Milking It For All It’s Worth

[Previous Rural Farmgirl, June 2010 – January 2012]

I was thinking the other morning that I would just love to have some company while milking my dear cow Evelynn (whose photo appears below). And, actually, I would love to show you all what I do and how I do it – I’m not an expert, but I’ve been pretty successful. And to all of you experienced milkers out there – I would love to hear your tips and hints, too!!!

Just a note – I’ll be away from the computer for the weekend, so if i didn’t “answer” your comment, don’t worry! I love “talking” with you, and I’ll get right to them when I return. THANK YOU!!! – Libbie I’m back! The boys and I went to redrock country for the weekend, and it was lovely! I’ll tell you more about it later, though…

One of the things that I love about living in a rural area is the real possibility of having a cow. I have had one cow before – Bridget. She was Auntie Margaret’s little dexter cow, and I bought her, but she was used to being spoken to in a very “Margarety” way which I wasn’t really comfortable imitating. Anyway, I had to sell her, because I really just think we didn’t like each other very much. But it was all meant to be.

About three years ago, I was able to get a lovely Jersey cow from our very own “Aunt Jenny” (as some of you know her on the Farmgirl Connection – she’s Jenny’s cow Mona’s daughter). Anyhoo – with all of the talk about home dairying, I thought I’d take you with me as I milk this morning.

Grab a coat and a sense of adventure and let’s go!

So, first of all, we prepare for the milking itself. I usually set myself up for filtering before I even go outside – it looks more or less like this:

I usually set a coulple of paper towels on the table, get out my strainer with a circular milk filter in it, a couple of half-gallon jars and plastic lids, plus a measuring cup to ladle the milk into the filter and a dry-erase marker to label the lids.

Now, although there are a variety of chemicals to clean udders with available, I find that a capful of bleach into a half-bucket of hot water used with a couple of “milking-only” washcloths does the trick just fine.

Then it’s time to head out to milk! Notice the little stars and snowflakes on the back door. We painted the back side of the house after getting some new windows and I just couldn’t resist painting them on the door. Anyway – onward to the cow!

Here, I’m getting the hay to put in Evelynn’s stanchion – she’s expecting it, and follows me VERY closely!

Cows are extremely habitual creatures, and this is our routine – she enjoys milking time – it means hay AND grain, so she’s always right at my back.

Here she’s in her stanchion. That piece of wood on the right side of her neck pivots to let her head in and out – she goes right in the second a handful of grain is put in with her hay.

Here’s the milking area setup. Most cows are milked from the right side, but from the first time Evelynn calved, she put up a fuss when I tried it from the right. She’s fine when I milk from the left side, so I thought, why not? Pick your battles, right? She’s really a great cow, and I plan on having her for a long, long time.

 Next, I clean her udder carefully with the washcloths and bleachy water. She really seems to not mind it at all. In the winter I use hot water and in the summer I use warm. Last week I made the mistake, however, of grabbing the metal grain scoop handle with a still-wet bare hand. It froze to the scoop. I had to pour the hot bleach water over my hand to get it off. Yikes! Lesson learned the hard way!

Then the fun begins. Milking Evelynn really is a meditative thing. Right now, I’m keeping Evelynn’s calf, Molly, with her, so I only milk the back two quarters of her udder. Every morning when I milk, my hands start to ache about 5 minutes into it. Then, at about 10 minutes, they stop aching and my mind quiets down into the “milking meditation” state where I am just with the cow. I think it’s maybe how “real” meditation feels, when one is completely IN the moment that’s going on right then. I hear each squirt of milk “ping” in the bucket, my head is warm and  atight against Evelynn and I can just “BE” until I’m done milking. Occasionally, I have to get up and add more grain to her stanchion, but that’s my only interruption.

And here’s the bucket full of milk! Actually, it’s only half-full (never half-empty!) this time, but it’s a big bucket. There’s probably a gallon in there.

 

So then it’s back inside to filter any stray pieces of hay or “stuff” that got into the milk out of it. Filtering milk quickly after milking is the only way to do it…

But wait, look at what was written on the paper towels when I got in today. I’m not kidding. The kids didnt’ know it was a “photo day.” I tell you, things like this make my life good. Anyway, on to the actual filtering.

Filtering is done by pouring the milk through a filter – you can just buy the filters very inexpensively at your local farm store.

