Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A Cow by Any Other Name...

Well, we've finally settled on a name for our cow: Bella. I had been thinking of Lilly, but she really isn't a Lilly. I needed to live with her for a while, get to know her and her personality a bit more before I could put a name to her. Lavish just didn't cut it.

While brushing her I'd find myself murmuring how beautiful she is, so Bella just seems fitting. Plus, I can now sing her one of my favorite Ella Fitzgerald songs, a live rendition in Berlin of Mack the Knife where she improvised the lyrics: "Now Ella Bella and her fellas are makin' a wreck of Mack the Knife..." That song has a wonderful history of improvisation, as it became an overnight sensation and even Louis Armstrong, who recorded it in 1956, and his band ended up feeding nickels to a jukebox to relearn it while on tour in Europe.

But I digress....

Folks have asked how the milking is going and what our routine looks like, and now that we've had Bella for a week and a half, I feel like we've actually developed some kind of routine to talk about. Warning: lots of boring details ahead!

I've set up our mudroom as a milking room of sorts. This is where the utility sink is, which makes washing and storing the machine pretty convenient. I'd love to replace the plastic sink with a stainless one, but it'll send Jim into a tizzy to even mention it, so pretend I said nothing.

I use a DeLaval milker (sorry Tim, not sure which model but it's definitely an older one), and I'm pretty pleased with it so far, though it definitely takes some getting used to. Figuring out how to attach the inflations (the thing that attaches to the teat) while holding the whole claw up (the thing that joins all 4 inflations) was a rather steep learning curve. I have plugs, which helps tremendously—I can't imagine trying to pinch off each one manually.

I milk in the barn twice a day, between about 7:45 and 8:15 am/ pm. She was on a 7:30/ 7:30 schedule, and this seemed quite sane to me, so we worked it a bit into our schedule with CSA pick-ups and such. I still have time to wake up a bit, have a relaxing cup of coffee and check my email before heading out to the barn.

This is my basic set up here to the right: a clean towel to lay stuff on, her brushes, a dip cup, and a five gallon bucket. Missing from the photo are also my small milking pail, which I use as a strip cup, and a container with the udder wash and cloths. When I head out to the barn, I fill up the five gallon bucket with about 4 gallons of water and 1/4 cup of Clorox bleach. I use the pump to run this through the milk machine to sanitize it before milking, then I pour the mixture back into the bucket for use after milking. I insert the plugs into the inflations and get Bella's feed and hay ready before going out to fetch her from the pasture. She stays much cleaner out there! I'm thinking that morning milk in the winter may go to the animals.

This is a photo from the second day we had her, so she's a whole lot cleaner now on a regular basis, but this gives you some idea of what I'm talking about. We have her tethered on both sides with a feed bucket in front of her, and she's looking out the dutch door of the barn. We bring her in through her stall, which is on the other side of the wall to her right side, and then walk her out through the door in front of her so she never has to turn around.

After cleaning her teats and udder, I take the first few squirts of milk from each teat by hand to check for signs of mastitis and to clean the orifice—those first squirts have the highest bacteria count. I then turn on the pump and attach each inflation one by one. I've found the best way for me is to extend my legs under Bella to support the claw as I attach. My hands just aren't large enough to keep it up off the ground otherwise.

Once she's done milking out, I massage each quarter gently to get the last of the cream. Milking out thoroughly is really important to help prevent mastitis, something you definitely don't want to deal with. I have a California Mastitis Test kit on hand in case I need it, which is a good investment for anyone with dairy animals. I then turn off the pump and remove the inflations, strip her by hand just to be sure, and dip her teats to help prevent infection. At this point, she's done her grain/ alfalfa mix, and I brush her a bit just to keep her standing while her teat orifices close before turning her back out onto pasture. I get just under 2 gallons at each milking.

The milk bucket then heads back into the house with me where I decant it into two sterilized one gallon glass jars. The jars go into plastic storage containers that I fill with ice water and set into the fridge for rapid chilling.

The system that I've developed is that the freshest milk is in the front, and the previous milking is behind. That gives each jar a full 24 hours for the cream to separate. I did some refrigerator rearranging to accommodate all the jars of milk and cream. Crazy huh?

After pouring off the milk, I take the milker back out to the barn where I can use the pump to cycle through that 4 gallons of bleach water again to clean the machine, dumping it back into the 5 gallon bucket when I'm done. Then I bring the milker back in to the utility sink where I wash it out with hot soapy water inside and out and set it dry before the next cycle begins. I let the bleach dissipate from the 5 gallon bucket before pouring it out and giving it a quick cleaning. Once every 2 weeks or so, I'll probably run a dairy acid wash through the machine to prevent milk stone build up.

Back to the kitchen.... Once the jars have sat for 24 hours, I skim the cream into a quart mason jars and date the lid. We've been using the cream for making fresh ice cream and butter as well as a neufchatel cream cheese, which is pressing out now and should be ready for bagels this morning if all went well.

