Tuesday, November 18, 2008

the milking saga continues...

when we first moved here from California, we bought a Jersey heifer with an unknown due date and named her Nimue (nim-oo-ay). It was fall when we got her, and she ended up calving in May. Merlin was born- a Jersey bull calf. and i learned to handmilk on a wild heifer with a very wonky udder. We dealt with mastitis, we dealt with calf-sharing, we learned the ropes.

I was pregnant with Anatoly, our third baby, when Nimue calved. about 6 months into milking he was born, and i let Merlin the calf do the milking for 3 weeks. Right after giving birth, i felt certain i would never milk again, but after 3 weeks i began to miss it terribly. so i started to milk once a day, sharing with the calf at first.  Karl would hold Anatoly in the house while i milked. It was late fall. Into the winter i milked once a day.

Then, our fussy baby's fussiness could no longer be ignored. when i had to begin an elimination diet, i gave up milking. i dried off the cow. we didnt think she was bred back anyway and needed to put her with a bull, or so we thought. earlier attempts at putting her with my father's bull for a day at a time had seemed unfruitful. when Nimue came back from a month at the bull, though, we bought a dairy goat in hopes goat's milk would be all right in my diet.

I was milking Dulcinea, our LaMancha goat. she had a doeling named Aliyah. one day, we saw Nimue's calf kick from a great distance, and we knew she had been bred back all along. She calved in May again, a heifer calf named Boca, while the kids and i watched in the field. so i was milking the cow again. we hadn't seen any marked improvement through my elimination diets with Anatoly. and as we gave him raw cow's milk (through nursing) again we didn't see a negative response.and when our tax return came, Karl bought me an old refurbished Surge belly milker, which changed everything.

Eventually, we sold the goats back to their previous owner because we ran into a bad luck streak with Nimue and were overwhelmed. She got a terrible case of mastitis, out of nowhere. We fought it and were successful, then decided to get her bred back at that point. We had heard of some folks with a Jersey bull, so i called them. Boca, Nimue's calf, was nursing still, so it would be simple to put the two of them with a bull for a month and return them. a few days into her bull visit we drove up to check on her, and she was dying.

she couldnt eat, though it was obvious she was hungry, she was like death in appearance. the people with the bull helped us get her to the vet, where they told us to kill her or bring her home to die on her own. they diagnosed her with everything incurable under the sun. so home we brought her, but she didnt die that day like they suggested. we started feeding her green grass clippings and soaked beet pulp and alfalfa. she could eat, but only small bits of things. while trying to help her eat i noticed sores all over in ther mouth. so i called the vet, a different vet, and over a couple of days of symptoms changing and Nimue not dying he told me she had bluetongue. we fought bluetongue in Nimue and won, not a small feat. We fed her green grass clippings many times a day (most bluetongue victims starve to death because of the pain of eating) molasses in warm water to make her drink, soaked beet pulp, probiotics, vitamin C, echinacea and elder syrup. we fed her activated charcoal. i washed her feet twice a day (bluetongue causes severe corona pain and foot sores)  and treated them with medicine. she was thin and we had dried her off and weaned the calf, but she was alive.

the folks whose bull was supposed to have bred her became our friends. as sad as they felt they found another Jersey cow in milk and brought her to us. the only trouble was, she was 5 years old and had never been handled. she had a wild calf with her which we weaned and then i began to train her. it was exciting and scary all at once. her name was Niña. but i milked her, and milked her for months sharing the milk with her owners. i trained her to handmilk and machine milk. Nimue went back to the same bull when she seemed healed- it took no less than 3 months for her to recover and even then she was thin and weak. but it is important for a Jersey to be bred back, so we did it and it took.

I discovered i was pregnant with our 4th, who we would eventually name Romneya. and i got very, very sick. i always get sick, but this was horrible. i ended up on zofran, an anti-nausea drug, and still barely holding together. i had to give up milking. so Niña was dried off. it was at this point that Anatoly got sick.

he had one choking spell that scared us to death- though we had not seen an object we rushed him to the ER. by the time we got there his spell was over and they found nothing. they took an xray of his belly but nothing showed. but then more and more choking spells, every day, many times a day. he would grab at his  throat and screech. he had GERD, perhaps he had always had GERD? anyway this story is less about him and more about milking. Anatoly's sickness progressed until we were up in St. Louis children's hospital where they discovered he is lactose intolerant.

this all took months, and during these months we were offered a chance to purchase another cow already in milk. her name was Rori, and we just couldnt pass her up. long story short: we bought Rori, the friends took Niña back, i began milking again and Toly improved drastically on raw and ciultured dairy alone, no other dairy. he was so much better than we gave up looking for more answers. Rori was supposed to be due again in late November. Nimue was supposed to be due in September.

I gave birth to Rome in late July. Karl took up the milking chore. but soon after Rome's birth it became obvious Rori was due sooner than we had been told. we dried her off, sad that it would not be soon enough to give her the needed rest period. her previous owner looked through her books and told us that she was wrong, she was due mid- Sept! So we began to prepare.  Rori calved right on time, and beautiful heifer we named Jocelyn. and milking commenced again. then, one week later, Nimue calved. a bull calf we call Phoenix to complete her journey and ours with her. it has been a tough two months since all this happened.

Nimue has proven to be virtually unmilkable this lactation. her udder is huge (she is giving  6+ gallons a day) and low and the milker doesnt fit. hand milking is impossible, i could milk all day and never empty her. she is stubborn and mastitis-prone. so she has been raising both calves and i have been milking Rori twice a day. it is working out well.

but last night i turned the calves out to both cows and gave it up, for now.

I have to start a real, huge elimination diet with Anatoly. and it is so obvious in my soul that we need to become less farm-centered, more o'melay-centered right now. i am stretched too thin.

so for today, the plan is: get Nimue bred back and sell her and phoenix as a bred cow/ calf pair at auction. keep Rori and Jocelyn until Jocelyn is ready to wean, get Rori bred back of course, and then sell Rori as a heavily Bred registered Jersey cow. Jocelyn is a registered heifer and she we will keep, as a hope than in 2 years we may be ready to try it again. if Anatoly proves to have a cow's milk protein allergy, we will eventualy sell Jocelyn. we have no business milking a cow if that is the case.

so what do you think? crazy enough for you? our milking saga is funny to behold, but it is like everything in our life: wild, unplanned, beautiful.
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