I've been milking Polly fairly regularly. Not every day, just when I need milk. And sometimes I milk her just because I like to milk. It's a warm, wholesome, personal thing, to milk a cow.
So last night I locked Polly in Matilda's pen (maybe I should start calling it Polly's pen) so I could milk this morning.
Milking accouterments: clean bucket, smaller bowl, and wash rag in a bowl with very hot water.
It was 5:47 am when I left the house. Not because a cow needs to be milked at 5:47 am, but because I'm an early riser and had been up for an hour already.
Petunia was lowing pitifully for her mama.
Polly was lowing back.
I leashed up Polly and walked her into the milking pen. I run the lead rope through an eye-bolt, then wrap the rope around one of the stout poles. There's a feed box right below Polly's chin where I could put grain. But Polly never ate the grain -- seriously -- so I stopped putting any in there. It's not a bad thing for a cow to learn to stand quietly while milking, without bribery. I didn't set out to train Polly to milk without a bribe, she just did this on her own. No complaints.
I also tie the pallet gate behind her, to keep her from trying to back out. We still don't have a chain-hook arrangement on the gate, so I use a quick-release knot using baling twine. (Incidentally, Don thinks we should re-name our farm Baling Twine Ranch or something, since we use baling twine for everything.)
I also take the precaution of hobbling her back leg. Polly has been an extraordinarily calm milker from the start -- I am continuously amazed by her sweet disposition -- but a back leg can lash out with lightning speed. I'm attuned to the subtle shifts in weight that forewarn of swipes that could knock over a milking bucket, but it's not a guaranteed thing. So I hobble that leg.
Then I wash the udder and teats with the soaking hot rag. This is absolutely necessary. Some days the udder is pretty clean...
...but this wasn't one of them.
Next I take three squirts out of each teat, either onto the ground or into this small container. If there is any bacteria in the milk, it will be in those first couple of squirts (since that milk is closest to the opening of the teat). Also, if there's any mastitis in the milk, I'll feel the "squiggles" as they come out of the teat. Polly has never had mastitis, but I'm all too familiar with it from Matilda's battle with it.
All this preliminary stuff is automatic and just takes a couple of minutes. Then I settle into the actual milking itself. Depending on how much milk I get, the milking takes anywhere from fifteen to twenty minutes. Milking is a two-handed job, so I couldn't take any shots of the milking itself.
As I milked, the chickens entertained me with their little dramas. Here Smokey is squawking and trying to get away from King (the white rooster), who has nefarious designs upon her virtue. She jumped up on the pallet blocking the chicken coop in an effort to escape.
It didn't work. King jumped up on the pallet and completed his mission right there, which was an impressive feat of balance if nothing else, the randy twit.
Victoria wandered by to see what I was doing.
Petunia, waiting for me to finish with her mama, wasn't above sneaking a drink from Victoria.
About half-way done.
When I finished milking, I un-hobbled Polly's back leg, untied the pallet gate, and unclipped the lead rope from her halter. She backed herself out of the stall...
...and went looking for her baby.
Now all is right with the world.
I hang the hobble on a nail between milkings.
I sit on this crate. I like these types of plastic crates for milking because I can hook my fingers through the slats and move it at a moment's notice (such as when scooting away from a restless cow).
I was back in the house by 6:20 am.
My next step is to strain the milk. I put a colander over another (smaller) clean bucket...
...and line it with an old piece of clean sheeting. I have a number of squares of sheeting reserved for straining milk.
Then I pour the fresh milk through the sheeting into the other bucket. Since the other bucket is smaller, I do this in batches.
Total this morning: about 1.6 gallons.
It's important to date the milk.
Now comes the clean-up. I scrub the buckets with soap and a touch of bleach, then rinse; and rinse again with boiling water.
After I rinse the straining cloth, I soak it in boiling water for a few minutes.
When the buckets are dry, I nest them and put a "shower cap"-style plastic cover over, to keep them clean until the next milking.
Some people insist that seamless stainless steel buckets (cha-ching!), glass jars, and disposable strainers are required for handling fresh milk. While I agree those things are nice and are easier to keep clean, I haven't found them to be necessary. The milk is solely for our consumption so no one else has to concern themselves with our equipment.
Tomorrow the cream will have risen, and I'll skim it off. Since Polly is nursing her calf, I won't get much more than about three cups of cream or so from this milking.
I am so glad to be milking once again, after a two-year hiatus. On this day of doubtful independence for America during which gangs and terrorists have shut down or altered celebrations all over the nation, milking a cow is my own little personal statement of independence.