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Stubborn cow with calf-separation anxiety

 
Annie Hope
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Hi,

We bought a dexter cow and calf and highland heifer-in-calf about 2 months ago to keep control the paddocks, and for future milk. (In New Zealand so coming up to spring). We have come back from a month overseas, and am now trying to milk the cow, which was said to be milked last year but not this year. The calf is 10 months old, and really big. But the mother is totally attached to it still. When trying to lead it down a race-way between paddocks, not amount of patting or coaxing with food, or yelling or hitting/poking with sticks will make her move. WE got a holter, as the previous owner had her holter tralned, but she is equally stubborn with the holter - refusing to budge when pulled. Now when I go in her paddock to separate her from her calf, she immediatly runs to the calf, no matter how much I block her. At the same time, she is perfectly gentle, and I feel quite safe handling her on my own - thought I am only 48kg, and 5 ft.

She also will only give a bout 2 cups of milk even when she is separated for a day, but then she will give the calf a feed when it is re-united, so I think she is holding the milk up. She is much larger on one side of the udder than the other, and I notice that the side that is large has cuts on the teats that may be healing. We have three options:
- Give up and try again when she is in calf again - but we think if she is stubborn now she will be worse later if she thinks she won.
- Keep trying with a consistent routine and she will eventually buckle into it. But my husband works long shifts away from home, 4 nights on, for nights off, so it is a bit much for me to do with a 18 month old son.
- permanently separate her and the calf, and solve the problem that way. Will she milk easier once she is separately permanently from her calf? She will still be able to call to the calf as we only have 8 acres.

Number three seems the easiest option if it will work. We can leave the calf with the highlander for company, and we can put the cow with two calfs we hand-raised and which are looking poorly. WE mainly want to milk her for then, and so if they suckle off her, we will not be upset. we will probably keep the heifer-calf to raise other calfs, so ther is not need to separate them eventually except the trouble she is to move.
This is my first experience "solo" (I have helped as a child on my uncle's farm) with cattle, though I have kept and milked goats for a year
 
Adam Klaus
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If the cow calved 10 months ago, that is a bit different than if it were only 4 months ago. Here are a few thoughts based on what you described-

-The cuts on her teats are from the calf nursing so vigorously. Big calves really chomp on the teats, and can crack or cut the teat, which is obviously not good.
-The cow being attached is totally normal, they (should) have very strong mothering instincts.
-I would really not try to physically control or restrain a large bovine. All it takes is one accident and you will get seriously injured. Blocking a cow is a bad bad idea.
-Trying to make her move, if you use a stick, and tap her on top of her tailbone, you should get a respone. If not, try a little harder. The bony part at the base of their tail is quite sensitive, and she should get a movin'.
-Halters with unwilling cows are dangerous. Lots of ways for things to go wrong and you to get seriously injured. At this stage, I would not try to use a halter at all, it is just too dangerous, and the cow is too strong for it to be effective.

As to your proposed solutions, some thoughts-
1) Cows dont really 'think' in the same way we do, and dont have quite the ego either. So I wouldnt worry that 'she will be worse later if she thinks she won'. I am not sure that cows even exist in a way that includes human concepts like 'later', 'think', or 'won'.
2) Cows do respond well to consistent routines, but it sounds like your circumstances are not conducive to that. So I wouldnt go this route in your present situation.
3) Definitely a good idea to permanently seperate her from the calf. Nothing good is happening for either her or the calf at 10 months post calving. Keep her away from her calf for a long time, even when she has her next baby, the old calf may still try to nurse. I have seen 18 month old bulls go straight for the udder, and then proceed to breed that same cow. Mama cow will be upset about being seperated. She will likely moo all day, and the calf may moo itself hoarse. Within a week this should settle down. Leaving the calf with the heiffer is a good idea.

As for milking the mama cow, if she is 10 months post calving, I would say it is in her best interest, long term, to just dry her up. That is a good length lactation. Putting two calves on her now would really be a strain for her declining milk production, and may compromise her health in the long run. On a seperate note, cows are great at nursing calves! I would never milk a cow just to feed calves when she is a natural professional at that, and you are a busy mom yourself. Cows are different in their receptivity to nursing adopted calves, but most are willing if the calves are eager.

