My cow Katika was, and now her daughter, Dorrie, is, prone to terrible edema at calving. The udder inflates until it is nearly bursting. When there is no more room in the udder, the swelling backs up along the milk vein to create a swollen pouch under the belly. The first time I saw the latter phenomenon years ago I thought my cow must have a hernia. No — just temporary edema. The intense swelling goes away after about ten days, but it is quite painful while it lasts.
The initial onset of edema causes what is known as “strawberry milk.” Capillaries inside the udder burst under the pressure and the milk is tinged with blood. Pails of first milk from Katika and now Dorrie were/are a pale terracotta in color.
It’s a good idea to save some of this first milk. Colostrum is rich with nutrients and can be a pick-me-up for any ailing newborn mammal. Many farmers freeze it to keep it on hand. This year I saved colostrum from Dorrie’s second day as I struggled to get her past ketosis and mastitis. I wasn’t sure if I’d need to feed Elsa on a bottle.
By the time Lucy arrived home from the Junior Nationals, the yellow cream had risen and the rest of the milk was mauve, with a purple line of floating blood cells and more bloody sludge at the bottom. When the jar was lifted, purplish tatters of clotted blood eddied through in a swirling pattern.
“What is this?” Lucy asked fearfully.
She was relieved to hear that strawberry milk was not on our menu.