• Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

Low milk yield dairy cow

 
Emma Jones
Posts: 9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hello there : )

Our newly milking dairy cow seems to be producing a low amount of milk from what we'd expect. We are doing once a day milking with her, separating her from the calf at night and reuniting them after milking. After 2 weeks of painful and unsuccessful hand milking we now have a belly surge milker but we are getting not even a gallon from her and barely any butterfat on the milk. What are we doing wrong?!

We give her some oats when we are milking, the rest of the time she is on hay. As soon as the calf gets on her milk is literally dribbling down his face so I know she is holding back but I don't know what to do about it! Do we need to feed her more grain to up her milk?

Any and all advice greatly appreciated!
 
S Carreg
Posts: 260
Location: De Cymru (West Wales, UK)
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I know absolutely nothing about milking cows, so this is pure speculation, but I know a lot about breastfeeding, and what you're describing sounds very familiar. In humans, and as far as I know in all mammals, the milk won't flow unless there is a hormonal response, and this is inhibited by stress. If the milk is dribbling down the calf's face then it sounds like there is plenty there, but it's not flowing when you milk her. In humans this would definitely be a stress response. Just guessing, but I'm wondering if she is getting stressed out when you separate her from the calf, and therefore the milk isn't flowing? If this is the case I don't know what to suggest since I know nothing about managing dairy cows, but I'm sure someone else will.
 
R Scott
Posts: 3305
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
32
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
What are you doing wrong? Maybe nothing.

Has she been milked before or is this her first calf? Is she cooperative or does she fight you while you work with her? Does she seem nervous or jumpy? Can she still see the calf while you are milking? What breed is she?


We had problems with once-a-day milking of cows, especially not a dual-purpose breed that still has strong maternal instincts. We gave up and went back to twice a day and then bottle feeding the calves.

Try having the calf right next to her while milking. She may be calmer and let her milk down for the machine thinking it is the calf.
 
Emma Jones
Posts: 9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
She is a first time mum and while I wouldn't say she was stressed I would say she is grumpy! My first thought is o ave the calf nearby o get a second drop of milk, I'll give that a try.
 
Adam Klaus
author
gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
65
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'd say she is definitely holding up her milk. The last milk in the udder is the creamiest, so that explains the lack of cream you are getting.

Clearly stress would be a big cause of milk holdup. Have you looked at Temple Grandin's book? Lots of little things can be very distressing to cows that we dont even think about. Definitely worth considering Grandin's insights when designing a milking stall.

My techniques for encouraging milk let down are-
*brushing the cow thoroughly and gently
*applying an udder ointment, like Dynamint, that seems to work wonders on softening the udder and encouraging let down
*vigorous massage of the udder. Watch how the calf butts the udder, there is nothing gentle about it. Please dont read this the wrong way, but I will *gently* punch the udder a bit, trying to imitate the action of the calf butting. It will sometimes startle the cow a little, she will shift her feet, and then relax her udder muscles.

Make sure the surge bucket milker is adjusted properly. You want the strap as far forward on the cow's back, and the bucket hanging as low as possible, without the cups pulling off the teats. This position creates a gentle tugging on the teats, which simulates the tugging of the calf. This is very important. Also, you can adjust the rate of pulsation, which is less critical than the positioning, but may be helpful. I like about two clicks per second. Keep at it, one moment it will all click, and the cow will realize how nice it feels to let her milk down into the milk machine. Then she'll be set for life. It is just hard for the cow to know what to do when she's never done it before.

First time cows are frequently a challenge. They arent bad, they just dont understand. From horse training, I learned the idea of "persistant patience in the proper position". It works wonders.


On a side note, I would really, really, really reccomend not feeding your cow and grain, at all, ever. Grain causes cows indigestion, even in small amounts. I dont feed my cows anything in the milk stall, I think it is a distraction, and I want them to focus on their job, which is letting down their milk. So many people feed their cows grain, thinking it will make the cows happy or healthy. It will not. I could write volumes on this subject, but IMHE, feeding grain to cows is the single biggest mistake that family cow owners make. A bucket of kelp is my treat for the cows in the milker. That's all they need. Being milked, once they get with the program, feels good, and they will look forward to milking for that reason alone.
 
John Polk
master steward
Pie
Posts: 8010
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
268
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
As Adam pointed out: watch the calf nursing. The calf knows exactly what it is doing.
With (almost) each gulp, it will bump its nose upwards into the udder. This triggers the 'release mechanism'.
If you simulate this movement with each 'pull-squeeze', you will be doing the same thing.

This natural action should make mom comfortable, and you should see an improved flow.

