The Milk & Human Kindness: Hay, Hooves, Horns, Culling & Clotted Cream
by Suzanne Lupien of Thetford Center, VT
All these rely on their own hands, and each is skillful at his own craft. Without them a city would have no inhabitants; no settlers or travelers would come to it. they maintain the fabric of this world and their prayers are about their daily work. – Ecclesiastes 38:25-234
Trimming Your Cow’s Hooves
Tinkering With Your Cow’s Horns
Making Clotted Cream
Culling Your Herd
Storing and Stacking Baled Hay
Trimming Your Cow’s Hooves
Your cow’s comfort, never far from your mind, is affected greatly by the condition of her hooves. Rate of growth of the hooves varies considerably from one cow to the next. It is also much effected by the type of ground she covers, and how much traveling she gets to do. Dry, hard surfaces such as ledgy hillsides and roads can contribute significantly to keeping hooves worn down, thereby warranting less trimming. But sometime or other, perhaps once a year or so, you will need to trim her feet. It may be possible to hire someone to come to your farm with the sling contraption to hoist her up and do the job, but I rather prefer neither to spend that kind of money, nor up end my cow and frighten her, I prefer to do it myself.
As the hoof grows the cow is forced to walk with great pressure on her heels, putting extra strain on her joints. At a certain point, if gone untended, all the wear is on the heel and the toe just gets longer and longer. when the hooves are kept trim, you will observe that the pasterns are quite vertical. Gone long in the toe, the angle increases causing pain and fatigue for your cow.
Seen from above, the overgrown toes often bear against each other, even with one toe crossing the other. This too is painful for the cow and must be tended to, and kept from occurring.
Cows are not trained to pick up their feet as horses are. I see no reason, however, why a little heifer could not be trained to do so. I have known people who have done this, and are able to trim their cows hooves.
My approach is always the path of least resistance! If I go out to milk my cow and she’s lying down resting, dreaming away and chewing her cud, I slip away quietly and come back later. And if its time to nip her hooves a bit and I happen to be in the barn while she’s resting comfortably, why I take the nippers off a nail on the wall, come and give her a good back rub and sneak a little nip or two on the foot that’s available, making every attempt to get in as many bites as possible without riling her. That may be an entire foot trimmed, or none at all, just keep it your secret mission for a day or a week or however long it takes, and get her trimmed. Conventional horse hoof nippers work perfectly well as long as they’re a good pair to begin with, and they are kept sharp. It takes a bit more strength for a cow than it does your own toenails and less than it takes to trim your horse. The quick is very visible on a cow’s hoof so your visual guide is right there before your eyes. Trim the sides of each toe singly. Do not grip both sides of a toe together in one bite as this will cause a great pinching pain.
If the hooves are significantly overgrown, trim them incrementally in order that she may adjust her stance over time. While you are at it, examine the hoof carefully. Look for rot, soreness between the toes, anything that may be worrying ol’Bessie. Cloven hooves are especially sensitive and given the heaviness of our modern cows, quite different from their progenitors, the hooves are under a great deal of stress. It is extremely important to keep your cow in good order, from top to toe.
Refining the shape and position of your cow’s horns
Correcting a crooked horn is best begun when the animal is young. At the age of one year the tendencies of the horn growth are viable and this is a good time to start. Occasionally a horn will need to be altered to keep it from growing into the animal’s eye or back into the skull. It is not necessary to cut off the offending horn, but rather to gently redirect it by means of a simple tourniquet arrangement with a wire and turnbuckle or by simply filing the horn with a three cornered file cutting into the horn near to the quick on the side of the horn toward which you want the horn to grow. That is: if you wish the horn to grow to the left, for example, then the file nicks need to be made on the left side of the horn. Again, be extremely careful not to cut to the quick.
Horns can be very beautiful and an elegant set of symmetrical horns are a beautiful sight indeed. If one horn is growing or curling at a less desirable angle then its mate you can use the filing method or you can in fact drill a fine hole through the horn tip securing it around the base of the second horn with a simple turnbuckle arrangement in between. Just a bit of tension kept on the wire with periodic adjustment will bring the horn tip down or up where you so desire it.
What could be more delicious than a fresh scone topped with jam and clotted cream of your own making with a steaming cup of tea, especially after working out in the cold and wet all afternoon? Coming up with the skills to make good tea and gorgeous scones and jam surely requires attention and practice, and learning to make clotted cream does as well.
The first clotted cream may very well have been an accident – its very likely that some farmwife of long ago set a basin of whole milk on the back of the kitchen stove to stay warm for cheese, but the stove was too hot and the milk scalded, resulting in heavenly thick, cooked (slightly) evaporated cream atop skim milk. The heat from the fire both evaporated the cream and pasteurized it, making the cream keep longer than usual.