And there’s the finished product, clean and bottled and ready for my guys to drink. It’s such a good feeling to know that my guys are getting real, whole milk. And I LOVE the cream in a cup of coffee…the butter…the cheese. Truly, there’s not a whole lot NOT to love about a family cow. Not to sound like I think they’re the greatest — but, really, Evelynn IS an exceptional cow…

So, all of you home dairy-ers or those who just like experimenting with dairy products – what are your favorite recipes, tips, thoughts???

I can’t wait to hear from you!!!

xoxo, Libbie

Leave a comment 29 Comments

  1. bonnie ellis says:

    How nice of you to share a moment with Evelyn and her calf. I am sure that not all farmgirls at heart have milked a cow. Merry Christmas. Bonnie

     

    Thanks, Bonnie! What I REALLY wish is that you all could come and milk with me IN PERSON! Oh, well…next best thing, I guess! xoxo, Libbie

  2. Rebecca Doane says:

    Love this story! I was raised on a farm from birth to 18 yrs old! How I miss those days! I have wished everyday since my boys were born that they could have had the opportunies I did!, So many lessons did I learn which have form my ideas to life!
    Thanks so much,
    Becky Doane

     

    Becky – I am hoping my boys will have similar memories – they DO get to do a lot of really basic things "hands-on," which I just love. xoxo, Libbie

  3. Dawn says:

    I swear by bag balm- after cleaning the udders after milking- I liberally apply bag balm to them. It keeps them soft, and helps sanitize them. I find this keeps down infections. Bleach tends to dry out udders- so this would be really good for you to use.
    We lived across the street from a dairy farm and I milked a cow every morning for our personal milk. The owner/neighbor believed in me learning the old fashioned way as a kid- and I learned to love it. I use bag balm on goats as well- and even my own hands. I always keep a tin of it on my farm. Good luck with your new girl!

     

    I have used Bag Balm – and I just love it, too. I hadn’t thought of the anti-infection part of it, though! Now it’s on my next shopping list… Thank you! xoxo, Libbie  

  4. aunt jenny says:

    LOVED this post Libbie!!!You know what? Mona has always been milked from the left side as well..just the way my little milking barn is set up and she would likely not like to switch at this point. I can hardly wait until calving time (may ) for all that milk again. I miss it right now!

     

    That’s so cool and funny that Mona gets milked from the left, too, Jenny! Maybe it’s genetic!?!?! I can’t wait until May for you, either! Winter milking has its drawbacks, however!!! It was -8F yesterday morning early. Sheesh. xoxo, Libbie

  5. Alice says:

    I don’t know that I could milk a cow like I did grpwing up on the farm now. We milked about 10 cows by hand and had quite a bit of milk. We strained it and put it in gallon jugs. When the cream rose to the top it was removed and we churned it to make butter. The buttermilk was used for made from scratch biscuits. As a family of seven children and our parents we made two large cookie sheets of biscuits for breakfast. I would use the sifter and sift Martha White self rising flour into a big dishpan. Then I would hollow out the center and pour in about four cups of buttermilk and a about cup of melted butter. I would use a spoon to begin with stirring the milk and butter while scraping a bit of flour from the sides. When it reached a workable consistency, I used my hands and pan kneaded it til it was just right for biscuits. Light and fluffy. I would take a handful and roll it around and then place it on the greased cookie sheets. When I ran out of dough I flattened them til they all touched. Then they were baked in a preheated to 400 degree oven. They rose and filled the pans while baking. They amelled heavenly and went well with the rest of the meal. Often when we came in from school and changed our clothes to go to the fields to work we would poke a hole in a left over biscuit and pour cane syrup we had made in and let it soak up and repeat til we had what we wanted of the syrup in the biscuit. On the way to the field we would eat those syrup filled biscuits and be ready to pump the water from the hand pump so we could all get a drink of water before starting to work. And if you really want a treat make biscuit pudding out of left over biscuits. It is like the bread pudding people made out of bread but we didn’t have light bread so we used biscuits. Yummy.

     

    Oh Alice! Those biscuits sound WONDERFUL!!! Thank YOU for making them "with" me. xoxo – Libbie

  6. Joan says:

    Oh my goodness, Libbie, you just took me back 60 yrs – I was a just a child – ha ha but on I go – we did most of our milking by hand – I shuttled the buckets from the milking area to the milk room – oh the fresh smell!!! Congrats on providing such great products for your family. This was great fun. Thanks

  7. Rachelle says:

    Hi! I so want a cow, but we haven’t ventured down that path yet. Do you milk once or twice a day? What do you do with all the milk? do you drink a gallon a day? I haven’t gotten a handle on how we would handle all that milk if we did get one. Here is Texas iwth the drought I am glad I don’t have one right now. enjoyed the article!
    Thanks,

  8. Jane says:

    Hi, oh i admire you so much, it is so fun to milk a cow, and get the cream and milk..Used to milk 4 cows, morning and night. My favorite time of the day.The milk is so good, from the cow. Can`t hardly buy and drink that bouhgten stuff. Being on the farm, in Nebraska is the best place in the world for me..

