Tell Me You Were Kidding about the Poop!

“What do you mean, ‘Tail covered in manure‘?!?!?!?” asked an alarmed friend.

Well…um…not exactly covered. I meant that to be a humorous post about the down and dirty of the daily chores, not a confession that I’m milking a sick cow in unsanitary conditions. I’m not milking a sick cow and we keep things clean. Very clean. I am milking a cow that is on some pretty lush spring forage, is refusing to eat any hay and has loose manure…some of which splattered on the hair at the tip of her tail…the part that beat me on the head as I milked so we dang-near give her a sponge bath before milking.

I might say “I’m covered in ticks” when I have two ticks on my person. Any manure on the cow’s tail is too much manure on the cow’s tail when that tail hits the back of your head. She wasn’t coated in manure. She wasn’t really covered in manure. The tip of her tail was splattered lightly. That’s part of spring but it’s not part of milking.

I keep an eye on the cow manure every morning and evening. It’s just part of the routine. What did they eat in this paddock? Are their ears up? Anybody lagging behind? Eyes clear? Are they full? What does the manure look like? All of those questions can be answered in less than a minute.

We have gone through some dense bromegrass, orchardgrass, fescue and red clover pasture and we have been getting at least an inch of rain every week for about the last month. Things are growing like gangbusters out there so the forage is pretty rich and immature (high in protein). This site talks about manure consistency and what it means. Ours looks a lot like the last picture. Very thin. Very green. Very splatterish.

Julie (who is listed in my phone as Beautiful Wife) texted me yesterday (I had to dress this up a bit as it arrived out of sequence):


So that’s that. Too much protein and it comes out wet. I need more energy in my forages…which should start to happen any day now as the grass is 3′ tall and going to seed. But let’s just plow through that mess and move on.

Cows poop. Poop happens. But you don’t want poop in your dairy. We could go ahead and let poop happen in the dairy then hide the evidence with pasteurization or we could work our butts off to keep the cow clean, keep the dairy clean, keep our bucket clean and keep the milk clean.

Remember that picture earlier this week?


Where is the bucket? We are milking on a clean concrete pad but the bucket isn’t on the concrete. The cow just stepped there! I hold the bucket up between my knees, really close to the clean udder. What you don’t see is me milking out about a quart then pouring it into another pail…a pail with a lid. Then I go back for more. If something should happen to the bucket (like a splattering of cow manure) I continue milking but stop collecting the milk for household consumption. We let the waste milk clabber up and we give it to the piggies. You also don’t see the filter we use in the kitchen to help us prove the milk is clean (not to clean the milk…though we do allow it to filter a stray hair or two.) Switching to the milking machine has given us even more bio-security both from a cleanliness standpoint and in terms of speed to chill. Here’s a cool video showing what is involved (not us). You can learn more about the video below at this link.

As my father reminded me, “Cleanliness is next to godliness”. But we don’t wash our bodies with antibacterial soap every day to kill even the beneficial bacteria covering us do we? Oh. Some of you do? Huh. OK. Well. We don’t cook ourselves through at 138 degrees for 2 seconds each day to purify our bodies. We wash our hands, eat well, get regular sleep, get a little sunlight and rely on our healthy, functioning immune systems to keep the baddies at bay. When drinking raw milk you also have to keep the pasture healthy, the cow healthy (let it graze fresh, tall grass in the sunlight, let it get a little exercise), wash your hands and keep the cow poop out of the bucket. If Flora comes to the barn with a truly messy tail we take a moment outside to clean things off. Then we brush her to remove loose hair. By this time she’s usually a little antsy so we put her in the head stall and get to work.

