Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Simple Udder Prep & Milking Routine for Hand-milking My Dexters

Here--in a condensed, easy-to-follow form--is the routine I use to prep my Dexter cows' udders for milking.  An expanded version, including explanations and rationales, can be found here.

Clean.  Brush or wipe the udder with a clean cloth to remove dirt and debris.

Let the cow into the stanchion and close the neck catch.

Dip.  Pre-dip each teat with an iodine dip from the GREEN for GO cup.
Count at least 30 seconds after the last teat is dipped.

Dry.  Firmly wipe each teat with a separate paper towel or separate side of a clean cloth.

Wipe each teat with a separate teat wipe to remove excess teat dip.  (This is a step I add that many milkers do not use.)

Apply Bag Balm to each teat.
Strip.  Strip each teat 3 times into a cup to check for clumps.


Strip.  Strip each teat until no more milk comes out.
Dip.  Post-dip each teat with iodine dip from the RED for STOP cup.

Clean.  Let the cow out and sweep out (or hose, if necessary) the stanchion.

Thanks to my Keeping a Family Cow friends for their help in condensing the original post into a more manageable form!  They generously responded to my original post, and I thought the poll in the link was helpful, too--especially Charlotte Smith's video.

If you want it condensed even more, here are the Seven Essential Steps in a recitable mantra:


Monday, October 27, 2014

Friends in Far Places
One of the blogs I follow regularly is "Grasspunk," written by Brent Curtis about his family farm in Gascony, France where they raise Salers beef cattle using Intensive Rotational Grazing.  I truly admire what Brent and Jean have done with their farm, turning old vineyards into lush pasture where they raise delicious grass-fed beef.

So you can imagine my surprise when I found my little blog mentioned  in his post the other day, "Some Great Farm Blogs to Improve My Farming."  Not only was I astonished--I was completely humbled!  Brent and Jean are doing what I wish we could do.  I'm afraid our pastures will never look like theirs.  I have had to accept that IRG is not within our capabilities at this stage of our lives--but Brent's perspective on pasture is the ideal that I keep in mind.

Here's what Brent wrote:
Adventures on Zephyr Hill Farm goes into amazing details on the ins and outs of milking and running Dexter cattle for the smallholder. Watching her defeat the challenges of her farm is always inspiring. Cute cows, too.
I'll grant you the cute cows; I know that's true!  I just didn't realize that us defeating our challenges could be inspiring.  Although I find myself hesitant to accept such an accolade, it does encourage us to keep taking on the challenges.  And maybe some day, we'll have them all figured out and I can finally change the title of this blog to what I should have called it in the first place (if I'd only had a brain!) . . .

"Dull Days on Zephyr Hill Farm"  

Meanwhile, thank you, Brent, for including me in such heady company.  Now I'm heading over to check out some more of those blogs you listed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Udder Prep and Milking Routine for My Dexters

Last fall I posted my udder prep and milking routine.  Then in February of this year as I was drying off Siobhan, she ended up with Staph A mastitis in one quarter.  My vet felt that her self-sucking on that quarter probably caused it, but he recommended that I change my milking routine to include use of an iodine pre- and post-dip.  I followed his advice.

The more I read and asked questions, especially on Keeping a Family Cow forum, the more I became convinced of several things:
  • Water does not belong on an udder (except in very limited situations).
  • Iodine (non-foaming) teat dip is the best.
  • Pre-dipping is most important, with post-dipping a close second.
Using this udder prep and milking routine since early this year, we have 100% clean milk tests--two on Siobhan and one on Ebony.  Since we had to travel a lot this summer, once the calves could handle all the milk this spring, I let both the cows just be mothers with only occasional milking.  Now it's time to wean Ebony's calf, Tiggy, so I'm milking Ebby OAD (once a day) in order to monitor her before I dry her off.  Here, then, is our routine . . .

Bring the cow to the milking parlor and tie her outside.  This gives her a chance to poop and pee before she gets into the stanchion.

Now is a good time to brush the cow.  This is a bonding time and establishes a routine that prepares her to let down.

Most importantly, check her udder and clean off any hay, mud, manure, etc.  (Ebby is normally a clean cow and doesn't usually lay in her manure, but like many Dexters she does have a hairy udder, so cleaning removes anything that could fall into the milk.)  In the milking parlor I keep a gallon plastic ziplock bag full of sanitized cloths, and I grab one to thoroughly wipe off her udder.