  9. Michelle says:

    I miss life on the farm. I live in the city now, but dream of a small farm someday soon.(we have the land, need to build the house) I grew up with milk goats. The process is very much the same.

  10. Barbara Perry says:

    Thanks for taking me with you to milk today. It was a nice break from Holiday preparations. It was so refreshing, your photos and description of the milking process was great and very interesting. The satisfaction you get from milking and providing the fresh whole milk for your family is inspiring! I really liked it when you said it was a (meditative thing). I am sure Evelyn enjoys having you as her person. Best to you and your family this holiday season.

  11. Linda Hatch says:

    Now, you have to do this two times a day, right?

  12. Marge Hofknecht says:

    Thank you for sharing this part of your day. I’m a city slicker type but I love reading about country things and trying old time recipes and all that. I do know that caring for a cow (or for any animal in your life) is true commitment. Thanks again. Marge

  13. Wayve says:

    Nice story- thanks for sharing. The note from the boys was a definite hug. It’s been many a year since I tried to milk a cow, but I remember Grandpa Lloyd milking Jers and Old Gerns at our farm in Ohio when I was a kid. Mamma and Grandma Grace would make caramels out of the cream and sell them for a dollar a pound ( this was in the ’50s). My job was to cut the squares of waxed paper to twist them in. Your boys will have such memories, too.

  14. Annie says:

    that was wonderful! thank you so much, haven’t milked a cow for many, many years…

  15. Deb Wegner says:

    I grew up in the 4-H program, we showed and milked dairy cows, Jersey. My school teacher lived on a big dairy farm that I spent time on each summer with my dad. He put up silage with her hubby, and I kept her youngest son company, riding his pony which wouldn’t behave for him, we would do clean up after dinner, and go out to pick goose berries for her for pies,on the creek, take out lemmon aide and cookies to the guys, and get everything ready for the evening milking. They did 100 or more twice a day. Galen and I would get all the feed ready, and bring in the gang when it was time. We would make sure the wash water was always clean and hot, and that the milk was running through the tubs, and not getting plugged going into the tanks. and let the girls back out again. It sure didn’t seem like work, we enjoyed it, and each other. We were pals, and we learned alot together. Then Dadand I would go home and milk our 2. the only problem I had was one of our cats jumped off of something, landed on my cow, Star, while I was milking her, clawed her as she slid down her side, Star freeked out, jumped forward, and stuck her foot in the milk pail and messed up the milk which had to be thrown out. So my suggesstion would be to keep the cats out.

  16. Betty Stone says:

    I can remember when my Grandpa would go out to milk. He always babied his girls. He would come in with two buckets full of fresh milk, sometimes steaming. He would always smell like the cows and I thought what could be more delightful. After he came in the house, he would pour the milk in the separator which was always set up by Grandma. It was hand cranked. One side would bring out cream and the other side milk. I always drank it warm, otherwise I would throw up all over. What fond memories I have of living on the farm.

  17. Amy says:

    We are contemplating farm life and a cow would be fun. I have never been around farm animals and am a little apprehensive. It looks like a fairly simple thing to do. I am reading everything I can get from the library.

    hopefully soon, down on the farm.

  18. Debbie says:

    Hi Libbie! If ever I could find a way to squeeze a cow into my suburban back yard I would do it in a heart beat after reading this blog! Lucky you and your family for having such luxury of your own cow and all the fresh dairy that goes along with it! It’s Chicken’s and Eggs for us until we move to my dream farm! Thank you for sharing the how to’s as well!
    Farmgirl Hugs… Deb ( your MJF beachy bloggin’ sister )

  19. Nicole Kezama says:

    I am currently milking 2 nubian goats. For nyone who cant do the commitment of a cow gots are great. the cream doesnt rise to the top though like cows milk. That is becuse goats milk is naturally homoginized. So if you want cream for butter or other things you will need a cream seperator. I also milk from the left but this is because of how my milking stand is set up. When I strain my milk I use a big milking funnel (available from Hoeggerfarmyard.com) and it fits on a mason jar. I dont use the paper filters though. I use butter muslem (like cheese cloth but finer, available from cheese making supply houses) and I fold it in 4 and strain my milk through that. i wash it out after each use and hang it to dry. Also the jars I store my milk in are place in the freezer before I go to milk. The milk cools a little faster then i put the milk in the fridge. i milk twice a day. Happy milking!!!

