Today I’m welcoming Ashley from The Browning Homestead to the blog! Not all of us are fortunate to start off with a quiet, trained milk cow (I wasn’t!), so Ashley is sharing her expertise on how to start with a heifer, and end up with a quiet family cow!
We all have that dream of having our own milk cow. She gives us gallons upon gallons of milk each day. We’ll make yogurt, sour cream, butter, mozzarella cheese, and have lots of milk for the other barnyard animals.
While that was certainly my vision when I purchased my family cow, it didn’t quite turn out that way. We had trouble getting her bred and she didn’t give much milk. But she calved easily and was a gentle cow and terrific mother. So we decided to buy a few more milk cows: HEIFERS.
Training a heifer (a young female cow) to become a family milk cow can be a bit tricky sometimes. Following these few simple guidelines can set you and your milk cow up for a long, productive relationship together!
Practices for Pre-Calving
1. Bring your heifer (or cow) to your homestead before she calves. This will help her to become familiar with YOUR set-up. She’ll become comfortable and less nervous about where she will calve and who will most likely be around (kids, dogs, chickens, and other barnyard friends)
2. Practice your milking routine (without actually milking her). Tie her up to a post or put her in your milking stanchion. Give her a flake of good hay and practice your routine. Spray her down with fly spray and brush her all over. Don’t forget to tell her sweet nothings into her ear: what a good cow she is and how she’ll be a great mama cow! This goes a LONG way. And it really helps her to know what to expect after she calves. (Jill: Click here for a video of my milking routine!)
3. Touch her all over. Let her become accustom to your hands. Scratch her neck, her belly, her udders, and her back legs. Practice lifting her legs (this helps her not to kick when you start milking).
4. If you plan to use a restraining device (to prevent kicking), now is the time to get your heifer used to it. Whether you use hobbles or a Kow Kan’t Kick, practice about 5 minutes with the device on so she can get used to it. I highly recommend having one of these around just in case. If you don’t need it, great! If you do need it, it is sure handy to have around and have your cow familiar with it.
Practices for Post-calving:
1. Once she has calved, her mama instincts kick in! If calving has gone easily, she’ll eat the afterbirth and start mooing and licking her sweet calf. But oxytocin (the relaxing hormone) won’t kick in until the calf starts to nurse in a heifer. So be sure to be safe around her at all times. Mama cows are very, VERY protective of their calves (read this heifer’s story). Their hormones and emotions can go either way: calm and patient or nervous and dangerous to others.
2. Make sure the calf is up and nursing within the first hour. If not, you’ll need to help the calf nurse. With the utmost regards to your safety, tie your cow up to a post and help him/her nurse. I have gone in with a shovel and used the handle for my protection. Cows, while they are sweet, will try to kill you. Especially a newly freshened cow. Please, be careful.
3. Once the calf is up and nursing well, its time to slowly bring her into milk while preventing milk fever.
- The first few days after calving: milk her a couple times a day. She’ll have lots of milk! Tie the calf up right next to her or put it in an area where she can see it. Milk out only a pint from each quarter and save the colostrum. You’ll be tempted to milk her completely out because she is so full but don’t!
- On the fourth day: milk her once in the morning. Milk out about a half gallon total and save the colostrum.
- After the fourth day: continue to milk her once in the morning and slowly take more milk each morning.
- At a week and a half post calving: Start to separate the calf a few hours before milking. The calf will really start to drink all the milk and you’ll find there is not much milk in her udder to take. After milking her (leave some for the calf), reunite cow and calf. The calf will most likely empty her out.
- Around 1 1/2 months post calving: Now the calf is really starting to grow and naturally goes longer between nursing sessions. Now you can separate the calf before you go to bed and reunite cow and calf after your morning milking!
- Dairy cows are very smart and can hold their milk back for their calf (instead of for you!). If that is the case, simply have the calf nurse for a minute and then take him/her off again. The cow now will let her milk down for you. I’ve had to do this several times during one milking.
It may take up to 6 weeks to for you and your new cow to figure everything out. She will most likely get impatient and try to move around during milking. Have some patience with her (that will teach her patience too) and don’t give up. I have spent up to an hour milking one cow that has just freshened for the first time. After many weeks of practice, everything should start to go more smoothly!
Three keys to bringing a heifer into milk is familiarity, routine, and your safety.
Following these guidelines to bringing your heifer into milk will surely set you two up to have a beautiful, working relationship for many years to come!