Clotted cream, (the name doesn’t describe for me) the perfectly smooth, thick and nutty substance. Never mind. If you’ve been to Devon or Cornwall and tasted the real thing you know how scrumptious it is. If you haven’t, and you have an over abundance of fresh farm cream you may want to give it a try.
Take at least a quart of rich milk – not just cream, you need the milk for the hot liquid under the cream – warm to just below the scald (tiny fine bubbles just beginning to form around the rim) in an open wide basin (heat proof). Set it to the back of the stove where it will stay very warm but not boil, and cover with clean cheese cloth or butter muslin. You do not want to contain the steam with a non-breathable lid, you want the moisture to be carried off. You just don’t want the flies to get in it. Hot but no boiling. Hot and just off the scald might be the best way to describe the required temperature. I’m going to say somewhere around 120 degrees F. Leave it for 12 hours at least but 24 would be better. Naturally the stove will cool off overnight, which is a good thing. In the morning you will have cool milk, and cool very thick cream to skim off carefully into a sanitized stainless steel bowl. As you plow through it with your skimmer or spoon, it will wrinkle and fold like paint in a paint can when the lids been left off.
The cream will be thick and dense and sweet and nutty. Chill (the cream that is.) Take it out of the refrigerator long enough to beat it smooth. The top will be drier than the underside so beating it briefly will even it out. Store in a glass jar, plan a tea party and bake the simplest plain non-sweetened classic scones so they’re coming out of the oven around the time you’re making the tea and laying the table. Scone, butter, lashes of jam and cream. Heaven. For atmospheric perfection it will be pouring rain and be very cold. This will make the whole festivity all the better. What better way to celebrate your farm, your cow, your good milk, than a moment like this?
There comes a time, within a year or two of getting a cow that one starts to realize that you have too many. Or there’s one young heifer out there who, for one reason or another, isn’t making the grade.
It’s very important and useful too, to be clear about good conformation, training and quality and then to set sentiment aside and do what you must do. A poor quality dairy animal, or an animal with a horrid disposition won’t do anyone any good, so the idea of selling a second rate heifer is generally not a good solution. True, it’s easier to eat the mean ones than the sweet ones, but in the end you need to do what’s good for your farm and make the decision to either butcher the animal right there on the farm or take her somewhere to be done.
As I’ve said in a previous SFJ article, taming and training your calves from the very beginning is the very best insurance that they will lead calm, happy, and productive lives. On your farm or on someone else’s, wild, uncooperative and dangerous animals all go in the freezer. So you train them to a halter, and a rope, you can catch them, hitch them, lead them and all the rest of it. Farming is hard at times even on the best of days so we do what we can to give ourselves, our families, and our livestock the healthiest and most dignified lives as possible.
Good feeding, good care and handling give us good animals – most of the time. I’ve devoted years and years to breeding Jerseys of strong bone and constitution, easy calvers. Good legs, excellent udder attachment, excellent foragers. These are my criteria for healthy cows. My cows also happen to be reliable producers of heifer calves – remarkably few bulls have been born on my farm. I’ve probably had more than my share of wild, smart independent cows but in actual fact I take these characteristics to be positive as well. Still there have been a notable percentage of heifers I have summarily culled for their unwillingness to domesticate and in some cases downright dangerous personalities.
I had high hopes for Norma from the start, at 5 minutes old she was bounding around and nursing. She was quite nice looking, let me handle her udder from a very young age. But she was never too keen on being approached at the head, she wagged her horns at me and was short tempered. One stormy winter day she pinned me to the stall wall with her horns pushed against my middle, the whites of her eyes showing. My bladder was empty by the time I extricated myself and when I went to the house to change I sealed her fate, resolving to butcher her after she calved and reared her calf.
By far the hardest heifers to cull are the friendly ones with poor conformation, weak udder attachments, sickle-hocked, weak backline, crooked teeth. Yet all these things bode very badly for a cow and they should be culled, making way for a first rate animal to come along and contribute to your farm, not detract from it.
A single weakness may be overlooked when compensated for by stellar qualities somewhere else. But please bear in mind that breeding such an animal means her weaknesses will very likely be passed down to her offspring.
It is often a mystery trying to predict what an animals contribution to the farm will be. Contribute they must, in meat if not milk, for every thing counts, and all has meaning on the farm.
Stacking and Storing Baled Hay
I’m hoping you had a better haying year than we did here in VT. It rained all the way through to mid July. I think we took in just the one field of lovely first crop right here next to where my horses are.
