Saturday, April 20, 2013

We Are in Love

Phil and I are over the moon with our Belle.

Friday morning, we headed out to milk her. Phil had seen a photo of a cow being trained to let down her milk: her baby was tied to her neck, and a person milked her out. I started to milk Belle, but it didn't feel like much was going to come. Phil got her baby and tied them together. Belle stayed put, and her milk came out, foaming in the pail.

My arms and hands grow sore, as out of practice as I am, but I love milking. I love the closeness with the warm cow, the suppleness of the teats, the feeling of the milk filling and emptying.

She gave a gallon that first morning. We were ecstatic: two full jars for us to enjoy!

That evening, Phil didn't have a hard time tying her. It was raining, but not so much that the water was streaming off her (that makes for a disappointing milking experience, as I know: the dirty rainwater dripping into the pail, no matter how hard I try to keep it clear: ugh!).

Milking was going well, and Phil was overseeing the boys as they bottle fed the two calves, when suddenly Babe got a bee in her bonnet and charged Belle, who was tied off and couldn't defend herself. I jumped up with the pail and got away from any flying hooves, but then felt paralyzed: what could I do? Phil was somehow trapped in the pen with the boys, and the trampoline was in the way. I slapped Babe's rump, but that didn't help her back up, which she needed to do. Then she got her horn stuck in Babe's collar, and two terrified cows and helpless me: what a disaster.

Phil finally jumped the fence (I think) and freed Belle from Babe. He kept Babe away and I finished milking. I wondered if maybe her milking was truncated by the stress, but she gave another three quarts.

This morning, Phil tied Babe off before we began to milk. We tried to pull Belle over to the fence to milk, but she would have none of it. She planted her feet in the middle of the pasture and did not move. So I milked her. By the end, Phil had the end of the lead, held slack, and Abraham was holding her. She didn't move.

Having milked cows who swatted me with their tails, or who wait until the end of milking to put their hooves in the milk, or who dance and kick the bucket over, this kind of deliberate stand-still is a mercy.

I went off to milk without Phil tonight for the first time. Belle was at the far end of the paddock, which I figured would be fine. I went to get her, and she eluded by grasp (well, pulled the lead out of my hand is more like it). When she neared her baby's pen, she slowed down, and I got her leash and tied her in. She set her feet and I milked her out.

She gave one cup more today than she did yesterday. Isaiah is checking the brix at each milking: we went from 12.1 to 12.3 to 13.1 at both milkings today.

Every time Phil walks by her, he says, "She is a beautiful cow!" He said once, "I never really noticed her because to me Beatrice was so much more lovely, but she is really a beautiful cow."

As euphoric as these two days have been, there is a reality of calf-raising for me: if we fed baby Elle from a bottle, she would eat more than half of what her mother produces. And she is just beginning to grow. And her mother has now been on perfect, belly-high rye for two days. Granted, that is probably not enough to generate an amazing amount of additional energy (going from 100% hay to 100% growing rye, vetch, and clover is not going to immediately transform Belle's energy level). And yet, I wonder how farms do it. I guess most farmers don't choose Milking Devons as their milk producers. (A good Milking Devon produces three gallons a day. A great goat produces two.)

We had another lovely thing happen this week. Phil went and got about 30 bantam chickens yesterday. They are ridiculously small (and fast—I haven't come within five feet of one). The five in the hen house with nesting boxes produced four eggs today! (And the 22 or so do near the compost pile, lacking nesting boxes, produced one.)

Last Sunday, had you told me that by the end of the week our farm would produce milk and eggs, I would have laughed.

So what a great blessing this week has been.

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