Once the milk is skimmed, I pour some of it off into 1/2 gallon milk jars for drinking and date the bottle cap. We're not huge milk drinkers—in fact I don't drink milk at all—so we go through a 1/2 gallon in just over a day. The kids and Jim are now drinking amazing raw milk that's no more than 2 days old. It just doesn't get any better than that! Even skimmed, the milk has a cream line similar to that from a commercial dairy. Unskimmed, the Jersey milk is so high in butterfat that the cream line goes half way down the milk jug! Plus, my kiddos don't much like getting the big chunks of heavy cream in the cereal, so skimming works out great, and unless something happens during the milking routine to compromise the milk, I skim all the milk that goes out to the animals as well, getting all the tasty cream for us. I get about a quart of cream for each 2 gallons of milk.

We purchased a Donvier ice cream maker after much research on my part. It's received excellent reviews, unlike the old fashioned wooden bucket makers, and though it doesn't make as much ice cream, we figure that's probably a good thing in the long run because it's so darned good that we'd eat more of it if there were more! It makes a quart of soft ice cream in about 20 minutes with very little cranking and no ice/ salt mess to deal with. It's really simple and convenient. Just store the cylinder in the freezer overnight and it's ready to go.

I've also been making butter with the cream in my stand mixer, not quite as fabulous as the ice cream, but pretty darn tasty. I've put up about 3.5 lbs in the freezer now as we use up the last of our store-bought butter.

I'd guess that the butter also takes about 20 minutes to make with the mixer set on medium speed. I use the splash guard and drape a lightweight dish towel over it to catch the splashes. Once it separates, I pour off the buttermilk to use for cooking or cheesemaking and thoroughly rinse the butter in cool water before packing into sour cream tubs for freezing. Each tub holds just over a pound of butter. Yesterday I made about 2.5 lbs of butter while I was making pancakes and waffles for the kids—pretty easy.

The trick has just been to find ways to integrate all these new steps into the existing rhythm of my day, figuring out how best to make things work for our set up. We're going to be milking a goat as well in the next 3 weeks or so, which should add another interesting twist. Jules is determined to do it herself at this point in time. We'll see how long that determination holds out. The nice thing with that, though, is that we'll have the kid(s), so I can always let them do the job if it gets to be too much for us.

The big thing now is determining whether Bella is, indeed, pregnant again. She was AI-ed when we went to look at her, and the dairy kept her through another heat cycle for me upon my request. Good thing, too, because she came back into heat. The gal AI-ed her again, twice, 12 hours apart, and the vet check showed no signs of cysts that might prevent pregnancy. So, I'm hopeful but still anxious.


Malva said...

Thanks for all the details!

How long does the milking chore actually take you from start (when you go out the door) to finish (after you've cleaned the machine)?

Lewru said...

Holy Cow! :)
That sounds like a lot of work but such a delicious result! Came over from the food storage list - Love the blog! Just great stuff!

El said...

Thank you! You're right about having to rejigger your schedule, but I'll bet in a year you won't even remember :)

It does look though like you guys will need a 2nd refrigerator! Jealous!

Madeline said...

Man! SO much work, but so worth it for all of that delicousness. I love the Ella Fitzgerald story too. Great name, Bella. Much more suitable than Lavish, though I loved "Lavish is in the house"! I can't believe you can fit all that in your fridge.

Danielle said...

Malva, milking takes about 35-45 minutes, depending upon how long I linger. The actual milking itself only takes about 10 minutes—it's all the stuff leading up to it and cleaning up that takes the time.

Really, though, it's not all that much work. The cleaning part goes pretty fast: 10-15 minutes. Then another 10-15 minutes just to get Bella, clean her up, and put her back on pasture.

Thanks Lewru—glad to have you here.

El, luckily with the CSA, egg and meat sales, we do have a second refrigerator, and yes, I'd be lost without it.

Madeline, the funny thing is that I've been coveting your fridge ever since we left! I hate our side by side and would love to have just all fridge, especially since we have the deep freezers. Although the ice dispenser is pretty handy.

Yes, folks, that's where half my electric bill goes: 2 refrigerators and 2 deep freezers. We bought the freezers, so they're both energy stars, but the fridges were here when we moved in. One of them is ancient, and I doubt the other is an energy star.

karl said...

we did it was surprisingly easy--albeit scary. we had good news and probably caught the AI versus a later bull visit which means a show registered calf.

tabitha hand milks for now until our other cow comes fresh.

Country Girl said...

Thanks for the explanation, it was a great break down of what it takes to get milk morning and night and Bella is a perfect name! Some day we will have cows here when we have the time and money to get the fencing up. Next spring I have a goat I plan to breed then milk eventually, it will be a first for us. I enjoy your blog!!

e4 said...

Interesting to see how somebody else does it. It's also interesting to learn that it takes about the same amount of time as hand milking - it's just that the time is spent differently.

I love that Ella Fitzgerald version of Mack the Knife too. Great stuff. And a great name.

Christy said...

I love the name Bella. It has always been my favorite girls name. I named one of Trebs lambs Bella this year. Milking sounds very involved. It will be awhile before I'm ready to take that on.

Tim said...

MMMMM fresh ice cream! I remember getting fresh milk from a friend's farm when I was a child. It was so much better like that.

Erin said...

wow thank you for taking time to share all of the details that go into this. Someday my husband and I plan to have a farm, he'll be working off the farm and I'll be in charge of a lot of it, so it's nice to see a glimpse of what I'll be getting into.