Making Dairy Products From a Milch Cow

Eleanor Wrigley describes one winter when her heifer loses a calf during birthing and becomes a milch cow. She describes making dairy products and enjoying the fruits of her labor such as cheese and butter.

| January/February 1975

  • Brown Hereford Calf
    This miniature Hereford makes a delightful addition to the farm.

  • Brown Hereford Calf

Eleanor Wrigley's heifer loses a calf one winter and becomes a milch cow. Eleanor starts making dairy products from the colostrum and the milk, thereafter, and enjoys homemade butter and cheese. 

According to the calendar, today was the first day of spring. Eight inches of new snow have covered any evidence that might prove it, and the old layer is still several feet deep. We keep joking about the return of the Ice Age. Up here in northern Alberta, though, the idea of glaciers isn't really very funny.

When I turned the horses out of the barn this morning I was appalled at how emaciated Celtie looked. She's the biggest of the three, and she went into the winter round and sleek. Her bones are showing now. Because our hay crop was poor last summer, we're running low on fodder and have had to switch the horses to barley straw, with oats morning and evening. That's enough to carry them through till green grass, and the smaller two look fine . . . but on Celtie, the change of diet is obvious.

Horses aren't the only livestock we've had to worry about this winter. Last fall we bought two heifers . . . pasture-bred, so we had no idea when they would deliver. The first calf came one night when Bob had a broken finger and I was violently ill with "stomach flu", as it's called here (I'm rarely sick, but this was something else). By the time Bob and a neighbor got the calf — a bull — pulled out, it was dead.

If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't buy heifers to learn on. They almost always need help birthing . . . and time is crucial. The trouble is that as the calf comes down the birth canal the cord is scraped and pinched by the cow's pelvic girdle and the connection between mother and young is cut off. Before the baby is actually born it's already on its own and, if calving is slow, as with a heifer (a cow bred for the first time), the contractions keep the newborn from breathing even if its nose is clear of the birth passage.

Another potential problem is that — unlike a human baby, which is all head and nothing much to follow — a calf is big around the pelvis and may get "hip-locked". This is compounded by the fact that many farmers breed their cows to bulls of larger types in order to get huskier offspring. Our neighbor to the east owns the biggest spread around and has been using Charolais bulls with his Hereford-Angus herd. It's not surprising that right now, at the height of calving season, our local vet (his office is 30 miles away) has been averaging 15 Caesareans a day next door . . . at a daily cost of $300.

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