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Our Milking Cow Experience

March 17, 2018

Reading back over some of my posts I have come to realise that there are things we do that get mentioned at various times and in particular circumstances that often do not reflect the “norm”.  As time has gone by milking has become a pleasant routine and I thought it might be worth while to just go over our milking cow experiences and lay out what our normal routine has become.  I think I would have appreciated reading something like that when I was new to milking!

Our first cow was a “milky” type of Dexter called Isabelle.  We picked her up quite cheaply with her calf and were pleased to hear she had been hand milked in the past.  We were confident that we could win her trust and get her back into milking.  The long and the short of it was that she won and we failed!  Cows are stubborn creatures.  You can read about some of our experiences in earlier blog posts, but basically she never liked us and kicked like the blazes despite us trying a milking stanchion and a ‘kick-stop’ bar.


In the end we went on a house cow forum for advice and the general opinion was that we should give up on her and get a nicer cow.  🙂  It was good advice and we took it, and Izzy returned to her preferred life of being left alone with her calves in a paddock.

Thinking over our experience with Izzy, and later with Twinkles, I would advise anyone wanting a house cow, especially if you are inexperienced like us, to start with a hand reared calf and preferably rear it yourself – even though I realise it takes a number of years before you start milking that way.  Cows grow big and can hurt you without even meaning to, and it gives you a lot more confidence in being with your cow if you have handled it from a baby.  You can also make sure it is used to being rubbed all over and is familiar with clanging buckets, clunking crates and the sound of streams of fluid hitting the sides of containers.  If you do get a mature cow, at least be sure that it has been well handled and that it happily accepts people’s attention.

Anyway, to return to our experiences, we got Twinkles as a day old sooky calf in November 2010.  We got her from a farmer who was giving us 3 bull calves to raise up for meat, and getting a heifer in the group was a great surprise, but a welcome one. I always think of her as my gift from God, a gift I wasn’t expecting.  She was always a sweet natured girl, and more accepting of us than her two brothers.  She is a Friesian crossed with a Hereford.  That suited us well as we didn’t want a cow that gave enormous amounts of milk as we hoped to avoid constant worries about udder damage and milk fever.

We made sure to halter train her from a young age and to rub her all over on a regular basis.  That doesn’t mean we did it every day, in fact I’m sure there were weeks at a time (especially in winter) where she didn’t get much more attention than being fed daily.  Food, however, was a marvellous training tool with Twinkles.  She would always eagerly come for a bucket, and we could then put her halter on and give her a leading and handling lesson.


We sent her away to visit a Dexter bull as we wanted the calf to be small for her first calving.  She calved at 2 years and 3 months of age.  She prefers to calve somewhere sheltered and partly hidden so our paddock with the tea trees is perfect for her.

She was happy for us to see and touch her calf and, following the advice of Marja Fitzgerald in her book “The Healthy House Cow” we milked her twice a day from the start.  She was a bit twitchy on her first few milkings, I think it felt a bit uncomfortable and strange, but she soon settled down.  For the first few weeks of having her calf she is always obsessed with it, licks it vigorously and often hides it in the bushes while she goes off to graze.


Immediately after she calves we start milking twice a day.  The milk is colostrum at first, so it often ends up going to the chooks, but it is supposed to help to establish a good milk supply to reduce the pressure in the udder.  The first couple of days the calf does not take much, and if we did not milk Twinkles her udder would be quite engorged and uncomfortable.  We leave the calf with her full time for the first two or three weeks.  Gradually, over about two weeks, the calf comes into his own and starts taking pretty much all of the available milk, so once that happens I drop back to milking only in the morning and just get what I can.

Cathy milking twinkles

Once I hit the two to three weeks stage I start to separate Twinkles and her calf overnight.  I usually begin by pulling her out of the paddock fairly late, perhaps 8 or 9pm.  I always feel nervous the first night I do it as our fences are all electric, and I often slip down to check the calf is okay and not tangled in the electric fence.  I am pleased to say that has never happened but I would love to have a small yard or even one fence line with mesh or wood fences just for this particular job.  Anyway, by this time the pony will have met the calf and she does the job of being the “aunty” who babysits overnight while mum is away.  It does help that the calf has company nearby I am sure.  At various times we have had steers, bottle fed calves, a horse and now the pony to take on this role.  I have locked the calves into electro mesh pens in the past, but these days I just leave them in the main paddock with the pony, and take Twinkles out into the adjoining paddock overnight.  Twinkles will always come for food, and the calf is usually not concerned at her going a small distance away by this time.  They can still see each other through the fence and talk to each other and so far it has always gone quite smoothly.

The next morning at about 8:30am we start to milk again.  I offer the calf some food, ground grain or pollard (mixed with molasses if I am feeling generous).  (Auntie Pony has to be tied up or she will eat it!) It usually takes the calves a couple of weeks before they get interested in the food, but as time goes by they start to eat more and more grain and hay.  I put the halter on Twinkles and tie her up somewhere and then she gets her mixture of ground grain and minerals too.  I wait until she has finished eating before I start to milk, as otherwise she fidgets.  Originally Sam used to milk and we have even milked two people together sometimes, but now I do it all and he is just my backup.

