When Missy Moo calved back in October last year, I wondered how long we would milk her. We thought we'd be able to milk her for longer than the 10 months we enjoyed, but the weather has had it's way and when Missy began to start rapidly losing condition, we had to put the health of her and her unborn calf before our own needs.
We dried her up at the end of August, and since then she is back to being naturally parasite free, sports a glossy coat and is putting weight back on.
If we had continued to milk her through this dry weather, we would have had to be pouring a huge amount of feed and supplements into her, and even then I think her body would have given the extra protein to her the calf she is pregnant with, as well as made more milk with it. It's the way their bodies are designed - their baby comes first, only her body doesn't know the difference between us taking milk and a calf.
Having our own milking cow is a goal we'd been aiming at for ages and to have finally reached it is a big achievement in my opinion. Milking Missy has been an incredible journey and a huge learning curve. Now we own two dairy cows, hopefully one day we'll be able to enjoy our own milk year round by staggering Missy and Clara's calving times.
When we weaned Missy's calf Smokey back in Autumn, it commenced a new stage in our milking journey. We went from milking once a day, and skipping the odd day if things got on top of us, to milking twice daily with no option not to as there was no calf to take care of the surplus milk.
It was really enjoyable to have so much milk during that time, it was like being back to when Smokey was newborn. We were making cheese all of the time, drinking as much milk as we wanted, feeding it to the dogs and pigs, and has so much cream we were using it fresh as well as making cultured butter.
Since we have only recently dried up Missy, I thought now would be a perfect time to share a few things I learnt as a first-time milking cow owner.
1. Milking is harder than it looks. My hands ached from RSI for the first week, as they were of course, not used to the milking action and thus "unfit"! Milking is also far more relaxing than anyone tells you, and when everything goes right it really does feel like you're living the dream.
2. You'll inevitably end up crying over spilt milk at some point.
3. Sprouted grains and dried nettle leaves are your milking cow's best friend. I've already written about the increase in the nutritional value of sprouted grain here (and how to sprout them), but I haven't mentioned nettles. You'll find comprehensive information on all herbs, including nettles, in Isabell Shippard's book, but in short nettles are high in protein (40%), rivalling that of other popular cattle supplements, and they are a natural milk stimulant.
Adding sprouted barley and dried nettles to Missy's food daily not only increased her milk supply, it kept her healthier and helped her keep weight on too.
4. You don't need to separate mother and baby overnight in order to get a decent amount of milk. We milked with the calf on 24/7 for the first three months. Once Smokey was over that age he was getting quite big; we found it necessary to separate him from Missy for a couple of hours*. We had several changing routines as Smokey grew and changed, but in conclusion we only ever had them apart from each other for a few hours a day, as opposed to 10-12 hours overnight. I don't think overnight separation is in any way cruel, but I was comfortable with our method and we'll most likely be following the same routine next time Missy calves.
5. Milking is kind of like the weather. At some stages you'll have a milk flood, where so many glass bottles have been filled with the stuff that you've had to resort to using saucepans to store it. And at other times it's like a milk drought - milk rations ensue and you wonder if you'll ever have enough to enjoy ad lib again. (Warm milk cocos before bed made on homegrown raw milk, loving earth cocoa and rapadura are heaven!)
I found the milk drought at it's worst just before we weaned Smokey. He'd found sneaky ways to get to Missy even after we'd separated her. Of course once we weaned him we had to milk twice a day, every day, and the yield increased to 8+ litres daily.
*Please note that the extent of separating Missy was merely to pop her into the adjoining paddock. You should never separate a calf and mother so that they can't be in sight of each other, or have them further a part than the width of a small lane-way between paddocks. For obvious reasons not being within sight of each other is incredibly distressing to mother and calf!
Is it a dream of yours to keep a cow for milk one day?
Perhaps you already have a milking cow and have some handy hints of your own to add?
Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!