Let the cow into the stanchion (lead her or let her walk in) and close the neck catch.

(Ebby was upset at being separated from Tiggy for 15 hours, her udder was quite full, and Tiggy was bawling her head off nearby (but out of sight) in the round pen.  So this was not Ebby's happiest time in the stanchion, but it was when I had a photographer available so we went for it.)

Thanks to Kara for the great photos!

Set the covered milk bucket somewhere safe.

I use a shelf because it's out of the reach of pee and poop splatters and can't get knocked over by accident.

Optional:  Apply mint udder balm if needed.  I used this for Ebby because she was so full and uncomfortable.  It's also great for newly-freshened cows with edema.   Massage the mint balm into the udder, but keep it off the teats because some cows don't like the sensation on the bare teat.

Have the iodine teat dip (this is Teat-Kote 10/III from Hamby Dairy Supply) in separate cups for pre- and post-dip.

(I bought this style because they fit easily under short cattle, but I don't like how they drip.  I would like to replace them with these, but they don't come in multiple colors.  So I guess I'll put up with the drips!)

Take the GREEN cup for GO, and squeeze some into the reservoir.

Dip each teat by pushing the cup up until the dip completely surrounds the teat.

When the last teat is dipped, you can dump the extra dip on one of the cow's hooves.  This can eliminate any possibly contaminated dip and is good for the hooves.

After the last teat is dipped, count at least 30 seconds.  This is the minimum time needed for the dip to do its job.

Tear two clean paper towels in half.

(I keep the roll of paper towels up high on the shelf where they stay clean.)

Firmly wipe each teat with a separate piece of paper towel, wiping the entire teat, including the orifice.

(Some people use sanitized rags.  Use two rags, a separate side for each teat.)

Wipe each teat with a separate commercial teat wipe, including the orifice.

I use Milk Check wipes from Hamby.  Using four per milking, this works out to 17 cents per milking, a cost that I find quite reasonable.

The teat wipes:
  • remove most iodine residue.  (This is the most I got off; other teats had barely any left.)
  • are a final sanitizing step that I like to do.
  • If the cow pees during milking, the teat wipes are a handy way to re-clean the teats.
Apply Bag Balm to the teats.  This keeps the teats moisturized and makes it easier to strip without pulling the skin of the teats.

Optional:  If my gloves aren't powdered or I'm sweaty and have a hard time getting gloves on, I put a bit of baby powder on my hands.  (Sorry about the awful photos of me--just try to concentrate on the process and the beautiful cow!)

Glove up!

Why do I use gloves?  Research has shown that the use of gloves for milking reduces mastitis.  I often have splits, cracks or cuts on my hands that could harbor germs, so I think it's especially important for me.

Why do I wait till now to put the gloves on?  Because up till now I really haven't touched the teats, but I'm about ready to.

One nice thing about wearing gloves is that any time you need to re-clean your hands during milking, it's easy to sanitize them with an alcohol-based sanitizer without being hard on your skin.

NOTE that I do not touch the pump with any part of my hand that will touch the teat.  I turn my hand upside down and use the back to pump.

If I need to stop milking and touch the calf, a lead rope, or a shovel to catch manure--I sanitize.  Many days I never use the sanitizer, but it's there if I need it.

Strip each teat about 3 times into a cup . . .

. . . and check for clumps.

(I do have a strip cup which I forgot to bring to the barn.)

Note the lightweight stall mat under Ebby's feet.  There's also a larger one behind the stanchion for the cows to walk over as they enter and exit.  Cows do occasionally pee in the stanchion, and mats prevent slips and falls for both cow and milker--says the voice of experience!
Dump the stripped milk.

Milk away!  When the cup gets fairly full, I get up and dump it in the covered bucket, then sit back down.  I do it this way because:
  • It keeps me from getting stiff.
  • The lightweight camping cup is so much lighter to hold than a bowl and easier than a bucket.  The bowl I used to use weighed a pound, while the cup weighs 5 ounces.
  • It's much quicker to move out of the way if the cow hikes her tail to poop or pee.
  • It helps me gauge how much milk I'm getting since I know where the 2-cup mark is.
  • A cow can put her foot into a bucket if you don't get it out of the way when she moves, but she can't step in the cup.
  • Dumping milk into a bucket up on a shelf means that if an accident happens, I'm only crying over a little spilled milk.
To finish milking, strip each teat until no more milk comes out.  I strip at least 10 times.

