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4 Reasons Dairy Cows (& their Owners) Take Breaks From Milking

4 Reasons Milk Cows (& their Owners) Take Breaks From Milking

If you have a milk cow (or several) you will eventually, probably, take breaks from milking.

It is inevitable.

Not only is it a fact of milking, it is a glorious thing and should be embraced with enthusiasm.

Reasons Milk Cows (& their Owners) Take Breaks

#1 Reason to Take a Break From Milking:  You Cow Needs It.

It just isn’t healthy to milk a cow for years and years and years without a break.  First of all, it may not even be possible.  For a cow to continue to produce milk, she usually needs to have calves on a somewhat regular basis.  Without the birth of a new calf, the milk will (most likely) continue to dwindle until there isn’t much left.

Secondly, in order to keep your dairy cow in top body condition, a break is good.  Making all that glorious milk takes a toll on her body.  When you dry your cow up for a time it allows her to use all the good food she is eating for her own benefit.  A break for a dairy cow is a nice vacation for restoration and rest.

#2 Reason to Take a Break From Milking:  The Milk will be Better.

Once you own a milk cow you will soon learn that all milk is not the same.  There’s colostrum milk, salty milk, foremilk, hindmilk, mastitis milk, ketosis (acidic) milk, rich milk, watery milk ….. it’s crazy.  For more on milk stages go here.

You may or may not ever experience mastitis or ketosis, but we will all have colostrum, salty milk and the wonderful goods that show up every year about 4 months after the calf is born (cream baby!).  We also will enjoy the changes that the seasons bring to our milk & dairy products.  Did you know that butter will be paler in winter but you’ll have more cream?

The BEST months for milking a dairy cow begin about 4 months after she calves (in my opinion).  This is when milk production is at its highest and the cream is flowing.  Even if your cow is the master-cream-holder you will have a nice cream line 4-5 months into milking.  Mine is rockin’ right now and we have freezers filled with butter and ice cream.  Glorious.

Once you get past the production peak (6-7 months) the milk levels go down, the cream levels go back to sadness and everyone begins looking forward to some time away from the milk barn.

#3 Reason to Take a Break From Milking:  The Unborn Calf Needs It.

Some people can nurse a baby and make a baby at the same time.  I am not one of those people.  When I breastfeed, I do not ovulate, cycle, or go through anything resembling PMS.  If I want to make a baby, I have to wean a baby.

Not everyone is like this…..

When it comes to cows, it is expected, and generally accepted that during a mama cows last few months of pregnancy it is best if she is not making milk.  By removing the duty of milk production from her body, you allow her to focus on growing a healthy calf.  I do know that there are other views on this subject, but I understand the stress and pressure it can put on a body to lactate and to make life.  I don’t think I would want to do both at the same time.

I like for my cows to have a break too.

#4 Reason to Take a Break From Milking:  I Need It.

I’ve been milking cows for years.  I love my milk cows.  I love milking them.  I truly do.

There was a time when I tried to schedule my milk breaks at different times of the year so I would always have fresh milk (I have 2 jersey cows).  If they had different calving seasons (one spring, one fall) I would always have a cow to milk & never be without fresh milk.

Then I came to my senses.  

Mr. Beefy who came to service our ladies last year.

Trying to get more than one cow pregnant is a nightmare all by itself.  More on my miserable breeding experiences here.   Trying to do this more than once a year would probably make me want to be dead.  So, we gave up the dream of staggering the breaks.

Then I decided a goat would be a good idea.  I’d get a milk goat to milk!  When the cows are on siesta I’ll just milk a goat (or 2) so I always have fresh milk.

Yeah, ummmmmm….  No.

There are soooooo many reasons this is a terrible idea.  I have done way too much research into goat ownership and therefore, I don’t have goats.  Things like CL, CAE, bacteria, viruses and parasites scare the whits out of me.  Ugh.

On top of the frightening amount of diseases I don’t want to worry about or navigate, there’s the fencing problem.

I don’t have waterproof fencing.  Everyone I know who has goats is constantly fighting the battle of “keeping them in.”  I can just imagine getting a call from my neighbors….

“Um, Candi… Hi,  can you please come over and remove your goat from the roof of my car?”  

I don’t need another headache.  I don’t want to be catching goats, fixing fences and trying to figure out if they are sick, what they have, what to do about it or how to keep them fenced in.

So, no goats.

Back to Dairy Cows taking Breaks from Making Milk

I HATE drying up my milk cows.

As a breastfeeding mother of 4 children, I associate such separation and grieving with weaning.  Breastfeeding is such a magical time in life.  It is more than nourishing, it is life, it is relationship, it is connection.  I know not everyone can (or wants to) breastfeed, but if you can, it is an incredible gift you can give to your child.  It is also pretty good for the mama.  Because I have such Fairy-Tale-like associations with lactating and babies it makes my heart hurt to dry up cows.  I know, I’m insane.  It’s just retching for me to separate a mama cow from her beloved offspring and cease all milk production upon her loins.

