Friday, September 18, 2015

All for the love of a milk cow

I post so seldom these days, I hardly remember which cow stories I've told and which I haven't, but I am going to bring you up to date on Penny, the only cow I'm milking at present since Gracie is dried up and waiting for the arrival of a calf in a few weeks.

When Penny calved on April 25, the calf was huge, and was dead by the time Cliff pulled him out of her.  As often happens when there is a calving problem, she retained the placenta and Dr. Neal came and cleaned her out, put some boluses in her, and gave her something to make her cycle, which he said usually helps get a cow with these problems back on course.

We had a Jersey bull here with her for over two months, but he was getting pretty ornery.  So we had him butchered.  However, I hadn't noticed him following Penny around for three weeks, so I was hopeful that she was bred.  After he was gone, I watched closely for signs of heat, but there were none.  I figured she must be bred... but then I began to notice she had pus coming from her nether regions at times.  I consulted Dr. Google and realized Grace had metritis.  According to what I read, cows with metritis often fail to come in heat and breed.  So, was Grace bred, or not?  

She is one of the best dairy cows I've ever had:  She is still, in September, giving over four gallons of milk a day.  She stands still as a statue when I milk, and hardly ever poops or pees while she's in the barn.  There is a good amount of rich cream in her milk.  She is gentle-natured, although a little timid with strangers.  I decided to call Dr. Neal back to pregnancy-check her.

She was open (not pregnant).  Dr. Neal treated her again; when Cliff joined us in the barn, I said, "Well Cliff, I guess I'll just milk her until time to haul the calves off and use her milk to grow the pig, then load her up with the calves and take her to the sale barn.  

"Oh, I'm confident she will be fine," said the vet.  "I believe she will breed in a month or so." 

There haven't been any signs of a problem since he was here, so my hopes are high that the vet knows what he's talking about. 

I had already shared here that I thought I had found someone to milk Penny for me when we went on vacation.  Well, that didn't work out:  We went to meet up with them at the time the guy wanted to meet, and they stood us up.  I figured if that's the kind of people they are, I didn't want any dealings with them.  Once again, I resolved to sell the cow.  Much as I love her, I want to be able to go someplace once in awhile.  

And then, while I was milking last night, I thought of one more thing to try:  Another Craigslist ad explaining my dilemma and offering to pay someone to take care of my cow:  "I love milking my Jersey cow, but it ties me down. Once in a blue moon I would like to be able to leave home for a couple of days. November 10 and 11 we are going on a trip, and if I can't find someone to milk Penny I will have to sell her. She is the best cow I've ever had, and I really hate to have to get rid of her. 
We either need someone to come here and milk her for three milkings, or else if you have facilities, we would haul her to your place if it's not too far. We live between Lexington and Buckner. 
If interested, call and we can discuss specifics."  

Notice I didn't mention how much I would pay.  I had in mind $50 per milking, because I am that desperate to keep the cow.  If I ended up taking her to someone else's place, I told myself, $50 a day sounded good, since I've paid that much to board dogs before, and Penny is worth more than any dog I've had.  But that was something I'd work out if I got any calls.  

The ad hadn't been in for ten minutes when I got a call.  The guy was Mexican with a thick accent.  He had never milked a cow, but he was willing to learn.  Sorry, but I want someone who knows a little about the nature of a cow, likes them, and realizes how tired your hands can get milking a cow if you don't do it every day.  

Less than an hour later I got another call from someone who was raised on a farm but never milked a cow.  Sheesh.  Oh, and he lives near Chillicothe, a good distance from here.  He's going to make the trip to my house twice a day for two days?  I politely took down his number and told him I would see what other calls I got.  Then, because I was going to bed, I turned off my phone.  

This morning I had a voice mail from some guy named George who milks cows himself and would gladly let my bring my cow over so he could milk her with his herd.  Bingo!  I'll call later this morning and see where he lives and decide if we can work something out.  When I opened up the laptop, I had an email:  A man in Grain Valley said we could take the cow to his place and he would milk; he didn't say whether he has milk cows of his own, but at least now there are a couple of possibilities.  There will be things to work out:  Most people who milk these days, even just one or two cows, use a bucket milker, so whoever does this for me will need to have the patience to train Penny to a milking machine the first time or two they milk her.  That shouldn't be difficult for someone who knows cows.

The silly thing about this whole situation, of course, is that I don't need a milk cow.  I only keep milk cows around because I love to work with them.  But hey, one pet is as good as another if you fall in love with the animal.  I would hope that Penny's next calf survives.  That will simplify matters for me, next time around.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

How a dead man fixed my hands

Many years ago, I developed a problem with my hands that was obviously an allergic reaction to something.  My hands would break out in itchy bumps, I would scratch them, even in my sleep, and then the bumps turned into cracks on my fingers and hands which, of course, was very painful.  They were also red and unsightly.  

