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Featherfoot Farm Journal Fall 2007

"Down at the well they've got a new machine. The foreman says it cuts man-power about fifteen. 'Yeah but that ain't natural', well so old Clay would say. You see he's a horse-drawn man until his dying day."
--Elton John, Country Comfort

On the Farm

This edition of the Featherfoot Farm Journal is late--very late in fact. This lateness, and the cause of it, are precisely the topic of this season's Journal. There are priorities in this life and then there are priorities. A kid who needs to be driven to a soccer practice falls in the former category; milking a Jersey cow that has just calved falls, unquestionably, in the latter.

The long-anticipated birth was, in itself, fairly uneventful. The most exciting part was leaving a school board meeting (after receiving the fateful call) with the excuse, "I need to leave, my Jersey is having a calf." Minutes after pulling up to the barn with headlights on, it was all over. There she was, cute as a button, wet and wobbly. We dried her off, slid her up to her mother's face and Cornelia took care of the rest. Licking, nuzzling and mooing in a manner we had never heard before. The mother-calf bonding process was underway. Another process was also underway: the first-time-dairy-milking-learning-curve process.

We had received a variety of different opinions from a number of farmers about the best way to go about milking a cow. Old schoolers, like Clay in the lyric above, wouldn't stand for a milking machine in the barn. "We used to milk a hundred head by hand," they would say. I think these are the same folks who walked five miles to school uphill both ways. The modern dairy farmers recommended a vacuum pump, teat cups and a good capacity pail as well as quickly removing the calf from its mother shortly after birth.

One must make one's own mistakes and we were no exception. Giving the old school hand milking method a college try for about four weeks we encountered a host of challenges to use a juicy euphemism. You've heard the term, "kicked the bucket" refering to someone who is no longer with us. Well, after your cow has kicked and spilled a large quantity of milk that you have just painstakingly expressed from her udder over the course of several minutes, your first reaction is often, "I'm going to kill this beast!" Then, after counting backwards from one hundred and with any luck at all you will recall the comforting adage, "Don't cry over spilled milk."

All the while, the new calf is with her mother and increasing her milk intake as the days and weeks go by. One morning one of the teats looked shriveled and dry. From all the books we've read on the subject we immediately thought the worst--mastitis, an inflammation of the udder caused by infection. We called the vet and our dairy farmer friends to get their take on it. Hot packs and compresses didn't seem to help. Then it hit us like a bolt from the blue. "Let's take that calf out for a night and see what happens." Sure enough, after twelve hours away from her calf, Cornelia's udder and the teat in question swelled with milk like balloons. Plenty of milk and no mastitis! Looking back, it seems obvious that the calf was sucking her mom dry but when you're in the thick of it...

After multiple tail lashings, kicks (one that darn near broke my nose), spilled pails, foreign bodies in the milk, and an onset of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, we moved slowly but appreciably towards the modern farmers' recommendation of purchasing a milking machine. We searched and researched and called and e-mailed and finally decided on a rebuilt set-up. And what a beauty she was! A Porta-Vac pump with a pressure gauge and silencer, a DeLaval-style claw with an Italian-made pulsator, a sixty-five pound capacity stainless steel milking pail and ten feet of approved for milk service clear tubing to complete the apparatus.

Assembling the thing and actually getting it on Cornelia's teats without loss of pressure and with correct pulsation frequency did take a while. Eventually, we got the hang of it. And that persistent kicking, especially when going after that back left teat, and while spraying on and wiping off the iodine solution, was cause for concern. Necessity being the mother of invention and before winding up in the hospital from a kick to who knows where, we came up with a low-tech, anti-kick hobbling system, also know as a chain around Cornelia's back legs. Interestingly enough, she actualy seems to like the restricted freedom of movement during the seven minutes it takes the Porta-Vac to void her udder and she stands like a statue. All was in the pink and we were getting a nice two and sometimes three gallons of milk at a whack, until our thousand-dollar Porta-Vac started acting up.

"It sounds like a problem with the rotors," my contact said. "It doesn't happen very often but once in a while the rotors are misaligned and the pump won't come up to pressure." At the same time the pump was giving us trouble we noticed that the pulsator was not seating correctly on the top of the pail. A loud hissing sound was the result. Because this is a pressurized system, any leaks lead to a drop in pressure and less efficient (if any) milking. Now it wasn't the cow I wanted to strangle.

