, but the baby can't nurse from her. We want to be able to have some milk in the morning and if the calf is with her all night, there won't be any milk left for us.
Between 7-8:00 in in the morning, I tie the calf to the front of the milk stall, then I open the door to let Honeycrisp into the milk stall. I have ground oats or special hay that is different from the hay that she has been eating all day; waiting for her. The treat helps her to want to come into the milk stanchion. Her head gets secured into the head gate and her udder gets washed up. Seeing her calf is supposed to help her relax, knowing that her baby is safe and in sight. Some say that she will let down her milk more readily.
Honeycrisp hasn't been real enthusiastic about someone touching her udder. She politely raises one of her back legs and tries to get me to back off. At least she is not out right kicking! There is a board that is in place, in front of her back legs that keeps her from easily being able to kick the bucket away. She has learned that if she pushes her udder behind that board, then I don't have access to milking her. If she gets really preoccupied with her food then it is a lot easier on both of us. The ticket is to have her focus on food!
After a week of training, it seemed like we hadn't made a whole lot of progress. One of the reasons is; that board that we slide in front of her back legs and that keeps those hooves from knocking over my bucket is too low, she knows if she tries hard enough then she can lift her leg over that board. It has been frustrating when she succeeds, because then I have to work hard at getting her legs back far enough to put the leg board back into place. These are small cows but their legs are still heavy, if they are being stubborn. That is on my to-do list. Move leg board higher.
Training a milk cow had some risks. I have smashed my fingers between her head and a board, as I was trying to get a halter on her; gave my arm a big ugly bruise when I quickly tried to get my bucket away from her back hoof. I have even entertained the thought, that maybe I should just sell her to someone that doesn't care if they have a milk cow or not. But I just keep telling myself that she just needs to get used to this new situation and that maybe she is scared and nervous. She is a nice looking Dexter with a good personality and I want to be able to have her genetics in my herd.
The first week of training Honeycrisp, I could barely get 1 cup of milk, before she would get really cranky, stamp her feet, and try to get her head out of the head gate. Then I would just have to be done for the day. "Tomorrow is another day." But now, this morning, was the first time I thought, "Well, maybe we are making some progress." I got two quarts of milk without too much effort or frustration. We had just finished 2 weeks of very slow progress.
I would like to have all my Dexter cows in my herd to be able to be hand milked, because that is a trait Dexters are known for and that trait needs to continue in the Irish Dexter Cattle lines. I am glad I haven't given up, because maybe she will work out to be a great little milk cow that can nourish my family for years to come!
We haven't had any fresh raw milk in our house since last fall and we have missed it greatly. The kids can't believe how good it is, and the little bit that I have been able to get each day is gone so quickly, that I can't wait to get Honeycrisp a little bit more trained. Every week should get better and better, right?
As soon as Honeycrisp gets really restless and acts like she can't stand being in the stanchion, I let her out and she goes outside with her calf for the rest of the day. She needs to have the milk stanchion be a place where she gets treats and thinks it's a good place to be.
My regular milk cow, Anna, who is about a month away from having her calf, stands at the outside window while I milk Honeycrisp and wants to come in. What a great Dexter! Every few days, I let her come in too, so she can get a treat of oats in the milking stall.
It is fun to push yourself and learn new skills. Whatever journey you are on, in your life; never get tired of learning how to handle new situations and learning new skills! Most things that are worth doing are not going to be easy!
Here's a verse just for you.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, persistent in prayer.