I didn't have a dishwasher, so of course my first thought was that I had "dishwasher's hands".  I bought rubber gloves for washing dishes, figuring that would be the end of my problem.  They didn't make any difference.  I tried every brand of hand lotion people recommended, but my hands still looked like I had leprosy or something, and plagued me constantly; Corn Husker's Lotion was the worst!  People suggested maybe I was allergic to my milk cows; I didn't think so, since I had milked cows for several years before the problem started.  But one year I managed to get all of my cows dry at one time so I could go for a couple of months without milking.  There was no improvement in the condition of my hands.

We didn't have insurance, but I decided to see a skin specialist to try and get to the bottom of my problem.  He took scrapings from my hands (ouch) and then explained that he would test me for the most common allergies.  At that time, the way they checked for various allergies was to put little pills at various junctures of adhesive tape placed up and down and across a person's back.  Turns out I was also allergic to adhesive tape, and had to get Cliff to remove that mess from my back the second day.  I never went back to that doctor, who was so rude I didn't want to deal with him again anyhow. 

Years went by.  We moved twice, and ended up on the property where we now live, and my hands still split open, oozed, itched, and hurt.  You get used to anything after a while, and I figured it was just something I'd always have to live with.

Cliff was working for Tom, a guy running a small construction company in Oak Grove at the time.  Tom was a jack-of-all-trades, so it wasn't always construction work that Cliff got paid for doing.  A friend of Tom's, known around Oak Grove as Brother Paul, died, having no close relatives; he was living in a rental house owned by Tom.  Tom and Cliff went to empty the house and get it cleaned up for the next renter.  The guy was poor, but you know, everybody leaves some "stuff" behind when they die.  His ashes eventually went to Tom, too.  

Cliff brought home a jar of Eucerin hand cream, a version prescribed by a doctor for Brother Paul.  Curious, I tried it on my hands, although I had honestly given up hope.  

Within a week, my hands were back to normal for the first time in years.

It was a large container, and if you are familiar with Eucerin, it doesn't take much at one application to do the job.  It lasted for months, but when it finally gave out, I knew it would be worth a trip to a doctor to get myself a prescription.  But first I decided to give the non-prescription variety a try.  It's sold at any Walmart.

It worked for me just like Brother Paul's stuff.  Obviously there was some ingredient in most hand creams and lotions that was lacking in Eucerin.  After reading labels at Walmart, it became obvious that glycerin was the culprit.

Although Eucerin is still the only hand cream I use, this week I felt the old familiar itch on my hands, and a little drying out and cracking had begun.  I soon figured out the problem:  I was using a new udder cream from Orscheln on my milk cows, Better Balm.  I really liked the results of the stuff on Penny's teats and udder, but it was killing my hands.  Turns out the third listed ingredient on the label is glycerin.

Back to Bag Balm.

Can I interest anybody in an almost-full jar of Better Balm?

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Taking a selfie with a pig: Not for the faint of heart

I like to think of a pig as a dual-purpose animal, because he serves as the funniest pet you'll ever see... the clown of the barnyard, actually... and then you get to eat him.  Trust me, by the time you've enjoyed his antics for six months or so, you are glad to see him turned into sausage, bacon, and pork chops.

Stanley enjoying the buttermilk after Cora and I made butter
Stanley-the-pig's main form of nourishment is milk, almost two gallons of it a day.  He also gets some corn and various table scraps poured into the trough a couple times daily, but the milk is what he really gets excited about.  When he sees me approaching with a bucket or jar, he starts grunting and running in circles until I get there with it, he's so excited.  Pouring the milk into the trough is an adventure for me:  Stanley thinks his head needs to be exactly under the flow of milk, so in the process of my pouring the milk, he gets quite a milk bath, and so do I.  If I try to pour the milk into another part of the trough, he moves until his head is directly under the stream of milk again, causing much milk to bounce off his head and outside the trough.  Pouring milk in Stanley's trough would make a good Olympic sport, with the winner being the person who managed to get the most milk into the trough.

Pigs love to root, it's what they do.  The reason there are so many feral pigs in some parts of the country these days is that they know how to forage for food, and rooting in the ground is a big part of that.  We have a box of pig rings in the barn from the time, back in the 70's or 80's, when we had a sow and boar giving us litters of piggies.  The rings go unused, however, because Cliff loves to see pigs rooting; they seem so happy doing it, and he feels they get nutrients out of the dirt as they root.  So unless the pig is actually rooting an escape from the pen, he doesn't get a ring in his nose to stop his rooting.  About the time I think he is going to root deep enough to get under the fence, he stops, and his nose remains unadorned.

It was hot weather when we bought Stanley, and for his comfort we bought him a wading pool.  He has long since outgrown it, although if I put water in it he will climb in, but he mashes the sides down when he stretches out in it, with his head sticking out one side and his feet the other.  We left the pool in his pen because sometimes he enjoyed dragging it around and playing with it.  Imagine our surprise when we noticed he had dragged it into his hutch!

That's where it stays now, sort of like it's his blankie when he sleeps.  Look closely, you can see it through the door of the hutch.  The other day he was in his hutch and we were in the shop.  There's a window on that side of the hutch, and the pig spent half-an-hour rearranging the pool, which we could see moving and flopping around in the window, much to our amusement.

