Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Immaculate Lactation

About a month or so ago we noticed that Buttercup's udder was enlarging. We also noticed that Buttons was making a little udder too. That typically means pregnancy - we were very excited!

Buttons' little udder:

A couple of days after this observation, we were out in the pasture with the cows and Buttercup had milk streaming from her udder. This usually not only means pregnancy, but very near to calving time. We hadn't noticed anything at all out of the ordinary besides the udder enlargement from either cow. Both still seemed to be going into heat, and no swelling bellies had been observed.

So - we drew some blood to send in for a pregnancy test. This isn't nearly as hard or freaky as it sounds. I did it without even getting scared, which says a lot. The blood gets drawn from the underside of the tail, and we used "vacutainer" tubes that use vacuum pressure to basically automatically draw blood as soon as you stick the needle in. I'll admit my hands were shaking a little bit, but I got the blood drawn without a problem. My hands shook even more waiting the three days for the pregnancy tests to come back.

When we got the tests back, we got quite a shock. NOT PREGNANT! ????!!!!???? Then why are they making milk? I posted on a few forums and got some possible reasons.

One possibility is that the bull, or the heifer, or - god forbid - the donkey is sucking on their udders and causing them to make milk. We watch these cows a lot - I have not seen any evidence of that happening. Plus, none of their teats look like they've been sucked on. They're still dry and crinkly with no cow (or donkey) spit anywhere to be found.

Another thing that can cause a non-pregnant cow to come into milk is very very excellent lush pasture. Our pasture is crap. We can safely rule this one out.

Another possibility is that they were pregnant, but miscarried at some point. I don't have a way to know if this was the case or not. It would be awfully coincidental that they both lost calves, but I suppose it could happen. Plus to have been at the stage where there was milk streaming from the cow and any sort of udder on the heifer, I think we would have seen some evidence of this. I am very worried that this was the reason because it would mean we're doing something very wrong. I've gone over our management practices with a fine tooth comb and I just don't see anything that could have caused this.

So - it's quite a puzzle. Buttons udder is nowhere near big enough to actually have milk in it, so we'll be leaving her alone. We'll keep monitoring her heat cycles and pregnancy testing 30 days after any missed heat. If she doesn't get pregnant soon, the bull is going to freezer camp and we'll try artificial insemination on her.

But as they say: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade - or cheese, butter, ice cream and chocolate milk in this case.

SO - we're milking Buttercup. She's giving us a gallon in the morning and a gallon in the evening and her production is rising steadily. She's having a problem with her left two quarters - they're not milking quite right. We're working on that with massages and hot compresses and it's getting better, but we're not keeping the milk from them. Once we get those problems worked out, I'd bet she starts giving well over three gallons per day. Woo hoo!

Buttercup and Craig have always had a special bond, but now they're just getting stupid. She waits at the gate for him to come get her and take her to the barn.

She looks lovingly at him while he milks. He says, "Move your foot, dahling" and she does exactly that. If I'm milking she runs away, gives me dirty looks, shifts around constantly and does everything she can to block my access to her udder. Good thing Craig really loves to milk!

While I'm sad that there won't be any calves to love on, and worried about what's really going on, I'm thankful for the holy grail of farm life - the bucket of sweet fresh milk from a cow whose feeding and care we have control of, that I know isn't being pumped full of antibiotics and hormones. I feel good about feeding it to my family. Check out that cream line - butter, baby!


  1. Oh yum, is there anything better than fresh milk straight from the cow? :)

  2. Have you tested for Brucellosis? That can cause a cow to abort and is also transmitted to humans in raw milk. When I was a kid my family got really sick (Dr diagnosed it as undulant fever) from drinking milk from a neighbors cow that was infected. I still drink raw milk, but am very wary of cows that have not tested negative for this.

  3. I worried about that too, even though Missouri is a "brucellosis free" state. So, I had them tested when we had the pregnancy test done. We also vaccinate every year, but you can't be too careful.

  4. "Freezer Camp"!!! Bwahahaha...


  5. incredible


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