I sit on a milk crate, usually on Twink’s right side although she doesn’t care which side I use, and briefly clean her teats with warm water and milk a couple of squirts from each teat onto the ground.  Then I get serious and start milking in the traditional way into a steel bucket.  I milk the rear two quarters first, and when they slow down I shift to the front two quarters.  I usually sing while I milk.  I started singing when I was first milking as it helped me to keep a good rhythm and take my mind off the fact that my arms were aching.  🙂  My arms don’t ache so much once I have built up the muscles, but they do if I have had a break for a couple of months.  However I quite like singing while I milk, and Twinkles likes routine so I think she likes it too.  She really does like routine!  The more I can keep to a familiar routine, the happier and easier my job is.

When I have finished milking I pour my milk into a plastic container with a lid ready to take up to the house.  Then I put a small amount of pollard or something as a treat into a container in the paddock with the calf, remove Twinkles halter, open the gate and let her back into the paddock.  She will always hurry through to the feed bowl, and the calf will hurry to her, and I can safely lock them back in again.  We do not have a lot of grass so I usually feed them all hay too.

Once the milking is over I bring the milk up to the house.  I strain it through some butter muslin into some milk jugs and put it straight into the fridge.  We do not pasteurise our milk as it rarely lasts more than a day or two before being consumed.

One advantage of milking once a day and sharing the milk with the calf with the cow is that you can just leave the calf with his mum overnight if you want to go away or not to milk for some reason. It is a nice option to have.

Twinkle’s milk supply goes up and down a bit.  Sometimes I think it depends on how recently the calf has drunk before I separated them.  I often decide how much milk I want, usually 3-4 litres, and just take that, and leave the rest for the calf.  If my portion of the milk supply starts getting low I will take it all for a while, knowing that the calf will be building Twinkle’s supply up by drinking a lot over the day.  If I still find I am not getting enough, I will start to separate the cow out earlier in the day and that usually does the trick.  By the time the calf is weaned I am usually separating them at about 5pm, and still not milking until around 8:30am.

Eventually the time comes when the calf no longer needs milk, and I would like a bit more.  I then decide that weaning time has arrived.  It seems to work out that I usually wean my calves at around 9-10 months of age, at which time they definitely don’t need the milk at all!  I have separated them a fair distance apart in the past for a few weeks, which often caused lots of moo-ing and pacing of fences.  However most recently I just left Twinkles in the overnight paddock after the milking and gave both her and the (not so much of a) calf a bit of extra food and they settled down pretty quickly.  After all they were used to being in adjacent paddocks overnight, so I guess it felt pretty familiar.  I left them apart for 10 days before returning Twinks to the normal paddock.  The calf went to try to drink, but she kicked him off and wouldn’t let him.  After a few days he didn’t try anymore.

Once the calf is weaned I no longer have the luxury of skipping milking for a day, as the cow needs milking no matter what, at least if I want to keep getting milk.  Milking also takes a little longer as I have to completely empty the udder each milking, rather than letting the calf do that for me.  I milk her right out, switching back and forth between tests, until I am getting hardly anything.  Usually I start milking twice a day for a few days, until I am confident Twinks is not going to get an engorged udder.

I have no milking shed yet, maybe one day, so I get to milk in sunshine, rain, wind and even snow!

Over the years I think that Twinkle’s milk supply has slowly increased, although her supply also reduces as time passes and as she nears her next calving.  This year she is 7 years old and I am getting about 5 litres each morning after weaning her calf at 10 months of age.  She is still not in calf at the moment, so we expect to be be milking for at least another 7 months.  I expect her supply will have reduced by the end, perhaps to 3 litres or possibly even less.  The advantage of that is that when I decide to dry her off in preparation for her next calving, she is less likely to get engorged in the process.  If her milk supply dropped to less than 2 litres a day, I would probably decide it wasn’t worth the effort of continuing and would dry her off.  Drying off, when her supply is low, is as simple as stopping milking and reducing her grain feed.  At the moment her feed consists of crushed barley, pollard, salt, seaweed meal, dolomite and meadow hay.

Getting Twinkles in calf is the next issue.  It usually takes until the calf is about 9 months of age before I can work out when she is on heat, and can try to sort out her rhythm in order to get her to a bull when she is receptive.  Our good neighbour usually has a few bulls in his paddocks and he is happy for me to take Twinks down to visit one of them when the time comes.  I often find it a challenge to know exactly when I should take her.  Bulling seems to be the one sure sign, and if I see that I will drop everything and take her for a walk down the road.  If I see less certain signs I usually mark them on the calendar and wait another 3 weeks and keep a close eye on her then.  Other signs for Twinkles are: being restless when milked, funny taste or smell to the milk (it took me years before I realised that this was caused by her being on heat, I used to think it was something she ate), mooing at the fence, her milk supply dropping for a day or two, her calf smelling her rear end and lifting his head and curling his top lip (this seems a pretty unreliable sign).  Just recently my dairy farmer neighbour told me that the time between heats reduces by one day every cycle.  I hadn’t heard that before but it may explain why I have missed catching her cycle a couple of times this year.