The field belongs to Ellis. In one of Noel Perrin’s good books on rural living, Second Person Rural I believe it is, he writes of a memorable day on this field back in the ‘70s, when Ellis and his father and somebody else are digging huge rocks out of the field using an entire array of tractors, bulldozers, etc. and Noel sees them struggling with one massive rock – they’ve got all the tractors hitched together pulling it along at glacial speed and it’s just not enough. So Noel offers to add his little tractor to the mix, and lo and behold the rock starts moving. Years later after all that immense work, it’s a beautiful hay field smooth and clear of rocks. Down in a low spot, adjacent to the field, behind the horse shed are the rocks. I’m sure Ellis still remembers which rock was where. He’s got a phenomenal farmer’s memory.
I spread manure on the field in early spring with the team, and I frost seeded the upper half of it in April. So the understory is thicker now than it was.
We got a couple hundred bales of beautiful hay. After a rainy hiatus of nearly 2 months the next batch of hay was crap. Then it rained some more. It took the whole summer to get all the fields cut for the first time, then just a few fields of rowan – clearly this was an extreme haying year. Yet even in normal haying season there are plenty of variables in timing, weather and field quality which deliver us varied hay quality. How to stack the various batches of hay bales in the barn in order to have access to the different types of hay led me to a simple solution. My barn, an old style English timber frame barn has a central drive floor and 3 hay mows on the right and left like this….(A)
The usual way to fill a barn like this is to pack the back long wall of the mow and work your way forward to the drive floor, rising height as you go. But this method provides no access to anything but the last cutting once the barn is full
I wanted access to a variety of hay, so I ended up stacking my hay like this: Mowing it tight to the short wall, raising the level of the stack as high as I could right away, then working my way across the floor. Then, when the mow was full, I could take hay off the front of the mow and have hay from 4 or 5 cuttings to choose from.
Thanks to Bill Ladd who taught me to build very secure and vertical stacks of hay bales so when it was all said and done, you would be standing on the drive floor with the snow beating on the windows and huge plumb walls of hay rows on either side of you and your heart was glad and grateful.
This barn, one we built from scratch, was a bank barn, with the stancheons down below. I cut a trap door in the drive floor so I could drop hay right down to the cow stable.
Building a tight stack of hay requires skill, thought, and well-baled hay. Loosey goosey bales don’t stack and they don’t keep either, often taking on moisture if left out of a stack for long. A good, even block of hay sets you up for a good stack. It goes without saying that you need a dry place to stack your hay. A barn or shed with a good roof, and a floor, a dry floor. Do not stack hay on a dirt floor. And preferably not on a concrete one either. And if you happen to have a bank barn like my old barn, with animals underneath, then you should have a vapor barrier in the floor so moisture from the animals won’t travel up through your floor and wick up into the hay and ruin it. Two layers of flooring with tar paper between would be excellent. A tar paper layer laid on top of a single layer of flooring would work too.
Around here, most people lay the first level of hay bales on edge. It’s individual preference really. I don’t see that it really makes any difference. The important thing is that the stack is tight. And that the layers alternate in direction so the bales lock together so the stack won’t fall down.
The other critical point which Bill taught me is that if you have an open, unsupported face of your stack like I had in the barn in the diagram, then you need to start your stacking there, at the unsupported end and work back to the inner barn wall. Friction. The bales need to be tightly stacked.
Another thing to remember is, as the stack rises, so must it advance horizontally, in order to maintain the step-like interlocking stack.
So basically you have two things to watch out for: You are making sure that the open, vertical face is indeed vertical, and the bales are as tightly stacked as possible.
You are changing the direction of the bales, layer by layer, so the layers will lock tightly together. You can do this in at least two ways.
You can simply change direction of the first string of bales every other layer. That will create a step like pattern happening.
You can alternate bale directions every other layer. But you still have the issue that your rising stack can have a gap running vertically from top to bottom, which makes it more susceptible to falling over. So I go for the first method.
I save the heaviest squarest bales for the front end – the open end of the stack. Any loose floppy bales get jammed in somewhere against the wall. Any slightly questionable bales which might have a tad too much moisture, I stack on the open end. Better yet to just feed that bale out as it comes from the field. Never stack damp hay. Never bring damp hay into your barn! It can heat up and spontaneously combust in one day or in 100 days. Be careful and sure. Know your hay. Stick your hand well down into the bale of all that you suspect, and some that you don’t. I prefer to leave the hay on the wagon the first night, the next morning any odd bale with too much moisture will have warmed if even slightly and can be removed from the bales getting mowed away in the barn. Far better to be safe than sorry!
I’ll close this article with an amusing quote from the Sammis’ classic book on cheesemaking from 1948 (twelfth edition) a training manual for cheesemakers: “Each student should take a thorough bath at least once a week . . . see that your underclothes as well as your overalls are always clean through frequent changes.” Good advice!