Let’s go back and revisit that previous paragraph. I have read a number of arguments that suggest there is no difference in the health of a cow on pasture and a cow in a confinement dairy. Further, there are not enough acres of grassland to support nation-wide grass-based dairy. Confinement dairy works because we have access to cheap energy and because we have bred cows that make large volumes of fluid milk on high-powered feed. Confinement cows, however, rarely last past three lactations (remember the argument that there is no difference in health!). Grazing dairies usually have surplus heifers they sell to the confinement dairies. The acres involved are much less of a problem but I’ll outline it briefly then suggest a solution. A cow has to spend X hours each day eating and digesting (varies based on body weight, temperature and stage of life). Any time spent walking to and from the dairy is time that is not spent grazing or, more importantly, ruminating. Even after overcoming the near total lack of grazing-adapted dairy genetics in North America, we have to reduce the number of cows per dairy and increase the number of dairies. I don’t see the downside here…moving away from EPA hazard 4,000 cow confinement dairies that turn 5-year old cows into hamburger and consume massive quantities of oil, however efficiently, to many, many 200 head grazing-only operations. Not to mention decentralization. I have heard so many arguments against Wal-Mart that can basically be summed up in one point: Wal-Mart is too big. Well. If we hate big corporations, don’t we also hate the big organic milk producer that is organic in name only? Isn’t more selection more better? Isn’t this what the Net Neutrality fuss is all about? Desiring competition in the marketplace so we don’t all have to bow at the alter of the big cable provider? Don’t we want competition in milk production? Don’t we want cows to eat grass? (I’m about to go full-on rant here so I should just stop now.)

I’m really not interested in arguing for or against raw milk. This product is not for sale and the bulk of our milk goes to the pigs (’cause we can’t drink it all). I think there are all sorts of problems in American dairies from the mineral-deficient land to cattle stuck indoors to dishonest or misleading dairy protections to the overweight, immuno-compromised consumers. For my fully-vaccinated, athletic and generally healthy family, raw dairy from our own clean, healthy cattle grazing on clean, healthy, well-mineralized pastures, milked in a clean environment with clean, sterile equipment and milk that goes from teat to fridge in under 15 minutes is no problem. But I’m not interested in making that decision for you. I generally shy away from telling people what to do, I focus on telling people what NOT to do as in “Don’t screw up like I did”. Nor will I recommend that you go buy raw milk because it is “better”. If raw milk is your bag, get to know your dairyman. If you dig pasteurized milk, well, you can pasteurize the raw milk you buy from your dairyman. I know several families that re-pasteurize store-bought milk. If you want to buy pasteurized milk at the store go to town but pasteurized milk is not sterile. Similar thinking applies to ham and spinach…and sprouts are deadly.

If you are milking the cow, keep things clean. Don’t give infection an opportunity. If you are buying the milk, educate yourself then go see what goes on at the dairy.

6 thoughts on “Tell Me You Were Kidding about the Poop!

  1. I hardly have time to shower and eat these days so keeping up with favorite blogs like yours is very hit-or-miss but I’m glad I hit this one. Thank-you for sharing the link from that was very helpful. We are flying around the farm on an accelerated rotation trying to protect new seedlings and keep up with vegetative growth – about the same gangbusters going on here for now. Just worked my 19-head herd through the corral and squeeze chute for vax and deworming, a little hoof trimming to boot; cut out the yearling bull and two heifers that failed my standards for keeping, they are now two counties over at a good friend’s farm, and the two finishing beeves will be diving into their 1.5 acre salad bar tomorrow, hope to process them and see if these Devons deserve their reputation for delectable beef on nothing but grass. Not sure where you find the time to write blog posts but for goodness sake don’t stop. I’m listening.

      • As a general rule, it isn’t the hair & bugs you can SEE that are the problem. It’s the stuff you can’t see that is. If this were not true, the human race would have been wiped out millenia ago. I suspect refrigeration has been our downfall!

        • Yup. Keep it clean and sterile.

          Don’t overlook that we were spending 20-25 minutes hand milking and now spend 2 minutes with the milker.

          I think there are plenty of resources on the internets about how to milk a cow, how to clean a milker, etc. I wasn’t wanting to teach a microbiology course. Really, just speaking generally about things happenin’ on the farm. Got tired of getting hit with the tail. Switched to the milking machine.

          An early draft had loads of CDC detail on foodborne illness and the apparent dangers of bologna and clover sprouts. Bacteria are to be taken seriously.

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