Take the RED cup for STOP, and squeeze some into the reservoir.

Dip each teat.

Leave the dip on--do not wipe off.

If the calf is still nursing, I wait 30 seconds and then blot each teat with a separate piece of paper towel instead of wiping firmly.

You can dump the excess dip on a hoof.  Some people don't like to keep the dip that's left in the reservoir, while others leave it to eliminate waste.

Let the cow out of the stanchion, and clean up.  Ebby is not a pooper, but she did pee, so I sprayed bleach-water (that I keep in a spray bottle up on the shelf) on the stanchion and mats where the pee went.  Then I swept away the bleach water, and debris that Ebby and I tracked in.

Hang the mats to dry, if needed.

Lock the gate and take the milk back to the house.  The stanchion is clean and ready to go tomorrow.

With so many photos and detailed explanations, it may seem like my udder prep is really time-consuming.  It's not. When I get into the routine (and I'm not stopping to let someone take photos), it only takes a few minutes.  I believe it is time well spent, and I like the satisfaction of knowing that I have done everything possible to keep my cow's udder healthy and our milk clean.

Here is the condensed, simple version.

Please feel free to ask questions or make comments.  I'll do a follow-up post to answer any questions and share some resources that have helped me.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

On the Mooove!

Wellie had just finished a nice nursing under the tree by our back fence when the dogs suddenly went crazy barking.  I looked out back to see what it was and saw two deer racing off through the field (just through the trees beyond Siobhan's ears) with their white tails bounding away.

Since the dogs kept barking, I thought there might be more deer on the way and grabbed the camera to go out and get a shot.  As I went out, Hero got out with me and raced right up to the fence where he set up a thunderous barking right in poor Siobhan and Wellie's ears.

So I didn't get a shot of any deer bounding through the fields, just cattle!

They weren't scared--it was just an excuse to have a romp and a run on a perfect fall day.

Need a Hug? Grab a Cow!

There is nothing like a hugging a warm, sweet-smelling cow around the neck to make your day!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Our Dexter Breeding Priorities

A reader recently asked how we determine what to breed for, and it got me thinking.  There are certain things that are very important to us in our breeding program, others that are less so.  But we had never sat down and put a list in writing, much less tried to list our priorities in order.  It took a lot of thinking and re-writing!  So here, by request, is a first attempt to list our priorities for breeding.  NOTE: This list is subject to re-evaluation and change, and we reserve the right to throw it completely out the window if we so choose!

Our Breeding Priorities

1) Temperament. For us, if our Dexters are to be family cows, good temperament is an absolute requirement. Warning: Aggressive animals will be eaten on our farm!

We halter train our heifers, and our bull is halter-trained. It so happened that we needed to move both him and a heifer in season from one pasture to another. We put his halter on, clipped a lead rope on hers, and we each led one. It went very well. Of course we don't TRY to plan to disrupt a breeding pair, but it's good to know that if we have to, we can safely do it.

Many are the times we've been thankful to be able to walk up to an animal in the pasture, put on a halter or clip on a lead, and take it where we want it.

It's extremely important to me that my cows don't kick or even look like they want to when I'm milking and that I can handle their calves without trouble. For us, this is the essence of a "Family Cow."

2) Calving ease. Any cow can have a wrong presentation and a difficult delivery; if it happens again, it's time to check whether the cow has a problem. A low-birth weight bull is a great asset to calving ease. One of the best things about our Dexters (and Dexters in general) is that they have calved without difficulty and have good mothering skills with little or no help from us. Waking up in the morning to a healthy, dry, nursed calf is a huge blessing!

3) Dual purpose, meaning equal emphasis on beef and milk. For beef you want good muscling, length, good width across the body, and good depth through the heart girth.

For milking you want good milk production with plenty of butterfat and protein (also necessary for raising a healthy calf). You want good udder conformation with a level floor, good front attachment, high rear suspension, good spacing of teats and well-shaped teats. A cow with "sausage teats" that a small calf can't get hold of to nurse becomes a burden.

Temperament is especially important for a true dual purpose animal. The cow with the greatest milk production in the world is worthless if she tries to kick your head off every time you milk her!

4)  Good conformation.  We wouldn't cull an animal with less than perfect conformation if it has other good qualities.  We would breed it to a better animal to try to improve on its faults.  This is why a good bull is so important, since he is going to contribute his genes to every calf born on the farm.