Remember, safety first. Cows are big and powerful, despite being perfectly gentle. They do have to be mean to hurt you real bad. Never put yourself in a situation where you are dependent on the cow doing the right thing, to keep you safe. The farmer is the most important animal on the farm. Safety first!

Any further questions, feel free to ask. I run a small herd of big Brown Swiss dairy cows, and have learned just about everything I related the hard way. I am happy to share my experience. good luck!
 
Terri Matthews
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Location: Eastern Kansas
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My husbands uncle once said something interesting. He said that folks often pen the calf where the Mother cow can see it and smell it. Instead of leading the cow away from the calf, can the calf be put where you intend to milk, and she can follow?

The people he was talking about would pen the calf overnight, milk in the morning, and then turn both animals out for the day to graze. The calf would get the milk during the day.
 
Adam Klaus
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Terri Matthews wrote:
The people he was talking about would pen the calf overnight, milk in the morning, and then turn both animals out for the day to graze. The calf would get the milk during the day.


This is what we do too, after the first two weeks or so when cow and calf are together all the time. Works great. We then fully wean the calves at 3 months, in order to get a sufficient yield of milk. By 3 months the calves drink a ton, are a bit hard on the teats, and are fine to move exclusively onto excellent quality clover pasture.

love those dairy cows!
 
Renate Howard
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Might be worth it to take a look at Temple Grandin's work on moving cattle. Things can spook them that you wouldn't notice - like a rattling chain, shadows on the ground, something flapping, etc. It could be she just doesn't like something about that area, and with the hitting and poking with sticks it could have developed into a phobia.

With cattle it works best to pretend you have all the time and patience in the world. Put some food where you want them to go - or take away their salt for a few days then put the salt there, and just wait and they'll usually go right there after thinking about it a little bit. We even load cattle into the trailer that way and it doesn't take that long and nobody gets stressed. I give them a taste of the food first so they want more.

I've got my goat thinking that being milked is a real treat because she gets to eat all the special foods the others don't get because she's top of the pecking order and that is her special treatment. She is disappointed the mornings I don't milk her now. Cows do value a social order and being "top cow" is something they'll do a lot to preserve and part of that means getting first crack at the food and any special treats. I know of some who get a reluctant boss cow to be milked by letting an inferior cow go to the stanchion first and get the treats and rub-down. All of a sudden boss cow can't wait to get into that stanchion!

Let-down may work better if she can see her calf. If you need to separate him away from where you milk it could be a rough time, but if she gets engorged she might not be able to help letting down.
 
Jay Green
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I agree with what Adam has stated! Good advice. I'll also add that she is not producing enough milk right now to warrant going through all the trouble of trying to milk her...it may seem like she is feeding this big calf and would have plenty of milk but as time goes along and the calves eat more and more graze, they will only nip under the cow now and again. This is a natural drying up of the mother as calves age. She may still produce a little because the calf does continue to nurse but that is all she really has...it's not that she is not letting it down, she is only producing that much.

The calf is doing damage to her teats and may even be causing some mastitis in that large quarter...you might feel of it to see if it is hard or hot to touch. In the long run, that kind of nursing can really cause scaring of the teat. It would be in her best interest, and yours, to separate her completely from that calf. You can do this more easily if the calf is placed where she can still see it, smell it, etc. but cannot physically be in the same fencing with it. Eventually that bond will start to fade when the calf is no longer nursing and living in her space.

It would be interesting to see how it goes along, maybe you could check back here with updates?
 
Annie Hope
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There is an update of this in "mastitis -when it is safe to reduce treatment".

We have separated the calf, and have found it easier to get her in the stall - but often not without coaxing. She will now go in for food, but then back out if she sees you coming from behind. It is a "v" shaped stall for sharing, docking sheep etc. and she turns round so she is in the wide part of the "v" after she has been shut in. Once she is shut in, she is as docile as anything, and is starting to get quite friendly.
 
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