Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Milking Polly and dehorning Petunia

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!


  1. That caustic paste stuff scares me. I'd rather just use an iron and get it over and done with no risk to other animals or people. Are you going to dehorn the others?

    1. We have ours dehorned around 4 months w/ an iron. The vet deadens the area so the calf doesn't feel the iron burning. The paste doesn't always work, but some people swear by it.

    2. I'm a ranch hand, and have dehorned more than my fair share. Always cut them with scoops. We never numb the area or use antiseptic, and never have problems. Cows are pretty hearty animals. But as they said, some people swear by the paste. Its definitely less messy. To each their own. That's why they make a Ford and a Chevy.

  2. Thank you for this. I'm a new reader, and need to build myself a milking stall, so it's nice to see a fairly detailed description, to add to the data I collected while inspecting my neighbor's stall. This business of lashing the cow to a T-post in a field somewhere, giving her some grain, and tying on a set of hobbles leads to too much wiggling and bucket kicking for my tastes.

  3. Patrice, do you believe women should have the right to vote?

    1. OMG are you serious? You are making a joke, right? I'm trying to figure how we got from milking a cow to women having the "right" to vote. So this must be a joke. ?? ROFL

      BTW great milking post Patrice. lol right to vote lol

    2. It's in reference to another post about a letter that some neanderthal wrote. He doesn't believe women should vote and Patrice seemed to be at least halfway in support of the guy.

    3. It's the "Letter from a young female engineer" post. I'm interested in hearing the question also.

    4. Don't know what Mrs. Lewis thinks, but here's my $ .02. The Washington Times reported on Thursday that Nancy Pelosi said that one of the jobs of government is to help people find fulfillment. She said this after urging the House to pass bills continuing student loan subsidies and federal job support. If this is the kind of craziness we get when women have the vote, then they shouldn't have it. Disclaimer: men are not flawless, and not all women "think" like Ms. Pelosi.

  4. Annon @7:40 AM - Yup! And they are allowed to milk a cow, drive a tractor and fix a fence too!

  5. I am with the first person that posted....

    I am so happy for you that the first milking went so well. We have a couple of rescue Jersey cows and it worked out just about as well--- much to my relief!!

    1. Rescue Jersey?


      Forgive me if you've already shared the story and I've missed it. If so maybe you can point me to a link.

      I'm considering a milker and this sounds really interesting. We've rescued dang near everything else....this would be right down our alley.



  6. Patrice,

    Nice to hear it went so well. Congrats, calm cows are much better to have, as you well know.

    Regarding the anchoring eyelet, if it is stout enough but the lead rope is too big, I would just use a larger sized carabiner to tie off to instead of changing the eyelet.

  7. What a blessing for you to have such a quiet, patient cow. Congratulations on a great first-milking attempt. I anticipate you're dreaming about all the milk and home-made dairy products you'll now have for many months ahead. Jenny

  8. You must have gallons and gallons of milk to deal with.
    What do you do with all that milk? How many gallons do you get a milking?

  9. This is so cool. I'd be scared to sidle up to a big cow. (That's why I love goats.)

    You must have a calming effect on Polly for her to trust you right out of the shoot like that.

    Welcome back to Milk Prison! Where the days are long and the work is hard, but the food is fresh and delicious.

    Just Me

  10. Well done! (Especially you, Polly!)

    I can almost taste summer...

    whipped cream.....

    fresh cheese.....


    Bring on the strawberries!


  11. Patrice,
    We bought two calves in March this year (shorthorns) and they were about 8 weeks old when I did the paste on them. The bull calf had fairly large horns started (more than buds) so I was not sure if it would work for his. The heifer's were very small. Both worked great. The bull calf's actually completely came off before the heifer's although for a while I thought he would have one horn. So it can be done later, even the label says 8 weeks and to roughen an area around the small horn bud with a file (I did this).
    As far as your tie set up, do you or Don know how to make your own lead ropes (a great skill to learn)? I made a special tie rope for my milk cow. One end has a "bull snap" to attach it to the screw eye, the other end has a quick release "panic snap" (used on horse cross ties) so that I can quickly release if needed. It is on the end that hooks to the halter or neck collar (My first cow wore a collar, hated the halter) so that the snap will pop away from everyone if released in an emergency. The rope is just long enough to keep the cow in place and I leave the regular lead rope attached in case of emergency. Just a thought.

  12. Saw this and thought you might get a kick out of it. Milking on an industrial scale: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJRy82i8e5Q