Okay, Mr. Klaus, here is a barrage of questions, feel free to answer as you wish, and understand I am aware of the void one may lose themselves in if they get caught in every little detail. See photos at end of post.
Genetics: I know breed plays an important role in developing your herd, more importantly the phenotype of the animal, so I am curious as to the role body frame plays when looking for or aspiring to, develop a healthy dairy herd. I'm borrowing ideas from the beef side of things (Johann Zeitsman and Kit Pharo and small frame size cattle[not miniature]) and wonder if it applies to dairy cows for maximizing forage/milk production conversion. I know you mentioned body fat, but some of those older breeds still seem to be very tall and large frame cows, is that something you've looked into or experienced? If one has smaller acreage (5 acres) is it better to use say a Dexter vs a larger breed like Brown Swiss or Guernsey? In other words does a herd of 5 Dexters equal the same as maybe 2 Guernsey's in terms of forage/milk production/profit? Last question concerning body condition, when a cow is fresh, is it normal to see some ribs start to show, or does the older breeds maintain enough body fat assuming forage conditions are optimal? It's hard to know body condition for dairy cows when all I've been around is beef cows. Frame size illustration below.
Milk Stations: Have you any insights on what makes a good milking station like maybe a list of do's and don't's when designing this type of area? Things like; concrete flooring vs deep bedding, location of milking equipment, feed troughs, and the things that make it a place the cows want to come to be milked. I figured this issue was just as important as pasture management. Example of one found online below post.
Calving: Do you try to calve at the same time of year or do you stagger the herd in order to have milk available all year round? My brief experience with beef cows is that not all mamas hit at the same time so when the bull is left in all year, the calves seem to show up all year as well. Unless perhaps you have a very strict culling practice where if mama doesn't make it the first round she's gone. How long do you allow the calve to nurse when the cow is fresh, all the way until she self weans? Then what milk shop shuts down for the season, in other words, is your milk season based solely on the cows natural milk cycle or is it extended?
Well, Mr. Klaus I think I've bombarded you enough, I look forward to your insights. The little jersey bull in the photo below was my first calf and I just wanted to share it with everyone. I think the photo demonstrates how raw milk is not the only healing product of cows, look at the face. Cancer groans when it sees an image like that. Thank you.
Hi Justin, I'm happy to answer away. I feel guilty plugging the book so much but I think someone with your level of interest would really benefit from the depth of information that I present there.
But for now, I am happy to answer your questions-
Genetics- There is so much to consider here, but I think that moderate to large framed cows are best. The factor that the dairyman has to consider that is irrelevant to beef farmers, is the labor of milking. It is going to take about the same labor to milk a Dexter as a Brown Swiss, so that is a major consideration. I would rather milk three cows than five, for the same amount of milk, off the same amount of land.
Body condition is key to the viability of pasture dairy farming. Stay away from Jerseys and Holsteins. When a cow is fresh, seeing some ribs is normal. Ideally at this point in the year the pasture is excellent, so the cow should be able to put on body condition rapidly, as they need a good fat layer two to three months later when it is time for breeding.
Milk Stanchion- There is a lot to consider here, but briefly, you definitely want a concrete pad. Much more sanitary and easier to wash down. I like to orient things so that the cow comes in from one side, and the farmer and milking equipment comes in from the other. I have a detailed description in my book about how to layout things, and size of the milking area.
Calving- I calve everybody April to June. Ideally mid-May in my climate. If a cow misses that window, she is a cull. In an optimally healthy herd, with a fertile bull, this precision is not difficult to achieve. I have never had to cull a cow yet. I allow the calf to be with the momma all the time for the first week, then 12 hours a day until it is time for breeding. I wean the calves just before putting the bull in, generally when the calves are around two and a half months old. It is just too crazy to manage milk cows with both a bull and calves in the pasture at the same time.
I milk my cows until mid-November, at which time the pasture quality is inadequate to support sufficient lactation. If I want to extend the milking season, I can feed alfalfa hay for another two months and keep milking. Generally this is not cost effective, as I can let the cows continue grazing on poor quality pasture and woodland browse with zero purchased feed costs. So as it works out, I operate the dairy seasonally, from May to November.