I realize it is absurd to transfer this logic onto cows, but I can’t help it.  I never want to dry up my cows and will do it as late and as gently as possible.

I cry.  I pout.  I whine.  I complain.  I mourn.

Then the milk stops and something changes.

Once the cows are all dried up and I don’t spend my mornings in the milk barn would you like to know what I do?

I drink another cup of coffee.  I bake banana bread.  I read novels out loud to my kids (instead of fractionated chapters).   I scramble eggs and fry bacon.

Annnnnnnnd,  I sleep.

I don’t have to separate the cows in the evening (from the calves so I can have some milk, thank you).  I don’t have to strain milk.  I don’t have to skim milk.  No churning.  No cheese making.  No milking.  No messy udders.  No mastitis.  Not a milk-worry in the world.

AND I CELEBRATE THE BLESSED MILK BREAK!

It takes me forever to get there, kicking and screaming the whole way, but once I’m in the break, I’m happy to be there.

Of course, once it gets close to calving time I am ready, waiting, and dying to get my hands on those udders again.  I miss the milk.  I miss the butter.  I miss the buttermilk.  I miss the ice cream.  I miss the cheese.  I miss the cows.  I love it.

I think it’s kinda like the garden.  I really believe half the reason I love my garden sooooooo much is because 4-5 months of the year I can’t do a thing with it.  Not a thing.  I don’t have a green house and I never want one ( I know, I’ll be eating those words someday).  The break brings forth the yearning and planning and desire to get out in the soil and plant.

Milk breaks do the same thing.  Just when you never want to strain another gallon of milk, along comes a 3 month break leaving you itching to clean an udder.

My daughter and I were talking this morning about milking breaks.  We do not have a break anywhere in our near future.  Our cows were delivered to us on a crazy “give birth in the middle of summer” cycle, which is mad.

Summer is the WORST time for cows to be dropping calves in Kentucky.  Winter is better.  Spring is better.  Fall is better.  Summer is bad.  The flies try to eat my calves.  Really, it was like the plague of flies (Moses – Genesis) rained down upon my baby cows.  Then there’s the heat, the castration, the humidity and the heat (yes, I know I’m repeating – but it’s hot).  Baby cows born in the dead of winter are far better off than ones born in the middle of summer.

In order to remove our 2 jerseys from this cycle of summer births, we are waiting to breed on our preferred schedule.  Sorry, this is getting long….  We want our cows to give birth in early spring.  Which means they need to get knocked up in May.

If our plan works (If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans, right?) the proposed schedule will look like this:

  • May 2017 –  Put bull in with the jerseys & pray.
  • November/ December 2017 – Dry off milk cows for spring birth.
  • March 2018 – Baby moos!

Not only does this proposed delivery date promise some healthy, spring-born calves, it also provides a break from milking for the holidays……. in winter.  Squeal!

Thanksgiving off.  Christmas off.  January & February off.

Glory and Magnificence, Yes!

We (try) to take 3 month breaks.  This is not always our choice, because the due date could be a week or 2 off, or the cow could deliver early or late.  What I think is going to be a nice 3 month vacation could end up being 2 1/2 depending on life.

In the meantime, we are milking.   Possibly from now until November of 2017.   There is lots of milking in my future.  By next Thanksgiving, I’m pretty certain, I won’t want to see an udder again for a while.  Any the jersey girls will be ready for a break too!

This brings me to where we are right now:  Milking in Winter!

My life’s purpose is to avoid milking in winter.

Heaters, pumps, coats, gloves, hats, mud, ice, snow, sludge, mess, frozen doors, frozen water, frozen milk pumps, MISERY.

Nothing good comes from milking in winter – or so I thought.

I may have been wrong.

We are cruising into a frosty winter with a couple lactating milk cows and no plans to deviate from the milking until next November….  I always avoid milking in winter like the plague, but so far I am counting my blessings.  The whole thing may all take a turn for the worse before it’s over, but for now, in this mild February we are having, I am still heading to my milk barn with a happy heart.

Benefits of Milking in Winter:

No flies.  No bees.  No mosquitoes.  No bugs.  No sweat.  No heat.  No humidity.

This is a good thing.  There is something cool about being snuggled up under your milk cow on frosty mornings with an udder in your hands.  No, your hands won’t get cold.  No, you won’t get cold.  If you are hand milking, the aerobic activity will keep your heart pumping and your soul warm.  If you are using a milk pump, just stay close, there are few things as warm as a cow adorning her winter coat.

Drawbacks of Milking in Winter:

Cold.  Cold.  Cold.  Cold.

The cow may be warm, but the walk to the barn, and everything else on the planet is freezing.

I am forever an optimist and will continue to look on the bright side.  I am grateful to have the fresh milk.  I am grateful to have the precious time in the milk barn each day with my sweet cows and my daughter.  I am grateful to have a farm and the ability to raise my own food.

I may be fighting ice and complaining a lot for the next month, but I can promise one thing – I won’t be complaining about all that creamy, fresh, nourishing milk.

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Happy Winter!

Candi

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