The walk down the road is usually a challenge as Twinks wants to run, not walk.  Then I often have to juggle gates and cattle in order to introduce her to the bull of my choice, so I usually try to take a helper along.  I am not a hugely confident cattle person, except with my own cow – and Twinkles is at her most pushy when she is on heat, but we usually manage.  Once the deed is done Twinks will always be happy to be caught for food, or even just to come home to her calf.

Twinkles first calf was a lovely little black boy called Blaze.  Just as an aside, we always put a ring on the bull calves at about 1-2 weeks of age.  They are not very comfortable with it at first, and I feel a bit mean, but it is much easier than trying to castrate them later.

Her second calf was a fawn coloured heifer who died in utero.  I should have known something was wrong when she went over time before calving.  However, when she did start to calve she was obviously having problems and it was taking way too long.  We called the vet out and she managed to pull the very dead calf out with a calf puller without too much trouble.  The vet assured us there was no problems with Twinks and that she should not have problems in the future, it was just one of those sad things that happen.  That meant we had to milk twice a day, full on from the start as there was no calf to share the milking with.  We got 10 litres each milking for the first week (the pigs were happy), then it settled down to being about 10 litres per day and dropped off more as time passed.

The third calf was a hereford coloured boy called Straight Line Stu (or Stew for short).

The fourth and current calf is a browny grey boy called Smokey.

The calves start off happy to be stroked for the first day or two, but then they quickly get nervous of us, despite having such a quiet mum.  It can be a challenge to catch them and halter train them, but it is worth doing.  I usually put a halter onto them when the cow has been returned to the paddock after milking.  At that time the calves just want to ignore me and drink from their mum, and I can generally manage to finagle getting the halter on.  Then we tie them to a tree or a fence post and start the whole training thing.  We went to a dexter training day where they showed us calves being halter trained and it was an invaluable experience, giving us an idea of what is normal (calves pulling, throwing themselves down, gradually becoming more accepting over a number of lessons, moving on to getting them to move a few steps at a time, etc.) so that were more confident to manage ourselves.

Once again this training is something we do sporadically, certainly not every day and not even every week.  Thankfully once they have learned halter training they do seem to mostly remember it, even after a long break.  I find that the calves start to regain their confidence at around 9-10 months, perhaps it coincides with weaning and starting to see me as being the main food provider?

Twinkles has not had much in the way of health problems that I can think of.  I have wormed her when she was young and also a couple of years ago when she was losing hair in a few places, but I don’t do it on a regular basis.  Izzy Had a bit of a belly ache a couple of times which I worked out was being caused by having too much lucerne in her feed.  she would look around and kick at her side with her back leg.  We gave her some warm water with molasses in it and some vegetable oil mixed in.  The oil was supposed to help to limit the gas production in her gut, and she did seem to get relief so I guess it worked.  Then of course we just watched her feed more closely and kept the lucerne content right down.

Twinkles is most relaxed with me milking her, although she can be talked into allowing others around as well but she prefers women to men.  Sam can remind her of who he is by coming armed with an apple.  Her main vice is eating the wrong things.  She likes to munch on tarpaulins, hose fittings and the hoses themselves, electric fence handles, anything plastic really.  🙂 I don’t think it is good for her so I discourage it strongly!  Otherwise she is a lovely, quiet and patient girl.  She accepts me as her mum I am sure, and is happy for me to see her calves, give her hugs or whatever other weird thing I do.  I think having her is my favourite aspect of our new lifestyle.

Well, this post has grown overly long!  No doubt there is more to say, but I think this will do for now.  I can always edit it later.  🙂

The Changing View

January 24, 2016

I like to watch the changing view across the road, looking south from our property.  I have decided to start this post and add photos to it as the seasons and events change the scene.

This is what we see on a nice day.  This was 4th November 2013.  The cows come and go.  🙂

Mersey Valley and Great Western Tiers with Snow

Covered with snow, 4th August 2015.

Snow covered paddocks and hills


In the morning during the bushfires 24th January 2016. We sometimes couldn’t see the closer hills let alone the mountains due to the smoke.


Lovely Spring day.  September 14th 2016.  You can see the old dead tree has been cut down and removed for firewood. Also the river has moved on the flats after the floods – you can just see the white of the river rocks in the dip in the middle of the tree line.


Just thought I would add a close up of the dip through to the river flats, so you can see that the river can be seen there now.  We could not see it before the floods.

Paddock, River and Mountains beyond

September 5th 2017  A not so extreme snow day.


More Fires Nearby

January 22, 2016

The Lake McKenzie fire flaring up on Tuesday.

Smoke over the Western Tiers

View from Union Bridge Road on Thursday afternoon (while we could still see before the smoke blotted out the world!)


Short movie – looking north up Union Bridge Rd and panning around in a full circle, to the west then south then east then north again.  An interesting contrast of the beautiful blue skies looking toward Mount Roland compared to the dark brooding smoke over Mole Creek.