Romance

It’s time for Lola to get pregnant.  She gave birth last October and for a while now she’s steadily been winding back her milk supply.  Over the months all cow committee members have enjoyed a steady stream of the most interesting milk.  How is milk interesting?  The seasonal variation surprised me and the daily variation in cream content, salt content, volume and texture is always a talking point between us all.  It made me realise what a wrecker pasteurisation is.

It’s been a lush, creamy, abundant ride.  I love having a cow to milk (and brush and herd and cajole and admire).  The rhythms associated with the habits of a large beast are calming and reassuring.

Had we been really organised we might have found a suitor for Lola earlier.  We might have gone down the route of artificial insemination six months ago thereby ensuring a continued supply up until two months before she gave birth (drying the expectant mother off two months prior to birth allows the goodies to build up for the calf).  We didn’t get around to it and no one really minds.

As it is, we decided to dry her off now and take her to a nearby bull for a sexy holiday. Ross (a real live farmer) had hired an Angus bull to impregnate his ladies and generously offered his services.  A few kilometres of a lovely stroll along quiet Yandoit roads and pow! an easy delivery to the bull.

Cows like their routines – they like to do stuff they do all the time.  They don’t love the new, they get skittish and start to jog.  Which is what Lola did as soon as we started her down the road from mine.  So Zack had to jog and then we were all racing to keep up with her and that’s exactly what you don’t want.  Claire out for a stroll on pram patrol, Nikki with the crack bucket and me not really anywhere useful.   Then out of the trees came Svetlana.   We’d left her (a teenager at one and a half) back at mine and she’d busted out of the pen.  Unhappy alone and characteristically curious she was making her way to us at speed.

It all started to get funny.  The sky was blue, it felt like spring, we were droving, the cows were out of control, it felt good.  We gave into laughter and some shrieking.

What can work for you, at a time like this, is the irresistible pull fellow animals exert on a couple of cows running free.  We got to a corner and the cows turned left, up the hill, toward G’s horses and M & D’s photogenic trio of donkey and Highland cows.

Getting Height

Getting Height

A meeting took place.

Meeting the Neighbours

Meeting the Neighbours

Take a look at the size of Hercules’ head.  He’s a big lad and wonderful to behold up close.  Svetlana had never seen the likes.  On the other side of the road G’s horses:

Ziggy and Go Go

Ziggy and Go Go

Lola and Svetlana thusly occupied we took a moment and made a plan.

Casual Planning

Casual Planning

“Let’s put Svetlana in with the horses and continue on.”  It got better after that.  Lola settled and we made our way serenely.

Pram Patrol Bringing Up The Rear

Pram Patrol Bringing Up The Rear

The Long Gentle Approach

The Long Gentle Approach

 

Upon arriving at Ross’s field we took Lola in and had a look at the bull.  Bloody massive. With a greasy back, immense dangling gonads and flaring nostrils I had the clear feeling that you could never really get to know this animal.  With Lola innocently nibbling the hors d’oeuvre in the paddock next door and looking over to us, I felt both protective and curious for her.

Alert and Ready for the Introduction

Alert and Ready for the Introduction

Settling In (and looking small)

Settling In (and looking small)

Sniffing the Wind

Sniffing the Wind

Contact

Contact

 

Lola and the bull will spend some weeks together.  We need to wait until she comes into season and then it will be on for one and all.  Lola will be pregnant for nine months, she’ll give birth and then we’ll whip away the Angus/ Jersey calf so that we can steal her milk for ourselves.  It’s harsh but when the industrialised dairy industry is the reality for most, Lola’s lot is looking very rosy indeed.  As for the calf?  A happy year at Zack and Tracy’s place and then there’ll be a swift death, a division into freezers and a big fight over who gets the rug.

 

Lola and Lola

A patch of land is nothing without animals.  And a woman on a patch of land is nothing without a dog.  Visiting children over the past year have been incredibly disappointed in the lack of beasts, hardly believing that Yandoit Creek Farm could be a farm without them. They are right of course, and the neighbour’s herd of agisting cattle and the resident kangaroos don’t count.

So, what dog for the country life?  I knew what worked in the city.  Twelve years ago I read a snippet in the newspaper about adoption of failed and aged racing greyhounds and liked the sound of them – I got along to Greyhound Victoria and through the GAP program chose a beautiful gentle blue called Aya.

