Milking is a lot of work! But that sound of the milk hitting the pail and the nutritious raw milk at the end of it make it all worth it.
I grew up working on dairy farm that used all machine milkers. Now, with my family cow I have chosen to hand milk. With just one cow it is more efficient to hand milk because you don't have to deal with cleaning/ sterilizing a machine after, so this post is about hand milking. I have also chosen to leave the calf on the cow nursing and only take what is left, (the mother and calf are normally separated at birth at production based dairy farms).
Before we jump into milking we must talk about the cow. Your cow's health is an essential part of healthy milk production. Keeping her the correct weight, in correct conditions with a shelter, access to clean water, grass or hay and the necessary minerals is a must. Our cow is on a little plot of land, without much to graze, so I feed her oat hay and alfalfa while supplementing with Modesto Milling Organic dairy grain while milking. She also has free access to organic kelp and a mineral supplement at all times. I have trained her to go into a stanchion and to be milked in her shelter while eating and I prefer the latter.
The key with milking is making sure you are keeping everything that comes into contact with the milk and udder as clean as possible - including your hands and the milk pail. This is hard considering we are talking about cows! It is all about sanitizing, sanitizing, sanitizing!
Before milking I make sure the area I have chosen to milk in is clear of cow poop and is as clean as possible. I usually brush my cow to get any debris off her before milking and she enjoys it.
I then spray her teats with an udder cleanser, (you can use iodine, buy a teat cleaner or make your own) wait 30 seconds and then wipe down her teats and my hands with disinfectant wipes.
The milking pail I use has been cleaned with soap and hot water with a sanitized sponge and left to air dry.
After the teats are clean, I "strip" the teats which means I take a few squirts into a separate cup and take a look at the milk, making sure there are no lumps or blood, indicating mastitis or something else wrong. This is important also because the first few squirts are likely to hold any bacteria that could have gotten into the teat.
So once I am all ready I get my pail under the cow and assume a squatting position. The reason I choose to squat instead of sit on a stool is I can better feel if the cow is going to move - or worse, kick over the milk pail. So, once I am squatting I begin to milk, and I usually start with the back teats. If you're a beginner milker starting out it is good to focus on one teat at time. As you progress, getting in a rhythm of two teats is more efficient.
I think a common misconception about milking is that you just pull down on the teat. The milk is actually in the udder and needs to move from the udder to the teat and then be squeezed out.
- First position the teat between your thumb and index finger.
- Then clamp the thumb and forefinger at the top of the teat and
- Then squeeze out milk that's trapped in the teat by using your palm and other fingers. Squeeze down while pushing the milk out and keep grip even at the base of the teat so milk does not flow back into the udder.
- Next open your hand to let the milk flow from the udder back into the teat and begin again.
The udder is in quarters, so make sure you milk each quarter until it is empty. I start with the back because they are hardest for me and then I move to the front two. After milking spray teats down with either iodine or teat disinfectant until there is a drip at the bottom of the teat.
Just like a nursing mama, the release of oxytocin helps the let down reflex, so the more relaxed and happy your cow is the more milk you will get. So try to have a calm atmosphere without dogs or any other added stresses.
No yanking or tugging, be gentle yet firm. Milking is something that takes hand and arm strength and lots of practice! I think I am a decent milker until I see someone who has been milking longer and they are much faster and more efficient! And my hand seems to always get tiered and even cramp. It's ok, be patient, I seem to get a little faster every time I milk!
OK, now you have your pail full of milk. By either using a reusable filter or one time use type, pour milk out of the pail, through the filter and into a clean sterilized jar. Now the milk must get chilled as quickly as possible. I put mine in the freezer or in an ice bath for about an hour and then transfer it to the fridge. We consume our fresh, raw milk within 3 days and make cheese and yogurt with any excess (post coming soon).
Hope this helps you to comfortably, safely and efficiently get milk from your cow into your kitchen! Below are a few great resources for a more in depth look!
Happy milking! Lauren
Photos by Lauren Ross