What a gift, on this eve of Christmas. My partner woke me up this morning with words I’ve been waiting and wanting to hear for months: “Come meet your new baby cow!”
We made the decision to get a dairy cow about a year ago. After looking at our food expenses, we realized that a large percentage of what we buy at the store is milk in some form or another. My partner grew up with goats and always hated the flavor (even though he drank lots of it). Plus, goat milk is naturally homogenized and requires a special process to get the cream back out of it. We want easy-to-get cream mostly because we LOVE butter. We researched different kinds of cows, and set our hopes on a Jersey because they have been bred to have more fat in their milk than any other breed.
We now have three female Jersey cows. Daisey Mae is six, and due to have a calf next August. Clover is just nine months old, and won’t be bred until she’s about two years old.
Dolly is our newest cow, and she spent the first 8 years of her life in an organic dairy. She was cow #426 until she came to live with us. At that point she was still a month away from calving but already had an enormous udder, so my beloved country singer became her namesake.
We suspect Dolly isn’t pure Jersey, as she’s rumored to produce nine gallons of milk a day, and from the looks of her udder right now, that’s what we’ll get! Jersey’s are not known for producing a lot of milk, which is why other breeds who produce greater volumes of milk are used for commercial purposes in this country. The milk from these high-production types of cows (Holsteins are THE commercial breed nowadays) has a much higher percentage of water in in than does milk from Jerseys. For the home cheese maker, a lesser amount of higher quality milk is better than more, but more watery milk. Jersey milk has proportionally more fat and protein and yields more pounds of cheese per gallon of milk.
We’ve learned so much about cows, calving, milking…..and now….finally….we’re about to have an amazing abundance of the wonderful food for which we’ve been waiting! Right now Dolly’s udder is making colostrum, the milky fluid all mammals create for their newborns for the first few days after birth. It contains many essential bacteria, enzymes, and antibodies. For calves it’s especially important that they consume some immediately after leaving the womb. Cows are born with a sterile digestive system, and colostrum introduces the proper bacteria, as well as provides live giving fat, protein, and water. Calves who do not receive colostrum almost always die, and quickly.
Because of Dolly’s dairy history, she’s never been milked by hand, and she’s never had a calf suckle at her teat. This morning we were helping the little (for a cow, “little” is still close to a hundred pounds) bull find her teat, but his mom would walk away before he could get started. We milked some colostrum ourselves and put it in a bottle. He still didn’t act very interested in eating, wouldn’t suck. He was shivering and by the end of the day seemed weak, so we decided to bring him in the cabin for the night. We put him on our dog’s bed and covered him with a wool blanket. We made an attempt at feeding him with the bottle again but didn’t get much in him. He didn’t want to stand up and his eyes kept fluttering closed as we attempted to feed him with the bottle. Things were looking kind of grim.
Then, about two hours later, he stood up on his own. We offered him the bottle’s rubber nipple and he SUCKED! He drained most of the half gallon bottle. And then he peed about a half gallon all over the floor. Good thing baby pee doesn’t smell like much! We’re feeling much better about his future.
We’re expecting to get six or more gallons of milk a day, not including what the calf consumes. This blog will become much more (but not exclusively) dedicated to milk fermentation. I’ve had a bit of experience with goat cheese making, and I am so very excited to work with cow’s milk. Of course, because the animals who give us the ability to make cheese are part of our daily life, their story will be part of the blog as well.
I’ve read that it helps the self-taught amateur to have a journal for documenting each particular cheese batch (it’s probably required for professionals). There are very subtle details that can influence the personality of a cheese in surprising ways. I plan to use this blog as my cheese journal, for the selfish purpose of building my cheese making knowledge. I hope that this information I collect for myself also serves a broader audience of cheese makers, wannabe cheese makers, and the cheese-curious.