  20. Penny Ford says:

    Thank you for "taking me with you as you milked your cow". I’ve always wanted to do it (even have the land) just too chicken to take the step… You made me realize its just taking one step at a time….you’ve inspired me. I think I’ll try to find someone who will let me actually try milking for step one…You’ll never know how much your post means to me. I printed it all out w/pictures to keep the inspiration going. thanks much!

  21. Terces says:

    WOW how amazing, Our Dexter calved on Dec 1st and we just started milking her in much the same way, sharing the milk with her calf. Brought me back 20 years to my first homestead milking experience in Pennsylvania (when I would nurse my baby while milking!)
    Thank you for sharing such a sweet story.
    Not too many folks know someone who can milk in our neck of the woods!
    Happy HOlidays, love the note from your boys too!

  22. Victoria says:

    Oh my! Your post took me back to rural Idaho where I used to live and those -15degree mornings when I went out to the barn to milk. My story is I was a So. California girl who never had lived in the country. I moved to So. Idaho and started farmn’! I milked my Jersy cow, Nancee and goats. I LOVED it!!! Made butter, cheese, yogurt, etc. I also used the buttermilk for my bread. I had so much milk I sold some (probably wasn’t supposed to) and even fed it to our pigs!How I loved that cow. Unfortunately, Nancee was prone to milk fever. We did everything we could to prevent this from happening every time she freshened. We watched her diet and gave her calcium interveneously. Time after time this happened…she just gave too much milk, poor thing. The last time, she went "down" and despite heroic measures, she could not get up. We had to have her put down. It was horrible and my heart broke. I loved her so much! These animals!!! What they put us through! After losing my little dog this summer, I am wondering if I will ever put my heart on the line again. I realize I was so blessed to have a cow that didn’t have a mean bone in her body….but that didn’t help the pain I felt looking out over the field and not seeing her there.

     

    Victoria, isn’t it true how attached we can get to our animals? There’s just something so darn solid about a cow, too. I’ll bet you felt about Nancee just about how I feel about Evelynn. I get nervous about her getting milk fever, but she hasn’t so far. Every calf, however, I cross my fingers! Somehow, though, life is richer when we put our hearts on the line – that’s what I think. If we don’t just go for it, we’ll never know the depths of our hearts, and of the hearts of others…even other cows! Smiles…xoxo, Libbie

  23. Wendi says:

    Oh I just love this! Thank you thank you! I am a suburban girl who now lives in Kansas country and love the farm life, even tho i dont do a lot of it, i live next to it. I have always wanted to milk cows and have chickens but until I get the nerve I live vicariously thru people like you! THis was wonderful!

     

    I am so glad to hear that living a "farmy" life is interesting to you – I was a suburban girl who moved to the country, too, and let me tell you – there’s no going back for me! Go right ahead and get the chickens – you’ll love them. Then you can move on to a cow from there! Thanks so much…..xoxo, Libbie

  24. CJ Armstrong says:

    Oh my goodness! This makes me remember the smell of the barn, the cow, the fresh, warm milk! And it makes me remember getting smacked across the face with cow tails, osing the milk because the cow stepped in it, sloshing through the muck in the winter (or rain)!

    I was raised on a farm, there were six of us kids and we all milked cows. Later in life we were taking care of cows in exchange for a house to live in. Our 2 children were small and I milked 2 Jerseys. I made cheese, butter, buttermilk and had so much we even sold a bit of it. I named one of those Jerseys "Lucy" because when you looked at her face straight on . . .well she reminded me of Lucille Ball with those big eyes and this Jersey had lots of reddish hair on her head.
    And, yes, Bag Balm . . . my dad used it, we used it and I still use it on my own cracked and broken skin.
    In some ways it was a bit of solitude to sit there on that precarious little one-legged stool with my head buried in the side of that cow and listen to, watch and smell the fresh warm milk flow into the bucket.
    Thanks for the memories!

  25. Kinzie says:

    We milked 2 cows and my brother raced – hated it when I won. We would pour the grain in a trough in the yard and have to be finished before she walked away. It’s funny how careful you are about washing Evelyn’s bag. I don’t remember anything more than brushing off the straw and big pieces. The milk was strained and separated (we had an electric) and the skimmed milk went to feed the calves while the cream went downstairs into the cream can for sale. Our milk was kept in gallon jars in the fridge, whole milk before it was separated, and I loved skimming the cream off the top. Took it for granted, really, fresh cream for baking and coffee and porridge. Those 40 below prairie winters (I grew up in Saskatchewan) seem so far away, now — I have been living in Hong Kong since ’92. Thanks for the memories.