Good feet are an often over-looked part of conformation, hidden away in the grass as they often are.

Note:  One of my pet peeves is breeders whose animals have "good confirmation."  We have yet to take a cow to church and serve it communion, and until we do, I'm afraid none of our animals will have "good confirmation!"  But we hope they will have good conformation!

5)  Polled.  Our foundation cow  (left) had horns, and we knew we didn't want to deal with them, so choosing a homozygous polled bull for her was a very high priority.  Our  current herd sire is heterozygous polled.  Being homozygous polled would have made him "Perfect," but he is so excellent in every other respect that we wanted him even with one horned gene.  With all our breeding stock being heterozygous polled, we will eventually have a horned calf, but we are willing to dehorn it.  What we don't choose to do is to keep both horned and polled animals together.  For our safety, the safety of our grandchildren, and the safety of our other animals, we have chosen to go hornless.

6)  A2 status, homozygous A2 (A2/A2).  The photo of our granddaughter eating yogurt is here because our family's health is the main reason we are interested in the whole A2 issue.  While it may not have been conclusively proven to the satisfaction of the dairy world at large, we like the idea of breeding for A2.  When we decided not to keep our A2 foundation cow (pictured above), we did decide to replace her with her better-tempered, polled, A2 granddaughter.  However, we plan to keep our A1/A2 cow because of her sweet temperament and easy keeping.  In looking for our herd bull, homozygous A2 status was a priority.  You can cut horns off, but you can't filter the A1 out of the milk!  However, A2 is only number 5 on our list because we feel other things are more important.

7)  Grass-based.  Also for our family's health, we want to raise grassfed beef.  Our steers should finish well on grass, and our cows should be able to raise healthy calves without a lot of supplemental grain.  Currently we feed one cow 4 pounds of 16% protein feed a day, while the other gets 3.  Their calves are 6 months and 4 1/2 months old, respectively, so both are at their peak lactation.  Both calves are on their dams full time with grass, hay and minerals.  Both are healthy and shiny and chunky.  Our vet is happy with the condition of the cows on this amount of feed, less than the rule of thumb would dictate.  (The rule of thumb is 3 pounds of 16% protein per gallon of milk.)  I know of full-sized dairy cows that consume a 5-gallon bucket of grain twice a day.  Ours get four (or fewer) tomato-cans full per day!

8)  Size.  Our aim is to stay within the ADCA height guidelines.  Again, we would not necessarily cull an animal based on this, but we will breed toward that goal.  We love Dexters partly because of their size, and we have no desire whatsoever to "upsize" them to get more beef or more milk.

9)  Color.  I put this last because it's just the gift wrap, as far as we're concerned.  Beef and milk from black, red or dun cattle taste exactly the same.  That being said, we were thrilled to get our first red calf this spring.  They sure look pretty on the green grass, they're a lot easier to spot at night, and there's anecdotal evidence that they are less troubled by flies.  (That's something we'll be watching.)  Both of our cows carry red, and now that we have a red herd sire, we'll be getting some red calves.  That's just window dressing--fun, but not important to us.

There are other things I didn't list, even some things we test for (or will test for).  Here's why they didn't make the list:

PHA - All of our animals are PHA-negative and always will be.  There would be absolutely no reason to add a PHA-positive animal to our herd.  I believe that almost every Dexter breeder with a PHA-positive cow is trying to breed a replacement heifer.  Many with PHA-positive bulls have castrated them, despite their other great qualities.  We don't test for PHA any more because our animals are obligate non-carriers.

Chondrodysplasia - We bred a cow to a chondro-positive bull, twice.  We got one sweet non-carrier heifer and a carrier bull (pictured above).  While we love our sweet, chondro-positive bull calf, we have personally decided not to breed chondro carriers.  We will be castrating this bull calf and raising him for beef, NOT because of his chondro status, but because of his dam.  And THAT is another post for another day: "What Makes a Bull Mother?"  Meanwhile, he's looking like mighty tasty beef!

Kappa Casein & Beta Lactoglobulin - These are milk components that can be tested for with other DNA tests.  If they were computer programs, you might call them A2-2.1  They relate to cheese-making, and while they are interesting--and we've already tested one animal for them--they will never be a reason to cull an animal.  They fall into the Fun-to-Know category, that's all.

So there it is, our breeding priorities at 6:29 p.m. on October 8, 2014.  And now we've got some hungry animals waiting for hay!