A few weekends ago we quietly celebrated a year with our sweet Jersey cow, Creme Brûlée. Becoming a new cow owner is like having a baby in that it really does take several months to get your bearing! And caring for a cow after many years of caring for goats was very much like having my second child; in some ways everything was same-old, same-old, but in other ways, it was completely brand new!
For months prior to Creme’s arrival, I had been reading about cows, dreaming about cows, talking to cow owners, and preparing for her arrival. Creme Brûlée is one of the sweetest, most wonderful cows imaginable, thanks to excellent training from her previous owner. But when she arrived at our homestead, she was rambunctious! I did not expect a cow that pranced and danced and played soccer with a yoga ball! I was totally unprepared for her energy and excitement, and quite honestly, it freaked me out! Where was the quiet, cud-chewing, serene animal that I had envisioned?
I spent many, many winter hours in the barn with Creme Brûlée, brushing and petting her, talking with her, and building trust. It was important for me to feel comfortable with her, and for her to feel comfortable with me before she gave birth and we began our milking relationship. Well, it turned out that it only took motherhood to mellow Creme out. The minute she gave birth to MayApple, on May 1, she was an entirely different animal.
We milked twice a day at the beginning, and quickly discovered that we simply could not keep up with the volume of milk! With 2-3 gallons of milk per day, we had to make cheese, butter, or yogurt every day. It was not sustainable for our family, so when MayApple was a bit older, we transitioned to once a day milking. I highly recommend once a day milking and share milking (letting the calf stay with mama and drink the rest of the day). It has enabled us to have our milk AND have a life! (We even managed a 17 day summer vacation by letting MayApple drink all of Creme’s milk.)
In the midst of the beautiful moments of sweet cow kisses, an adorable calf, amazing butter and ice cream, and the peace of the morning milking routine, there have been some stressful times. The biggest challenge was breeding Creme Brûlée. She came to us as a bred heifer, meaning that she was already pregnant with her first calf. This time, it was our responsibility to get her pregnant! Thankfully, she gave some very clear signs of being in heat, and we could easily track her cycles. But tracking a cycle and knowing exactly when to call the AI (Artificial Insemination) Tech are two very different things! It took two attempts at AI before she was bred, but we are happily expecting a calf in mid-May!
As we begin our second year together, I feel such a deep sense of appreciation for these animals in my life. They sustain our family with milk, butter, cream, and cheese. They give us abundant manure for my garden. And the companionship of a cow is really like no other animal – just look at those dreamy Jersey eyes!
I’d love to share more about our experience with a family milk cow, so please feel free to post any questions in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to address them in future posts!