  26. Brenda says:

    This summer we started milking our Jersey cow. At first, and this was her first freshening, my husband had to hold her tail and lean on her while I tried to milk her out. It didn’t work very well and she ended up with mastitis in 2 quarters. On my birthday, June 25, my husband was able with the help of friends & family, to get a pump, milk can and all the paraphenalia that goes with it, to milk her by machine. What a relief that was for me. I do know the peace and meditative mood that you get from milking though as we had goats for about 10 years. While not as long a process, it was nevertheless a nice experience. Especially on cold winter days, when my hands were warmed by their nice soft teats. I absolutely love farm life, even the manure shoveling and the chasing that sometimes happens when the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence. Happy milking!

  27. Cat says:

    This brings back memories for me! I loved going down to the barn and milking our one Jersey, Mikki. She was so adorable and very old, but she gave 4 gallons of milk a day, minus one bad teet!! The mornings and evenings with her, the smell of the old hundred year barn, the quietness of the open fields beyond, bring a sigh to me right now. I loved those times and the cats loved it too!
    The saddest day was when we took Mikki to auction because she was getting so old. I couldn’t stand it! My husband took me back out to the auction yard to try and see her, but she was gone. I always figured she ran away and is out there in a beautiful green field somewhere, at least I like to think she wasn’t made into glue. If you see her let her know that I still love her for all the great milk she fed our family over the years. Bless you!

  28. I just love Jerseys. I had several of them when my kids were younger. When the kids grew up and left, I graduated to goats and love making cheese. In fact, I teach online workshops on cheesemaking each summer. Now that I am approaching retirement I have purchased a young Jersey again, dreaming of the butter, eggnog and icecream that I remember so fondly. Raw milk rocks! BTW, my hat is off to you to farm in Alaska.

  29. Wendella says:

    I love your stantion set up in the picture. I want to do the milk cow thing and have done it a few years back but I run my ranch myself and I bartend so the hours of that are not condusive. Plus if i have to go anywhere there is no one to take my place. Must tell the story a few years ago when I did try the milk cow thing. I answered an ad in the paper for a holstien named Oreo, who had had one calf. the owners had raised her from a calf as a pet and low and behold found that their kids just didn’t want to do all that milking. (surprise). She had never been tied up, just lured around with left over vegetables from the grocery store from where the owner worked. (cute) She was very tame. I bred her to my beef bull. I put a colar on her and when she was ready to calve put her in the barn with nice fresh hay. I watched her calve and even took pictures. that went well and then I new I had to milk that 10 gallon udder by hand or I thought she would soon explode! I tied her to the wall by her collar but she kept kicking at me to I tied her back legs together and that helped. and i spent the next 3 hours trying to get her milked out. It just kept coming and coming. Even though I let the calf (cookie) suck on her all the time too. somehow I preservered and went out to milk her every day twice a day. the milk was wonderful but I was bartending so I Would milk her in the afternoon and then after work at 2 am in the morning. I thought I must be a crazy person. If anyone in the bar knew what a did when i got home at night! After a few weeks my arms started to go knumb in the middle of the day when I wasn’t even milking and plus they were getting very big ungirl like muscles. So I bought a portable milking machine ($1,000). that worked pretty good and saved me from carpel tunnel syndrome, but there is a lot more cleanup of equipment involved. but the milk stayed fresher longer because I could get it cooled faster.
    I am very proud of myself for that endeavor and plan to do it again but here is what I learned
    1. First of all i like your idea of just milking the back 2 teats and letting the calf milk the others. Brilliant.
    2. If you only milk your cow once a day or only milk a certain amount out of her,her milk supply will adjust to that. just do things gradually. Beef cows do that naturally.
    3. Its better to use a cow with less milk production and more butterfat, like a jersey or something.
    4. Half gallon canning jars are perfect for keeping milk in your fridge. the milk cools faster in the smaller container and you can pour right out of it like a pitcher without spilling.
    5. milking by hand is simpler as long as you don’t have a 10 gallon cow.
    6. It would be so great to have a house husband who could do all the cooking while i did all the taking care of the animals and gardening. Plus who was a great electrician, plumber and mechanic and had lots of money to buy tractors and equipment and stuff. Lol! We can dream

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