How I Share-Milk

January 20th, 2016 by Kim
Bo & Thumbelina can see each other through the gate, so they don't get too upset about the separation.

Bo & Thumbelina can see each other through the gate, so they don’t get too upset about the separation.

We had a fine start to our 2016 calving season when BoPeep kicked off the New Year with a lovely little heifer, Thumbelina, on Jan. 5.  The dreaded milk rationing that happens during Bo’s dry period is over, and the natives are rejoicing in the abundance of milk again.  I’ve been at this share-milking thing for a good while now, and looking back over my previous milking posts, I realized I do things a bit differently now.  Through trial & error over the years, I’ve found a share-milking routine that I & my cows are quite happy with, so this seemed like a good time to share it here.

If you’re not already familiar with the term, “share-milking” refers to the practice of leaving the calf with the cow part-time, so that you’re sharing the milk with the calf, usually milking only once a day.  There are many different ways to share-milk, as different things work for different people in different situations, and so you just have to figure out what works best for you & your cow.  This is the method that works best for me.

I bring Thumbelina into the parlor through the people door.

I bring Thumbelina into the parlor through the people door.


I leave the calf run with momma during the day, and generally separate them overnight, for about 12 hours.  For the first couple weeks after calving, separating that long is not only not necessary, it’s actually rather hard on the calf.  So during that time, I only separate the calf for a couple hours right before I want to milk, just to be sure baby doesn’t “beat me to it”.  I need the calf to nurse during milking for the cow to let down her milk, so baby has to be hungry (more on this later).  With Thumbelina this year, she is still, at 2 weeks, just nursing a couple minutes (can’t be taking more than a quart at a time!) every couple hours, so this stage, of separating only for a short time, will probably last quite a while.

Cow & calf are both more content during the separation if they can see each other.  I like to have the calf penned, with a gate between them that they can see through.  In cold weather, I use the stall in the barn.  During warm weather, we have some “goat panels” we can use to make a little calf pen out in the pasture.  There is much less bellowing this way than if there is a solid door or divider between them & they can’t see each other.

Thumbelina tied & waiting while Bo comes into the parlor.

Thumbelina tied & waiting while Bo comes into the parlor.

Milking Time

In the morning, momma & baby are awaiting my arrival at the barn.  I will go in the milking parlor & get things set up, pour feed in mom’s trough, put the machine together, etc.  Then I will let the cow into the waiting area outside the parlor, which is their cue to go to the bathroom, since my girls learn I don’t approve of peeing & pooping inside the parlor!  While mom takes care of business there, I go bring baby into the parlor awhile.  The calf gets haltered & tied at the front on the stanchion, which helps to keep the cow happy.

Thumbelina gets her breakfast.

Thumbelina gets her breakfast.

Once everything is ready, I let the cow into the parlor, and chain her in the stanchion.  I clean up her teats, using disinfectant teat wipes, and hook the machine up to “my side” of her udder.  I then untie baby, so she can nurse the other half of the udder for breakfast.  This also causes the cow to let down, so I am able to get all the milk out of my half.  Of course, at this point with Thumbelina, she doesn’t come close to emptying out her side of Bo’s udder.  So once she is done nursing, I clean up the two teats she sucked, and then put the milker inflations on that side also, to milk Bo out the rest of the way.

Everybody Leaves the Parlor Happy!

I clean Bo's left-side teats to finish milking after Thumbelina is done nursing & has wandered off.

I clean Bo’s left-side teats to finish milking after Thumbelina is done nursing & has wandered off.

This has become my mantra.  I want everybody to leave the parlor happy.  I have milk in the fridge, so I am happy.  Baby has a belly full of milk, so baby is happy.  The cow knows she has done her job well, and more importantly, that her baby has had breakfast, so the cow is happy.  This is a successful milking session!

Some people want to take all the milk & not let the calf nurse at all, except maybe a minute to induce let-down.  Then they turn the cow out with an empty udder, along with a baby with an empty belly, and the cow is kicking at a starving calf who is trying to chew up her empty udder.  Cow & calf are both miserable for several hours until her body has produced enough milk for baby to finally have a meal again.  I don’t think this is fair to either animal, and I refuse to take this approach.