 
Emma Jones
Posts: 9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks to everyone who took the time to reply and give advice, it is much appreciated! Sorry it took me so long to reply but my computer has been broken and I'm only now able to get back online. I did manage to read the suggestions before I was cut off so here's what we've been doing and how it's been going:

Good stuff:

- We've been working on her stress and comfort and she is a lot less fussy in the stall. She is getting used to the machine and is being led much more calmly into the stall (without needing to be bribed by oats!) that feels much better for all of us.
-We feel we've got the hang of the machine and seem to have got it working as it should be. Though it is a surge milker it has very long tubes on it so it sits to the side on the ground not hanging down.
- We've enlisted the help of her calf, when she stops releasing milk we've been bringing him in and giving him one of her teats while we milk the rest, we've had a nice amount of cream this week and I've even made butter!
- After milking we're keeping her in the stall with her calf while he nurses, this seems to be helping her to associate the stall with nursing him and letting her milk down.
- We've been getting 4-5 litres a day which is a huge improvement for us and keeping us in dairy quite happily.

Worries:

- Her milk let down is slow and her production seems to have levelled out at a gallon, she is separated from the calf each night so that seems way lower than it should be. I worry we've messed up and that her production is levelling out not improving.
- I worry she will start holding out on us to get us to bring in the calf!
- If her production is low could it be she is missing something from her diet? They are now on hay so I worry I need to get a more complete dairy ration to boost her carbs. There is an organic producer near here that does a mixed dairy ration that might work.
- Today her back left quarter seemed to have barely any milk, that was the one I gave the calf to try and stimulate it, I worry there is something wrong there.

My mind is split into two camps, one saying we are not getting as much milk as we should be, she isn't 'paying her way' and that we should go to twice a day milking to boost her up. Honestly I don't even know what that would mean in terms of the calf etc, so that feels a bit scary too. I also wonder if we are doing something wrong.

On the other hand I'm thinking woohoo 4litres a day! We are getting what we need, so is the calf, she is happy and calm and when we wean the calf we'll be getting loads more milk anyway. This way I'm not overwhelmed in the kitchen with way too much milk while I'm still learning to manage it and she isn't exhausted going into the winter. I also think this is the beginning of a long relationship and setting a good grounding now will also be more valuable than anything else. Am I just being silly with this thinking? I worry that if we don't develop her into a strong milker now she'll never be a good producer, her udder is quite small but I wonder if that is because this is her first calf and that she'll produce more as she ages and calves out more.

Sorry I know this is long! Any thoughts or suggestions greatly appreciated as always : )

 
Adam Klaus
author
gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
65
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Emma Jones wrote:I worry I need to get a more complete dairy ration to boost her carbs. There is an organic producer near here that does a mixed dairy ration that might work.


My advice- dont do it. I would be feeding good quality alfalfa hay, and free choice kelp and salt. The only supplement I would even consider, is some molassas sprinkeld on the hay. 'Organic' dairy farmers are making their cows just as unhealthy as the conventional guys, through unnatural feeding. Cows are ruminents, designed to consume vegetative growth. Deviate from nature's design at your own peril.

Grass hay is not nutritious enough for a lactating cow. alfalfa is a must. another big point here, for other folks reading this thread, is the importance of seasonal calving. in nature, all ruminents calve in spring, when the available feed resources are alligned to the animal's lactation needs. it is very difficult to healthily feed lactating cows in the winter. my experience is that alfalfa hay, of good quality, is adequate for both animal health and milk production, though I emphasize that seasonal calving on pasture is a much better long term solution.

A big question here, regarding the production expectations, is what is the genetic background of your cow? To me, it sounds like she is producing about 2 gallons a day total, between you and the calf. For a heiffer, with somewhat poor genetics, this sounds reasonable. How old is she? Is she fully grown or was she bred early? Lots of farmers will breed a heiffer that they plan on selling at a young age, to sell her sooner, which is not ideal for the cow's ability to produce well. If she is under three years old, that is a factor here. Additionally, not all cows are superstars, and generally people sell you their poor producers. What do you know about your cow's pedigree? I dont think your numbers are at all suprising. Please dont try to 'push' her production through un-natural feeding. You will create a nightmare of health problems for your cow.

Overall I think your situation is about what I would expect. It seems that you have a first time heiffer, of questionable genetics, calving out of season, eating inadequate hay, producing a small but reasonable amount of milk. Most importantly, she is healthy. And you have milk for the kitchen and a young calf. Twice a day milking will likely break you. Especially in the winter, 6 and 6 is cold and brutal, especially for just one cow. With once a day, you can milk at a reasonable hour. Never underestimate how demanding dairy farming is on the farmer. Be sustainable, for you and for the cow. good luck!
 