She became a publican in Fitzroy (illegally lounging on my bar’s floor and obscuring various doorways) for six good years before I sold up and she retired to the suburbs when I went to work on yachts.  I’m putting this gratuitous pet shot in because the greyhound racing industry is brutal and adopters are greatly needed and Aya is such a slinky poster child for the cause.

Aya in Retirement

Aya in Retirement

I tried very hard to choose another breed this time around – life is short, best to experience as many breeds as possible perhaps?  But working dogs such as kelpies and border collies need a job, which I don’t have to give them, and I am also a lazy trainer. So I came around to greyhounds again because they are quite relaxed and affectionate animals who lie down a lot in between short bouts of impressive sprinting.

Through an introduction from a neighbour, I visited a greyhound trainer in Melbourne on my 40th birthday and picked up a nameless black dog straight from the kennel.  A “fast runner but unfocused” and therefore useless for the track.  The trainer said she’d be a lot of fun. The first name that popped into my head was Lola.

Lola Getting Acquainted with Dirt

Lola Getting Acquainted with Dirt

A few months in she is, indeed, a lot of fun.  And nothing like my gentle, self-regulating, restrained Aya.  Instead I’m getting this:

So, I’ve got the loopy dog.  And two months ago, still without running water or the wood fire in place, it felt like the right time to get a house cow.  A few neighbours and I had been talking about it for a while, and not keen on doing it alone, we thought one milker between four parties might work well.  After a few working bees to get the pens sorted, Pepe and I towed a stock trailer a couple of hours north-east of Bendigo to pick up a pregnant three-year old Jersey and two three-month old heifer calves from the same herd.

Why Jerseys?  For milk fat and personality basically.  They produce the highest butterfat content and also the most milk per kilo of body weight of any breed. They’re docile, on the small side and good in a hot climate.

Loaded and Ready to Travel

Loaded and Ready to Travel

The cow committee owns the milker and Pepe and I each got a calf to raise to become house cows for sale two years down the track.  Our milker came with the name Lola. Out of a herd of 154, we land the one with the same name as my dog.  I can’t have half the farm animals with the same name – could the cow committee please come up with a new one?   Not with any conviction, so Lola (Senior) she remains.

What do you know about cows?  I didn’t know a single thing but I really want to learn the mysteries of animal husbandry and a cow is a good place to start.  As in all things, but particularly with animals, it helps to be relaxed.  There’s no fudging it when it comes to milking time however – you either know what you’re doing or you don’t, you can either get the cups on or you fumble, drop them in the dirt and have to start again and risk Lola Snr getting impatient.

Pepe sourced a reconditioned single cow milking machine.  Thank god for mechanisation as I have not yet developed the skills for successful hand milking and even if I did I don’t fancy the idea of pulling down endless litres of milk when there are many other things to get done.  Right now the whole process takes 45 minutes from luring her to the milking pen to giving her Pepe’s special grain mix (crack for cows) at the end and cleaning up.

Action

Action

As her range of behaviours reveals itself and our practical skills improve to make daily milking easier, the stewardship of this gracious beast feels like a very manageable responsibility.  It’s good to be sharing the privilege with friends – whilst pregnant she’s been putting out about six litres of milk a day, which will rise to between 10 and 15 once she’s calved.  We have a very loose roster and each milk a couple of days a week at the convenient time of 4pm (no dawn milkings here!) and keep what we get that day.

Loaded

Too much milk.  A fine problem to have.  It elevates my morning coffee, I am master of the rice pudding and I haven’t even started on yoghurt, cheese or butter yet.  I barter for eggs and I send a lot down to poor friends in Melbourne who are subsisting on cooked supermarket stuff.  Occasionally the dog gets a treat.

Delirium

Delirium

I did not anticipate how much being involved with a cow would improve my quality of life. The social aspect is really gratifying and visiting children are now satisfied the baby farm is not a fraud.  I’ve read a lot around raw milk (the history of which is particularly interesting) and also about the high levels of A2 protein in Jersey milk, which may be better than A1 protein for those suffering lactose intolerance (jury’s out).  I’ve got a useful product to exchange and the start of some practical skills.  The garden has an endless supply of excellent cow poo.  The pasture is kept in order.

Black Gold

Black Gold

Mowing

Mowing

I  think the best endorsement of our move into dairy comes from the toddler of a chef at work who gets milk off me – when he opens the fridge door in the morning his daughter loses her mind in anticipation – “MIIIIIIIIILK!”  Kids know what’s good.