Bo leaves the parlor happy, her job well done. "Good girl, thank you!"

Bo leaves the parlor happy, her job well done. “Good girl, thank you!”

I see quite a few benefits to the method I use.  The cow lets down fully & her udder can be cleaned out, which keeps the milk moving through the udder & helps prevent the risk of mastitis.  By milking out one side of the udder, I can get a very good estimate of my cow’s total daily production (just multiply “my take” x 4).  Once the calf can keep up with the cow’s production, I can skip days, so I’m not tied down to milking every day.  And of course, everybody leaves the parlor happy!

So, that is how share-milking is done here at Hope Refuge Farm.  Though I’ve used BoPeep, my Jersey/Dexter cross, as an example here, I milk my purebred Dexters the same way.  They all have seemed content with this method of share-milking, and the calves grow well as they’re still getting adequate milk.

Happy Milking!

Giving Thanks on the Farm

November 25th, 2015 by Kim

As we come upon this Thanksgiving holiday, I find we have so much to be thankful for here on the farm…some of them being things that maybe most people don’t get to experience.

"Thanksgiving", the turkey

“Thanksgiving”, the turkey

We actually, unfortunately, didn’t put any effort into the turkey breeding season this spring, and didn’t get nest boxes set up for the hens until much too late.  In spite of that, Millie managed to hatch out & raise one nice poult for us.  And we are very thankful for that one, because I don’t think we’ll ever be able to eat a commercially raised turkey again now that we know what “real” turkey is supposed to taste like.  The poult was immediately dubbed “Thanksgiving”, and she grew into a nice little bird who lived well until yesterday, the Tuesday before the holiday.

Jeff was off work, so it was butchering day.  We only had the one bird to do, and I had heard people say that dry-plucking is easier/nicer than scalding & doing it wet, so I decided to try it instead of setting up all the normal equipment.  Yeah…well…if anybody ever tries to tell you that dry-plucking is easier…DON’T LISTEN!  We got most of the larger body, tail & wing feathers off fairly quickly, only to find that she was covered in pin feathers too, and the smaller feathers on the wings & legs were not coming out easily at all.  I soon decided I was ready to see if the tap water in my milking parlor was hot enough to scald a bird.  I didn’t even take the time to bother with a pot, I just plunked her in the clean sink & ran wide-open-hot tap water over the carcass.  I knew my water out there was really hot but never measured a temperature on it.  Thankfully, I can now report that it is indeed “scalding hot”.  Soon those remaining feathers were easily removed, and I had a nice, clean bird.  Good to know.

The new dining table & chairs...our 25th anniversary present to ourselves.

The new dining table & chairs…our 25th anniversary present to ourselves.

And so, “Thanksgiving” will be joining us for dinner on Friday (since Joel has classes at college yet on Wednesday & can’t drive home until Thursday) at our lovely new dining table.  I’m so thankful to have a new table & chairs, as our old table was literally about to fall apart after 25 years of hard use.

We were also extremely thankful for our woodstove earlier this week.  Our main heater quit & needed repaired, so things were a bit chilly for a day & a half, but not half so chilly as it would have been without a nice fire roaring in the stove.  At least it happened now, and not in the middle of really cold winter weather!  And thankfully, we have a shed full of firewood stacked up for the winter…a lovely sight.

Cows on the lower bit of the newly fenced pasture.

Cows on the lower bit of the newly fenced pasture.

Another lovely sight is a barn full of hay for the cows.  We also were able to fence another large section of pasture on the Headwaters property this fall, so we are thankful to have plenty for the cows to eat this winter.  And it’s a really good thing we do, because it allowed me to make a spur of the moment purchase recently.  Yes, I’ve added more cows to the herd…again.  These girls hail from RdoubleD Ranch out in WA, and they are really something!  I’m so excited to have them, and here’s why.

RdoubleD heifer...cute as a bug!

RdoubleD heifer…cute as a bug!