Luckily for us, my contact's positive feedback ratings on the internet were accurate and he sent us a new system pronto. Also lucky was the fact that our friend's goats were on their dry cycle and she had an unused pump laying around her barn. So after a week or so with our friend's pump, and another week or so getting the new system up to speed, we were really in the groove.

So, the next time you are stirring half-and-half into your morning coffee, spreading some butter on a piece of whole wheat toast, sampling some delicate cheese or enjoying an ice cream, remember all the people and animlas who helped bring those products to you. And while you are sipping your piping hot coffee over the newspaper, we hope you'll forgive us for being more than a little late with this season's Journal.

In the Kitchen

Gingerbread Cookies

6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup shortening, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup molasses
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift together the flour, baking powder, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon; set aside. In a medium bowl, mix together the shortening, molasses, brown sugar, water, egg, and vanilla until smooth. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients, until they are completely absorbed. Divide dough into 3 pieces, pat down to 1 1/2 inch thickness, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies 1 inch apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. When the cookies are done, they will look dry, but still be soft to the touch. Remove from the baking sheet to cool on wire racks. When cool, the cookies can be frosted with the icing of your choice.

Newborn Jersey calf, Honey

Honey, out in the pasture

Hand milking

A closer look

Here's the milking machine hooked up and doing its thing. Notice the anti-kick system around Cornelia's back legs.

Teat cups on the udder

On top of the milking can is the pulsator, that's what provides the intermittent pressure that pulses the teats and allows the milk to flow.

The power behind it all: the Porta-Vac pump

Some of the latest batch of kittens

Diggin' taters

New Reds

One of the blueberry fields after bushhogging

Haley on Mandy

Laddy splitting wood

Bobbing for apples at the Halloween party

Laddy's new horse: Music Box Dancer (She's a Quarterhorse - Connemara cross.)

The New Idea Manure Spreader in action

Kid Watch

Haley 11 years 4 months

Laddy 9 years 11 months

Max 7 years 9 months

Ruby 3 years 5 months


Talk about priorities and being late I take the cake~!
We love your journal. Your writing leaves a vivid and sound impression. I am tired just reading all the work to be done on the farm. My grandparents lived on a working farm I have fond memories. Everyone looks healthy and happy. Sarah and Dan have moved and living in Augusta. A charming cute town house with a computer room they call "My bedroom!" ha!
Yes, they allow me to sleep over as I work often in the area. The 4 of us are like best friends fishing, camping at our camp at Moosehead, vacationing... Life is good!
Maybe this year with the kids here in Maine we can drop by. We would love that!

Dan, I love reading your journal. First day back at school in the plan book..."Check out Dan's milking machine in his journal." The lesson on making butter will take on new significance, no doubt!

I just love these updates. What a wonderful life you all lead.
I so want to get up for a visit. And those kittens and Honey are adorable. Much Love to you all, Jacqui

Ah, what wonderful memories of trying to get the milking done before the bus came for school. I so miss my beloved cow named Christmas- as she was born on that fateful day and gave much pleasure and just a little frustration. Happy Holidays to all. We miss you!

Admiration from here...
Since it can't be me I'm glad it's you...
Congratulations for avoiding binds - I'm in this one
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4
4.Nxd4 g6 5.c4 Bg7 6.Be3 Nf6
7.Nc3 Ng4 Jim in Black

Thanks for sharing your latest adventures with all of us...and for letting us visit! Hey, is that a Cape Elizabeth Chess T-shirt I see behind Ruby??

Dan and Ilene

Everything looks so wonderful, however, I know one can't milk life on the farm! :) Happy Holidays to you all. May best wishes and a wonderful New Year be yours!

Worth the wait! Thanks for sharing - Ruth

I have learned more about milking a cow today than I ever wanted to or imagined I ever would need to; God bless you and all the work you do on the farm. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy Healthy New Year to all in Aurora Maine! See you all soon!

Always enjoy the "Journal" My daughter is doing similar stuff in Westfield Me.---chickens,goats,pigs,cattle, milking machine---67 acres

A fine piece of writing and very informative. I know more about teats now than ever before.

From Beantown, a Happy Holidays to all at the Farm!


Sitting by the fire, watching the snow fly, sipping my tea and reading your family journal.... Ahhhh - Sunday! Thanks for sharing! Happy Holidays to you and yours!

just splendid
absolutely mahhvellouss

happy holidays
to you and yours

now dan-get back to work

Now that's cool about the machine for milk! I notice snow in one of your pics. We're having a big storm now (Sunday, Dec. 16th as I'm typing.) Thank you & Happy Holidays!

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