Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Milking Finni

Last Monday, Dan had to go out of town for work.  He wasn't sure if he'd be gone for the day or for the better part of the week.  While I am very comfortable with all the animals, things always seem to go a bit goofy when I'm here alone.  I admit, I checked outside more than usual just to make sure the horses and cows were inside the pasture fence.  I also knew I had a very pregnant cow in the barn, but since Dan didn't say anything when he did morning chores, I didn't check on her during the day.  At evening chore time, I entered the barn and turned on the lights.  Finni was up, but definitely wet in the back end.  Oh NO! I thought, what if she has trouble, I'm here by myself, she's a first time mom and you never know how that will go, what if she won't take care of the baby,  what if she gets super protective with those horns?!?  So many thoughts went through my head.  Then I looked into the stall.  There was a half-dry calf on the ground already, no help needed.  As I poured water into Finni's empty bucket, the calf jumped to its feet.  I could tell that the calf was strong and by the look of its belly, it had already nursed, so Finni became a mom, and a good one, during the afternoon without any pesky humans around.  I also saw that we have a little heifer, a girl.  I was elated and couldn't wait to tell Dan.  He was just as excited as I, and also relieved that everything went smoothly.  Even though he got home very late that night, he couldn't wait to walk down to the barn and meet our new little girl, who I have named Pixie.


Meet Pixie!


One of the main reasons we got Dexters was to provide milk for ourselves.  We're not interested in becoming a dairy or selling any milk, it's simply too much on top of what we already do, but we have been excited about doing this for ourselves for some time.   We waited a few days, because the milk is actually colostrum for the first three days, and we weren't interested in drinking that, and it's so important for the calf's health that she gets lots of it for her immune system to start up properly.  So, on Thursday, we set out, stainless milk pail in hand, to see how Finni would take this new adventure.  I love Finni, and think it's awesome that she had horns, she just looks like an old-fashioned family cow.  But I've seen wool hanging from the ends of them when the sheep got too close to her feed outside- she knows just how to use them, and they are pointy!  I remembered how Lil kicked when we tried to milk her last year, all I could think was that this time, there would be danger from both ends!  Why did I think a horned milk cow would be such a cool idea?  So we tied Finni up very short, and Dan agreed to try milking her at first, both because he's milked by hand many times and I haven't, and so if anyone got kicked, it would be him, not me. (Who says chivalry is dead?)  My job was to give Finni small amounts of feed to distract her and keep her calm.  The first day, it was a bit hard because she kept knocking her feeder off of the boards and getting upset when it landed out of her reach.  We fixed this the next day by using a rubber pan that sits on the ground.  We've milked nightly since and Finni has never once kicked.  She doesn't even swish her tail and hit Dan with it, which is another common thing cows do when they aren't happy to be milked.  She has been a perfectly cooperative lady so far.  The only downside has been that we aren't getting much milk, but we had not tried separating her from the calf.  We're planning on keeping them separate for a few hours, milking Finni so we get a decent amount, then letting the calf nurse naturally for the rest of the day.  This way, we'll get milk and so will the calf- we won't have to bottle feed her expensive milk replacer.  We're having fun with this new adventure, and I am thrilled that my little cow has taken to supplying us with milk so gently!


Dan & Finni on our first try


Our First Calf

Finally, the April showers today are rain and not snow.  It's been a rather cold (and white) beginning to spring so far.  But it is spring, and so we're getting busier every day now!  Last Sunday,  I was hoping for a relaxing day to recharge my batteries from the business of the Farm to Table conference.  It was a nice idea, but as Dan came back from the barn after morning chores, he told me that Lil was unmistakably in labor.  Lil is the older Dexter cow we bought last summer, and we'd been suspecting for a few days that she was getting close.  We had decided to move my horse Sara from her roomy box stall and put Lil in there to give her a safe, clean space for her and the baby.  Sara was moved over by the pen currently holding the sheep with young lambs, on the other side of the work horses.  It seemed to bother Dixie more than Sara, as Dixie had a spell of kicking at the divider wall and in Sara's general direction.  Other than a bit of confusion when it is time to come back into the barn in the evenings, Sara has been fine with the new arrangements; as long as her food is there she is pretty flexible!  Lil also seemed fine with her new home,  the cow that had the biggest problem with being separated from her was Buzz.   He is a Holstein-cross beef cow we've raised up here, and the cow that has been on the farm the longest as of right now.  He knew his herdmate was missing and called to her for several hours before calming down.  While that's not totally surprising, the fact that the noisy cow was not Bernard, Lil's baby from last year, was.  He, however, seemed fine without mom since he's a big boy now and still with the other cows he knows. 

Lil is 13 years old, and has had quite a few calves in her lifetime.  Dexters are known for not needing assistance, and this delivery was no exception.  After the baby was born, Lil right away began talking to it, licking it, and showing all the motherly instinct that you could hope for.  She's a sweet cow, and very used to both Dan and I , so what happened next was a bit of a surprise.  Dan went to pick up the calf to check its gender and dip the navel in iodine, a general practice for any farm baby (iodine helps to prevent infections from manure or anything that might get on the navel).  Lil was not impressed and began pawing the ground, shaking her head, and threatening to charge Dan right into a wall if he didn't leave the baby alone!  We left them alone to calm down, since Lil was in a safe clean area.  When we came back in an hour or so, we "tricked" Lil with a bit of feed and tied her up.  She was not too happy, but we safely found out that we have a little Dexter boy, and he sure is cute!  He's growing by leaps and bounds already in the past week, and Lil has pretty much returned to her normal, friendly self.


Lil and calf, less than an hour old 


Our newest farm baby, a few days old...have you ever seen such a good-looking calf?!? 

 While I usually don't tolerate aggressiveness from any farm animal, and will happily eat anything that tried to hurt a person, this is one exception I'm happy to make.  We want the mamas to want to protect their babies, and there is simply no substitute for good mothering instinct.  As long as they calm down in a day or two, a little over-protectiveness isn't necessarily a bad thing.  It's far better than the opposite-nothing is more frustrating that seeing an animal (I've seen it here with both goats and sheep) that give birth, then think the baby is some foreign creature to abandon.  Mom won't have anything to do with baby, and it becomes an orphan.  Sometimes you can get another mom to foster it, otherwise it becomes a bottle baby.  While bottle babies can be adorable, they are a lot of work, and any baby is better off if it can nurse it's mothers milk instead of formula.   

While Dan had years of experience with cows, as his family milked Jerseys for years as he was growing up, this was my first experience with a calf.  It's simply amazing to see how quickly they can get to their wobbly little feet, and I can't wait until the weather improves enough that we can begin to let our little guy out to run and play in the spring sunshine.

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