Friday, March 30, 2012

Udderly Delightful

The udders on a cow can tell you a great deal... how close the cow is to calving, or if she's already been milked, for example. So, feeling sort of like a pervert, I walked around and took pictures of different cow udders to illustrate this point.

When a cow gets closer to giving birth, her udders will fill and look tight with the milk that's inside. Before that, her udders will tend to look looser. Also, heifers* tend to have little udders that will become larger after a year of milking.

After milking, the udders will soften and look looser. In older cows, they will soften so much that they look like an empty leather bag. All of these pictures were taken many hours after milking in the afternoon, however.

*Heifers haven't had a calf yet, while cows have. Who knew?

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Miracle of Birth

Last week, I was taking an early evening stroll when I happened upon a cow giving birth. Since I had my trusty Nikon with me, I got some very aww-worthy pictures of the mama cow welcoming her little calf into the world.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My Morning Milking

The countryside is greening up here in Maryland. The trees are blooming, and after a bit of rain last night, the clover is shooting up by the inch.

The warm weather definitely makes milking in the morning a tad more enjoyable than it was my first few days, when my nose dripped an endless cascade of snot and my fingers went stiff and numb with cold, despite dunking them in hot water as often as I could get away with it. But there was still something rather nice in the way I could see the cows' breath as they stood patiently in line, waiting to be milked... not to mention the steam that billowed from the copious piles of manure they left all over the milking barn. How beautiful, I thought.

I've now been at the farm for two weeks, and milking the cows is clearly the one task that I will clock the most hours performing over the next five months. And after a couple weeks, I feel like I'm getting the hang of it, minus a few novice mistakes here and there.

Milking is a dirty, dirty job, and as a result I will not be bringing my camera anywhere near the milking barn. But I'll do my best to describe it. You know, with words and stuff.

Mark and I start the milking process at 7 each morning. First we have to do all the fun prep work, which includes spraying down everything in the barn with water (it helps the poop not to cling so much, meaning an easier clean-up later), putting in a new filter for the milk, filling the feed buckets, taking caps off the milkers, and bringing out the various accessories we need.

By this point, the cows who have played this game before have lined up outside the barn. But there are still several stragglers who are either reluctant to be milked or just haven't figured out the swing of things yet. (One girl, who I've been calling Sneaky, is very good at evasive maneuvers.) So Mark and I round them up, and herd them into the milk barn. The cows who have been doing this for a while line up immediately, and we pour feed into the trough in front of them to keep them bribed occupied while we milk.

Before we clap the machines on their udders, we have to clean them, since they're usually pretty yucky after a day of wallowing in the glorious, muddy outdoors. We dip each udder in a solution that disinfects and softens the udder, and wipe them off with a paper towel. We also spray a little milk to check for signs of infection - a different color, or flakes in the fluid, for example. After the ladies are all cleaned up, we put the milking machines on them, which pumps the milk into a pasteurizer in the creamery.

The milking barn is set up so that eight cows can be milked on either side, with the milking machines in the center. Luckily the machines - and us - are protected from poop attacks by a poop shield. And there is a lot of poop from which we are shielded.

After all the cows have been milked, we let them out and commence with clean-up... which, so far, has been a formidable task. I use a high-powered hose to spray all the poop and pee and spilled feed into submission, and escort it down a drain at the end of the milking barn. Then I put the caps back on the milkers, take out the filter, and bring in the various buckets and hoses that need to be washed. And another bout of milking is complete.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My First Week at Clear Spring Creamery

Hello, dear readers.

I've officially finished my first week and a half at Clear Spring Creamery, and what a week and a half it has been.

In the last ten days, I have learned about milking, feeding calves, putting up fences, using four wheelers, herding cows in the direction you want, bottling milk, flipping cheese, and driving delivery trucks. I've learned the difference between a cow and a heifer, the secret language of udders, and why you don't use milk for the first three days after a calf is born. And trust me, you will hear about it all... eventually.

The last few weeks have been pretty rough - hence the lack of posting - but I'm confident that my life will settle back down into a routine in the coming weeks, and I'll be able to focus on learning about the business of cows.