Ever since getting our purebred Jersey Polly two years ago, it's been my intention to train her to be our primary milk animal. Now that she's had her first calf, let the training commence!
First thing we had to do was refurbish the milking stall. We built this a couple years ago for Matilda, our older Jersey. Since I stopped milking Matilda, the stall fell into disuse and got filled with things to store (you know how that goes). So we emptied it out and assessed its potential.
One of the first things Don did was remove the outer wall of the pen to the left of the milking stall. This is known as "Matilda's pen" since we usually tuck her inside at night during the winter. But it's a handy pen for any number of uses. We'll use it when we start locking the calf up at night in order to milk in the morning, our logic being that Polly will be less concerned about being separated from her calf if she can see and smell her -- hence the wall opening.
Unfortunately this opens the stall up to the prevailing wind, so we'll have to build some sort of outer wall for protection before winter.
Don put up rails so the animals couldn't put their heads through where they shouldn't.
He also found a small pallet which can be used as a gate to keep Polly from trying to back out of the stall.
The stall already had a stout ring in place over the feed box, to hold a lead rope.
Okay, what next? The best thing to test the waters was to bring Polly in and see how she does.
So I put some grain in the feed box...
...then leashed up Polly and led her into the stall. She dove for the grain quick enough...
...but then spent a bit of time tugging and fighting the rope. Totally understandable and predictable.
She also enjoyed putting her head between the two rails you see in the front of the photo, which Matilda never did. In part this was because it was hard to thread the end of her lead rope through the O-ring on the wall, which would hold her head in a better position. Okay, gotta block off the rails and get a different ring.
This was a good trial run of the milking stall, though I didn't attempt to milk her (I did, however, take a squirt from each teat -- no problem on Polly's part).
Meanwhile it was time to dehorn Petunia, Polly's calf. We meant to dehorn the other three baby heifers, but we didn't get the dehorning paste in time. Dehorning with paste has a narrow window of opportunity (the calf has to be between three and ten days old), and by now the other three are just a bit too old. However we wanted to make sure Petunia was dehorned, so we finally made it to town to get some fresh dehorning paste. (We didn't take any pictures of the dehorning process, but you can see how it's done here.)
We did one thing different with this dehorning -- we used an elastic bandage instead of the duct tape we normally use to make a "helmet" on the calf's head. We laid a strip of duct tape over the horn buds themselves, and then wrapped Petunia's head in the bandages. We figured this would be easier than duct tape.
As usual, she hated it. All calves do. The dehorning doesn't bother them; it's the head-wrap they hate.
However the "helmet" is necessary to keep the caustic dehorning paste from getting places it shouldn't -- like Polly's tongue or her udder. The calf's head needs to be wrapped for at least six hours.
But when we checked on her half an hour later, the bandage helmet was slipping off and the horn buds were exposed. Without further ado we bundled Petunia into Matilda's stall and snipped off the bandages. This meant, however, that she had to remain isolated for six hours, away from her mama.
I was astonished at how calm both Polly and Petunia were during this separation. For Polly there was no bellowing, no pacing outside the stall, no agitation at all. I told Don it was either a severe lack of maternal instinct on Polly's part, or she just had an amazingly calm disposition. Since she's never demonstrated a lack of maternal instinct before, Don concluded she's just a calm cow. Yes!
So, since Polly and Petunia were separated anyway, I decided to try officially milking Polly for the first time. We needed to make a few more minor adjustments to the milking stall. Don screwed two tires against the wall as spacers to push Polly a bit closer to me when I sit to milk her. He also installed the pallet gate.
By the end of Petunia's solitary confinement, both Polly and Petunia were starting to voice their displeasure at being separated.
The time had come to try milking Polly for the first time. I had the grain, I had a bucket (a hastily cleaned and sterilized bakery bucket), I had the milking stool... What I hadn't considered was that it was evening, when all the livestock decided to hang around the driveway. Grunt.
The milking stall is to the left of Brit, pictured above. If I tried pulling Polly out of the corral and into the milking stall with the rest of the livestock hanging around, they would instantly come over to see what was happening and distract both Polly and myself from the important task of learning to milk. Patience, Grasshopper, I said to myself. Just wait until they leave.
After about fifteen minutes, everyone moved away from the stall and behind the barn, so I leashed up Polly and walked her right into the milking stall without any trouble. I took the time to thread the lead rope through the O-ring. I fastened the pallet gate shut behind her.
I even took the precaution of hobbling her back leg so I wouldn't get kicked. Y'know, just in case.
And then I sat down and proceeded to milk.
Over the years I've trained three separate cows to milk (Matilda doesn't count since she was already trained when I got her) and I have NEVER had a calmer animal. Polly didn't kick (or even try to), she didn't thrash, bellow, swipe, struggle, or poop. Wow! And double wow!
Even when Ruby came over to see what was up, Polly stayed calm. Amazing. Ruby is one of our dominant herd matrons and usually agitates the younger animals.
As soon as I was done milking, I released Polly and immediately led her into the stall with Petunia, who promptly dived for her mama's udder.
I strained the milk and came away with two quarts -- not bad for a first milking and only a few hours' separation!
I grinned over this first milking attempt for hours. I think Polly and I have a long and satisfying milking relationship ahead of us!