I first saw Lucky listed for sale a few years ago, and though I really would have liked to have her, at that time there was no way I could make the purchase.  I kept going back to their website & looking at her & wishing, but told myself that if somebody else bought her, then it just wasn’t meant to be.  And if I was meant to have her, then she would still be available when we were able to buy her.  After a while, Lucky was taken off the market & retained in the RdoubleD herd, and I breathed a sigh of relief.  She got tucked away in the back of my mind & life went on.  Then recently, I learned that Monica was downsizing the herd, so I thought I’d check their website again to see what she might have available.  And lo & behold, there was Lucky, listed for sale!  I am so, SO thankful to have the opportunity to finally buy this girl.  She truly is an amazing Dexter!

Lucky (dun) and Addy (black) enjoying some sunshine.

Lucky (dun) and Addy (black) enjoying some sunshine.

Well, I figured if I’m shipping Lucky the whole way from WA, she might as well have some company for the 2,500 mile trip, right?!  So now I also officially have a cow Addiction…such an appropriate name.  And for good measure, Monica added in a weanling heifer that she hadn’t had time to do anything with, who is as yet unnamed.  They had some pretty rough weather to travel through last week, but thankfully they made it safe & sound, and are settling into their new home nicely.  I am quite thankful to be able to bring in three girls of such high quality to my herd, as they will be a big benefit to our breeding program.  I look forward to the improvement they will bring.

So, there are some of the “farmy” things we are Giving Thanks for this year.


What’s New?

September 21st, 2015 by Kim
Introducing Thomas (behind) & Patrick (in front).

Introducing Thomas (behind) & Patrick (in front).

It’s the first day of fall & we have our first of three fall calves on the ground already.  So, what else is new around Hope Refuge Farm this fall?  Well, we have some exciting stuff going on!  For the first time in our 8+ years of raising Dexters, our breeding program has produced some bull calves that we feel are high enough quality to be kept & registered as breeding bulls.  Not just one, but two exceptional boys.  That is exciting for us, because we can see our breeding program moving forward & our calves improving in quality.  What’s really neat is that these two boys were born within weeks of their sire, Rousseau, leaving the farm for his new home.  So, we are happy & proud to introduce Patrick & Thomas! Read more »

AGM Success

July 7th, 2015 by Kim

As I mentioned in May, we went to the AGM in Harrisonburg, VA in June.  As always, it was a wonderful time with Dexter friends, renewing previous connections and making new ones too.  Unlike the previous two AGM’s we attended, this time I took some animals to show, so I experienced things from a different angle this year.  There are several success stories from the weekend that I would like to share.

My show string (L to R): Tundra, Jammy, Porter and Charlie. All dolled up & ready to go, learning about standing tied in the barn all day.

My show string (L to R): Tundra, Jammy, Porter and Charlie. All dolled up & ready to go, learning about standing tied in the barn all day.

The Show

The show Friday was rather small, with not so many people making the trip across the mountains with animals, so a bit disappointing.  But it was a great first-time-ever showing experience for me.  I had simple goals….to have fun, to see if my training method had worked, and to learn how some of the best animals in my herd compare to others from some of the top breeders in the nation.

The first goal was definitely accomplished!  In spite of being worried & doing a fair bit of fretting the evening & morning before the show, I DID have a lot of fun getting out there in the ring with my animals. Read more »

Genotyping & Parent Verification

May 15th, 2015 by Kim

I’m sure most ADCA folks are aware that there is a proposal for the Association to begin requiring genotyping for heifers, so that we can move to a fully parent verified registry.  I understand that this is controversial, but I hope that people will see the wisdom of it.  We here at Hope Refuge Farm have been genotyping & parent verifying our entire herd for quite a few years now, because we firmly believe it is “best practice”, and definitely in the best interest of the breed.

Like father, like son.

Like father, like son.

So, you ask, WHY should we have to do this?  I have heard of several situations where somebody tried to PV (parent verify) a cow they bought, and mistakes in the pedigree were discovered.  One or both of the cow’s parents were not who they thought they were, so the person did not have the bloodlines they thought they had bought for their herd.  I, for one, want to know that when I purchase an animal, it is indeed the animal & bloodlines that the breeder has claimed it is, and PV is the only way to be certain of that. Read more »