Having a home dairy animal is considered by many to be the “ultimate” when it comes to modern-day homesteading. However, it can also easily be one of the most time-consuming aspects of having a mini-farm.
I know I’ve heard plenty of “old-timers” talk about how much they disliked being tied down to their farm for months at a time because of the twice-daily milking routine. And to be quite honest, that particular aspect was the one that scared me the most before we purchased our first dairy goats. (Well, that and the fact that were we buying 2 pregnant goats and I was 9 months pregnant myself– and they were due to kid pretty much ON my due date… But we survived. ;))
However, if you are willing to share milk with the baby goat(s) or calf, then you do have options. Once a day milking has made cow ownership possible for us, and I’m a huge fan of the concept. I’ve talked about once a day milking before in my Milking Schedules post, which is part of the Goat 101 series. However, I still get a lot of questions about the whole process, so I’ve decided to go into more detail today.
Once a Day Milking for your Cow or Goat
Reasons for wanting to milk a cow or goat once a day:
- Greater flexibility in your schedule
- The ability to leave for a day or two
- You can raise the kids/calf with their mama, which eliminates bottle feeding (Trust me, bottle feeding is fun for about 2 days, then it gets old…)
- You won’t have to purchase milk replacer, which can be very expensive. (We paid over $90 for ONE bag of calf milk replacer last year.)
Downfalls of milking a cow or goat once a day:
- You’ll get less milk.
- Some cows tend to hold back milk when they know their calf is around the corner. Oakley did this all last year– I would milk until there didn’t seem to be a drop left, but as soon as I turned her calf loose, she’d let down again and the calf would have thick, creamy milk dripping out the sides of his mouth…
- This holding-back of milk usually means you’ll get less cream. While we were share milking I could usually expect to get a 1-2 inch creamline. However, as soon as we weaned the calves, my creamline increased to 4-6 inches per gallon…
- Some diseases (like CAE in goats) can be passed from the mother to the offspring via the milk. Some goat breeders remove the babies immediately because of this. I don’t, but it’s worth taking a bit of time to research if you are concerned.
Once a Day Milking: The Process:
First off, you’ll need to decide if you’d rather milk in the morning or the evening. Morning is the easiest for me, although it will depend on what your daily schedule looks like and what other obligations you have.
What my schedule looks like when I’m milking once a day:
Around 8:00 pm, I will head to the barn and lock the calf or baby goats in a pen separate from their mama. I always leave them where they can see their mother, so it isn’t too traumatic. Once they are a few weeks old, you can put a bit of hay in the pen for them to chew on.
Once everyone figures out the routine, the mama usually doesn’t seem to mind the separation at all.
The next morning around 8:00 am, (always shoot for roughly 12 hours), I head outside with my bucket. The udder is usually quite full by now, and I’ll milk the mama out as much as I can. (There have been times when I’ve had 2 calves on our milk cow, so I will sometimes leave 1 or 2 quarters specifically for the calves during those times.)
I’ve never had to worry about there not being enough milk left over for the babies, since the mamas usually hold some back.
I then leave the happy little family together all day. They get to go out to pasture and hang out in the sunshine.
When 8:00 pm rolls around again, I repeat the process of separating mother and babies.
This usually leaves me with plenty of milk for the house, I don’t have to bottle feed, and everyone is happy to be together.
If you’d rather milk in the evenings, simply reverse this routine. (Lock them up during the day, milk in the evening, let them be together all night.)
Keep in mind that once a day milking is NOT for maximum milk production. But honestly, since we aren’t running a commercial dairy, 2-3 gallons a day is plenty for me…
When I want to leave for a day or two:
If I want to be gone for a day or two, or take a weekend trip, I simply leave the mama and bab(ies) together 24 hours a day. This eliminates the need to find someone else to milk for me during that period.
Exceptions to the Once a Day Milking Plan:
Even thought once-daily milking is my usual routine, there are still times of the year when I milk twice a day. Last year, we weaned the calves and then had a little bit of time before we needed to dry her up to prepare for her next calving. During this time, we milked twice per day.
Thankfully we had our pigs at that time, and they prevented us from literally drowning in milk. It was a lot of work, but I have to say that allll the extra cream I got was a huge bonus! I also used the excess to make a whole bunch of mozzarella cheese to store in the freezer.
So, there you have it. My not-so-conventional approach to keeping a family cow. I’m sure there are some old-timers out there that would say this is the wrong way, but we’ve been doing it like this for three years now with great success (and minimal stress). I say that’s a win-win for everyone involved– including the cow. 😉
Interesting in more home-dairying info? You’re in luck!
- DIY Udder Balm
- How to Milk a Goat Video
- The Entire Goat 101 Series
- How to Use a Goat Milking Stand Video
Can't Get Enough Homesteading Goodness?
Join over 67,000 others who get the weekly Homestead Toolbox delivered fresh to their inbox. It's packed full of recipes, ideas, and homesteading tips you can actually use (no fluff), plus a copy of my very popular mulch gardening how-to guide.