Daily Dairy Project

I admit it. Sometimes, I slurp foam directly from the milk bucket.

The light foam is so warm and creamy. It’s perfect for an early morning non-caffeinated latte.

The cats agree whole-heartedly so I distract them from the bucket by pouring some milk into their pan first.

Lately, that milk bucket has been full, absolutely to the brim.

My 10-year-old milk cow, Maija, gives about six gallons of milk a day, plus she feeds her calf, Lady Gaga.

I have no doubt the human Lady Gaga would be pleased to know my daughter, Abby, admires her style and substance so much that we have a heifer named for a rock star.

Then, the other day, 3-year-old Easter calved. Easter is Maija’s daughter so she is half milk cow and half Angus.

Last year when Easter calved, I intended to sell her – who needs two milk cows? – but last year was a hard year. I just couldn’t do it.

So last week when I spotted Easter cooing over a newborn black spot on the prairie, I saddled up and brought both of them to the corral.

Like most milk cows, Easter moves at a snail’s pace. She doesn’t understand personal space, but she doesn’t mind when I milk her – as long as I trim my fingernails first.

Easter responds to a carrot better than a stick so once I got the new family to the corral, I pushed her calf into the chute while Easter followed, nuzzling my back pocket for a pellet.

Twenty-five minutes of squirting colostrum into a bucket gave me time to think about this Daily Dairy Project.

I was running out of freezer space for the extra milk.

And I didn’t need to be squatting under the chute, squirting an Angus-sized little stream of foaming milk into a metal bucket while a heifer in the pasture might need help.

I thought about contracting with Dairygold.

Instead, I stood up, stretched my back, and called the auction barn.

Yes, they had baby calves for sale that very day.

I traded for my town hat and jumped into the truck.

Other ranchers had the same bright idea that day. Sunken eyes, hunched shoulders and red, cracking hands told the story of a few calving issues. The only question left was the price of solving those issues.

I know the unwritten auction protocol is to wait for someone else to make the first bid, don’t seem too eager.

But I needed to get back to the ranch so I didn’t waste any time raising my hand when the auctioneer took the stand. After all, I was eager.

The auctioneer gave me the choice of the calves in the ring. The biggest brown one looked the healthiest, the little black twin was pretty scrawny.

Every sunken eye turned to witness my decision.

They had cows that would take an adopted calf out to the range, cows that needed so much personal space that the adoption process might not be as easy as Easter would make it for me.

They were trying to compensate for a financial loss to their ranch. I was just relieving myself of another chore.

I took the scrawny little black twin.

The hunched shoulders straightened just a tad.

Abby named the calf Surely.

Easter hasn’t completely adopted my plan, but she doesn’t argue too much. Every morning and night, I push her into the milking chute so her biological calf and Surely can fill their bellies. While they nurse, I ride out to check the heifers.

Dairygold missed out, but my Daily Dairy Project is at least manageable now.

Lisa Schmidt