Here's a closer look inside:

And now, about the title of this blog entry.  Yesterday evening I had finished chores and gotten into my nightgown when I thought how amusing it would be if I got a selfie picture of me with my pig, so I headed outside with IPad in hand.  The IPad is just the thing for selfies because, like a cell phone, you can make it take a picture of your own face easily.  I didn't think it would be too difficult to get a picture of us, since the pig is always looking for food and stays near the fence hoping for a fresh morsel of some kind when I'm there.  Once I started trying to pose with Stanley, though, after several tries at getting a shot of the two of us, I realized it wasn't going to be that easy.  

I was going to have to get down to the pig's level, and the only way to do that was to sit on the ground.  Now, I wasn't about to get inside the pen and try this:  If I'm in the pen with Stanley, he has his filthy nose all over me, sniffing all over in case I have an apple in my pocket or something.  So I looked at the ground on my side of the fence, which was wet from the recent rain.  I stepped inside the barn and grabbed the lid off a container, tossed it on the ground and, after much maneuvering, got myself lowered, missing the lid by a foot or so when I plopped my derriere onto the ground.  Cliff and I are used to forcing ourselves down on the floor to play with Cora and her "Little People" stuff, but it isn't anything I would film and show people.  We resemble, more than anything, two fish out of water, flopping on the bank, gasping for breath.

So, I got myself situated on the lid and held up the camera.  This is one of my more successful attempts... I wish I hadn't deleted some of the others.

I finally got a shot that included my face and the whole pig, but it wasn't what I had in mind.  However, I decided to quit while I was ahead.
Stanley isn't even facing the camera and doing duck-lips.  What kind of selfie is that?  

We figure he weighs well over 100 pounds now, well on his way to becoming meat for the table.  Meanwhile, I am enjoying the heck out of his antics.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Adventures in milking

I usually do the milking and begin all my other chores at 5:30 A.M.  That gives me plenty of time to get in the house and relax a little before our little girl arrives.  On weekends I often milk half-an-hour later, not because I sleep later (I wish I could), but just because I like to play around on the computer or read a little before I go outside.  It's like I'm treating myself by stealing an extra half-hour.  On this long weekend, I've moved my milking time to 6 o'clock, morning and evening.  

Once outside, I have to get a cow through the gate to the big lot and move the only calf that isn't weaned to the small lot.  This usually goes smoothly:  The cow is ready to have some feed and be milked, and the one calf wants his milk.  It gets a little more complicated this time of year in the mornings, because I have to do everything by flashlight.

As I sat here reading "Dead Wake" this morning, I heard distant thunder, but it seemed to be coming from the north.  If I think a storm is coming, I will head to the barn early in order to beat it, but for the last several weeks every single rain that's been forecast has gone north of us, leaving us in a virtual Sahara.  I figured the chances of it raining at our place were slim to none.

As I headed out, there was a light sprinkling of rain, nothing that would get a person wet.  I let the cow in the big lot and the calf in the small lot; the rain was picking up somewhat, and the calf seemed scared of it.  He refused to go through the gate at first, but I finally forced him through.  

Just as I turned Penny, the cow, into the barn, the heavens let loose and it started pouring.  Oh well, I was safely in the barn; the old barn leaks, but my spot beside the cow was dry.  We need the rain badly, just to green up the grass if nothing else.  

My custom is to milk out two of the cow's quarters, leaving two quarters for the calf to nurse.  That gives each of us, the calf and me, over a gallon of milk.  Once I've gotten my milk, either for the house or for the pig, I holler, "Holstein" at the calf and he comes running.  When I open the door to the small lot, he is so anxious, he would knock me down entering if I didn't stay out of his way.  

Not this morning, though.  He huddled back in a corner of the pen and refused to budge.  Well, crap!  I was going to have to grab my cattle prod (my cow beater, I call it) and go run him in... in the pouring-down rain.  

That four-hundred-pound steer gave me a runaround in that lot like never before.  Once I got him right up to the open door, and he still refused to enter.  This went on for about five minutes until I realized it was a losing battle, grabbed the outside bucket, and milked the cow's other two quarters so I could pour it to the pig.  In case you didn't know, there is no stupider breed of cattle that the Holstein.  Thank goodness Penny is a patient soul.  I gave her another scoop of feed just for being a sweetheart.  

As I came back inside the house, Cliff, awakened by the thunder, called from the bedroom, "Is it raining?"  

You wouldn't have wanted to hear my answer.  I'm afraid I was a little grumpy.  My clothes were dripping wet and I couldn't see out of my glasses.  

Then he taunted me with this:  "You have a perfectly good raincoat on the back porch."

Through clenched teeth, I growled, "It wasn't raining when I went outside."

By the time the milk was strained and put in the refrigerator, the rain had totally stopped.  Yes, friends, it only rained long enough to get me soaked and give me a hard time... and possibly green up the pastures, since it amounted to about two-thirds of an inch of rain.