Country Living Series

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Morning milking

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.

My audience.

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.


  1. What a beautiful way to start your morning. God is so good in His provision,

  2. I can't tell you how much I've enjoyed this post.

    I hadn't realized 'till now the skills and practices of milking are somewhat like riding a bicycle. lol

    What a good girl you have in sweet Polly.

    A. McSp

  3. I like the barnyard audience aspect of it. It speaks to the holistic sense of the farm as a historical whole, not as a monoculture or single product entity.

  4. I like the barnyard audience aspect of it. It speaks to the holistic sense of the farm as a historical whole, not as a monoculture or single product entity.

  5. idyllic
    i got some tattler lids by your recommendation. haven't tried them yet.
    deb harvey

  6. Lovely post. What I wouldn't give for THREE CUPS of fresh cream! The company I buy my raw milk from, doesn't sell cream. I bet they keep it all to themselves!

  7. Is Iodine on the teats a good idea, I noticed you didn't use it? Just wondering because I've seen a friend use it.

  8. Having grown up on a farm, I almost laughed when I read your comment about baling twine. We used it for EVERYTHING. I can remember braiding and re-braiding the twine to make a stonger and longer "rope" since we already had the twine and rope cost money that we seldom had. We kept untied baling twine in every barn and shed on the place, ready to use for whatever called for it. It was used for different things than the older baling wire was, but each was used. I suspect that half of the fences in our area were held together with baling wire (also called haywire). I'm not sure which was most useful, but when the twine succeeded the wire it found uses immediately.

  9. Wonderful post! I know just how satisfying it is. I started milking one of my goats just a couple of days ago after not having milk for quite a long time! I love seeing the milk in the fridge. I'm saving up to make hard cheese, my next experiment! So exciting!

  10. You live such a beautiful and peace filled life. God bless.

  11. Awesome post! Thank you for sharing. My family & I ate squash, tomatoes, sweet peppers & green beans from our gardens. It was our celebration of independence! ><>

  12. I'm familiar with sitting on these crates - don't you get a corrugated backside?

  13. Loved the post! What a great way to start the day with your animals. Had to laugh when I saw your shower cap covers-I use them too!

  14. I can only imagine the peace of milking a cow. Where we are living we only have about 2 acres, and I'm wishing we had just a bit more to have a family cow. She is beautiful!

  15. Question is down? I can't get it on the alternate site either...

  16. How beautiful and peaceful! Thank you for sharing this. I wonder how many people do activities that to them, give them nothing, but to others add so much to their day and are eagerly anticipated. Attitude is everything!

    We had to put our horse down right before Christmas and besides from the huge hole in our daily life (my grooming her was more than just grooming to me, it was my "fix the world and myself" time, LOL), we used the manure from her and the wood ashes from our woodstove to make fabulous compost AND we always had baling twine for whatever reason we needed to call upon it. I even frittered away an hour or two, revitalizing some long ago used macrame skills utilizing twine. Thought I'd always have it on hand, kind of like the mare we bought the hay for.

    Thanks, Patrice. It was calming just reading and seeing the pictures.


  17. Your site is on my daily (when I have the chance) reading list. Imagine my surprise when I found out (assuming I am correct) that you are the same person who wrote the Back Woods Home article in May/June 2006 on Once a Day Milking or how to milk your cow in 238 easy steps! Was that you?

    We just had our first calf on July 4th, and I am planning to start milking her mama using your advice from that article. Love the blog, obviously I am a huge fan. Thanks for all the help you give us newbies.

  18. I found a reasonable priced stainless steel bucket in the dog section at our local Tractor Supply. I have 2 smaller ones and one bigger. They are very handy for other things besides milking into. My pot lid fits on it perfect so sometimes there might be a lot of leftovers in it, use it for canning, milking of course, mixing up a large batch of something, etc. Just a thought!

  19. Hi Patrice,

    Thank you for showing us your milking routine. I appreciate seeing how other people process their milk. We are all different and that gives me more opportunities to learn. I especially like the idea of using sheeting to filter the milk.

    Milking in the morning is a very peaceful time. It definitely helps to have trained animals that are relaxed and comfortable being handled. Thank you for sharing.

    Blessings to you,


  20. Didn't see any pics of the USDA inspector. What, he camera-shy? [wink]

    Jeff - Tucson

  21. Thanks for sharing your milking routine. It's fun to see how others do it. I like the sheeting for filtering the milk too. I will have to give that a try.

    I use stainless steal stock pots for milking. I think they're cheaper than the buckets, but it didn't really matter, since I already had them! The lids come in handy too, when I'm carrying the milk back to the house on rainy days!

  22. Ive just brought home two goats(Does) one of which is in milk and other than desperately needing a milking stand and getting used to the hand cramps that you get when first milking, I am loving the experience of getting to milk the goat and the milk that comes from it. My husband is just as amazed as I am at how far we've come from a little city apartment to 15 acres with chickens horses and goats and a small garden. (We just moved onto the homestead about three-four months ago.

  23. We just brought home two goats(Does) and one of them is in milk and I am thoroughly enjoying the process and the end result(Delicious milk). Now if my hens(15 weeks old) could start laying I will be over the moon.