Emma Jones
Posts: 9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks Adam you've confirmed a lot of what I was thinking : ) She was quite young when she came to us, I think she was bred as soon as was possible so that she could be sold. I don't know about the 'questionable genetics' bit she seems lovely to me! Seriously though we bought her from a family farm so she maybe isn't from super stellar genetic stock and I think that she will need time to develop her milk. She is a registered pure bred jersey but beyond that I really wouldn't know. I think when she was bred she would have been about 16 months so she is over 2 now, definitely under 3. She was bred last January to calve out in the fall, I would much prefer to wait on breeding her next year so that she calves out in the following spring, is that doable? Everything I read talks about breeding them asap but that would mean another fall calf which isn't ideal.

The hay she is on is not alfalfa, I will look into getting some for her, if we can't is there an alternative? I can get kelp for her (any suggestions on how much?) and could buy alfalfa pellets while I try to source alfalfa hay but I've heard they are not great.

Thanks again for all the advice!
 
Adam Klaus
author
gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
65
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
You can definitely wait to breed her, I like to breed my cows in July/August to achieve a April/May calving. I dont mean to be blunt, but what are you reading? Always remember that bad information is worse than no information. The world of natural farming with dairy cows is small and not very loud. Finding good information is not easy, I know.

Find alfalfa hay. It is a huge commodity that is regularly available. There is no substitute in the world of readily available hay. Alfalfa is a superfood. It is an arabic word, al-falfa, which means 'the best fodder'. The levels of minerals and micronutrients in alfalfa are tremendous. Plus it is very high in both protein and total feed value. 50 pounds of alfalfa hay per cow, per day is an excellent diet for cows in the wintertime.

Kelp is best bought in 50 pound sacks. Give it free choice, mixed 50-50 with good quality natural salt, like Redmond Real Salt. Let the cow eat as much as she wants. The cow may gorge on it at first, replenishing her system with minerals. That will level off in time, so dont worry that she is going to bankrupt you with her kelp consumption. Kelp is the best medicinal preventative you can buy.

I dont mean to berate your cow with the term 'questionable genetics'. I meant more like 'unknown genetics' that were deemed expendable by a farmer. Farmers dont sell great dairy cows or heiffers, ever. Registered Jersey really doesnt tell you anything about the dairy quality that animal will display. If you can, look up Guenon and 'reading cows escutcheon patterns'. There are ways to look at the patterns of hair growth to ascertain something about the animal's true quality. Fascinating stuff.

The cow being bred super young is unfortunate. There is nothing you can do about that now. Just know for the future, when you have your own young heiffers, that breeding young will permanently stunt the animal's development. I have learned this the hard way. I now breed for their first calf at three years of age. It is worth the wait to allow the animal to develop fully before adding the demands of milk production.

Trust your instincts, they seem sound. Everything is so upside down and backwards in the world of established dairy management, your instincts are a good place to start. good luck!
 
John Polk
master steward
Pie
Posts: 8010
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
268
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
- After milking we're keeping her in the stall with her calf while he nurses, this seems to be helping her to associate the stall with nursing him and letting her milk down.


I like that idea. It removes any separation stress factor that might have been associated with the stall. It also conditions her to 'letting down' in the stall. Cows, just like chickens, humans and other critters are creatures of habit. If she gets in the habit of letting down in the stall, you have established a good habit. And as they say, "old habits are hard to break". This will become a part of her daily routine.

One thing I haven't seen mentioned here is drinking water. A cow's milk can be limited by her intake of water (amongst many other factors). I have attached a table regarding dairy cows water requirements. This table is from a U.S university publication, but originated from a UK source. Since the source is British, I assume that the quantities are Imperial Gallons (which are bigger than US gallons) - if you multiply the numbers by 1.2, you will have the US gallons.

The table points out two big factors: that the requirements are much different based on the volume of milk, and that ambient temperature also has a huge effect. A cow on pasture will get some of her water from browsing on green grasses. Dry hay will require giving more water than fresh hay will. Bottom line: if she's not getting enough water, milk production will be low.

If your cow is healthy, and you are getting more milk than you need, you both should be happy. Once the calf is weaned, you may need to try your hand at cheese making.

Dairy Cow Water.PNG
[Thumbnail for Dairy Cow Water.PNG]
 
David Livingston
steward
Pie
Posts: 2581
Location: Anjou ,France
100
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi John
Having the calf close when milking is a very old trick I came across it reading about the first european neolithic farmers

David
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://richsoil.com/cards
  • Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic