• Emily

Thank You for the Milk, Sweet Lissy

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

“…And all that’s best of dark and bright, Meets in her aspect and her eyes…”

(Lord Byron, She Walks in Beauty)

our milk cow, Lissy, standing in the sunshine

Undoubtedly, Lord Byron would resent having his lines of admiration applied to a cow. But to us, Sweet Alyssum is more than worthy of such a tribute.

Lissy is the first cow that we brought to the homestead. After much reading and discussion on the merits of a family milk cow, we were convinced that it would meet a need in our homestead food supply (read more about how we grow our food here). What remained uncertain was whether or not we were prepared to care for and train a cow. All of our livestock animals up to that point were feathered, and their needs were much simpler than those of a large lactating mammal. Then we found her.

Sweet Alyssum is a Jersey/Dexter cross (75% Jersey, 25% Dexter), which means that she produces less milk than a full size Jersey might, but she is also able to maintain condition on less food and no supplemental grain. We gladly trade the multiple gallons of milk that a full-sized cow would produce—which would be more than we could keep up with anyway—for her efficient feed to energy conversion. She was a first-calf heifer when we purchased her, a few months into her first lactation and diligently raising her heifer calf, Buttercup. This was an ideal arrangement because it meant that Buttercup could be our relief milker while we all adjusted to the new routine. We had visited her home farm to look her over before purchase and were pleased with her conformation and willingness to stand quietly while she was tethered. Much to our surprise when she arrived at the homestead, we discovered that she wouldn’t allow anyone to touch her, let alone lead her into the milking parlor.

What ensued in the weeks that followed was an outstanding learning experience for us all, as Lissy taught us what it takes to earn a cow’s trust. Starting the day she came, I began brushing her as much as she would allow every morning and evening. Gradually I moved to walking with her on a lead and handling her udder. It was hard to believe that she could ever become the bonded, calm cow our resources told us she might be. But as time went by, we saw her grow to accept us in the herd and even watch for us to come. She began licking me, hesitantly at first, and then with focused affection. By the time we began milking, she had come to trust us and we were ready for the new challenge of learning to milk.

We had been told by her previous owner that she had been hand milked before, but whether she had forgotten that knowledge or resented my inexperience, she certainly wasn’t thrilled about the arrangement. One of the most wonderful attributes of a cow’s personality is that they love to repeat the same routine. Day by day we moved from brushing in the stanchion to closing the head gate, cleaning the udder to actually milking. For safety and peace of mind, we trained Lissy to habituate wearing a leather cuff on both hind legs during milking. This enabled me to clip the ring on the cuff to the chain around the milking parlor post and ensure that I wasn’t hit by an unexpected kick.

Sweet Alyssum, our milk cow

These days, our Lissy is the calm, sweet cow we hoped she would be. She greets me eagerly with a lick on the palm each morning and walks placidly beside me to the stanchion. She stands quietly during milking, either eating or meditating on the scene before her. While I milk, I tell her about the cheese, butter, yogurt, buttermilk, or sour cream that we’re making that day and thank her for the good milk she’s giving. She usually turns and looks back at me with her luminous, Jersey eyes as if she understands what I’m saying; then she goes back to her alfalfa. She has become a dear friend to us all and an indispensable part of our homestead family.

Thank you for the milk, Sweet Lissy.


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