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Advice on dairy calf weaning, continued milking, feeding... ?

 
Wes Hunter
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Location: Seymour, MO
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We have a small mixed herd of Dexter and Jersey cattle. Two of the Jerseys are currently being milked once per day (with the heifer calves nursing during the day), but they're getting on and I'm thinking it's high time to wean. The Jerseys were only added last summer; we've never bothered weaning the Dexter calves, allowing the mommas to kick off their yearling heifers when the next baby comes along, or processing the bull calves at 6 to 8 months of age. So, I've had no experience in intentional weaning. The one Jersey heifer I'm thinking I need to wean now is 9 months old, and she's barely interested anyway when I turn her back out with momma in the morning. We've also got two Dexter heifers a month or two older. My rough plan was to separate the three calves from their mommas, probably allowing them fence-line contact. The Dexters are not being milked, so they ought to dry up in fairly short order. But I intend to continue milking the Jersey, and I'm wondering when (or if) I can turn her heifer back in with the herd?

We're switching our calving season from fall/winter to mid-spring, so the cows have only been re-bred within the past four to five weeks. Thus, I am considering continuing to milk the Jerseys for longer than I would if they were re-bred to calve the same time this year. Part one of this whole question, I suppose, is if anybody has any advice on an extended milking 'season'? I know folks who have successfully milked cows and goats for multiple years on only one breeding, but is there anything I need to be mindful of? (For reference, these Jerseys are first-calf heifers.)

The second part of this question, then, is if the Jersey mommas are still in milk, can I likely turn their heifer calves (after attempted weaning) back in with the herd without them resorting to nursing? Is there a time frame I should be looking for, a duration after which the calves are likely to have 'forgotten' about nursing?

On an unrelated note, I'm looking for advice on a milking ration for grass-fed production. Currently I mix alfalfa pellets, whole oats, sunflower seeds (a recent addition), and dried molasses, probably in about a 60%-20%-10%-10% ratio. (Yes, I know oats is not "grass-fed," but the whole oats pass right on through unscathed--incentivizing the chickens to scratch up the cow patties--the girls get a small enough amount to make rumen harm unlikely, and I'm not advertising a "grass-fed" dairy product so I'm not too concerned about this small amount.) I give the girls just enough to keep them occupied while I milk. I'm not looking to necessarily increase milk production, though if that were a sort of side effect of a particular ration I wouldn't be too put out. Any suggestions?
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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We used to wean the calves at birth, and feed them by bottle. Then when they were old enough to eat pasture they went back in with the cow. However one steer just wouldn't stop nursing even after the cow had a new calf... We put a nose ring on him that interfered with nursing.
 
Kittum Daniel
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Hello Wes,

I grew up with Jerseys and my Mom still milks about 60 to 80 head but mostly Holstein cattle now.

You already know that Jersey's tend to be more sensitive and temperamental than most other breeds. The fence line contact idea is worth a try and I think it most likely will work but be sure the fence is in decent shape an have some sort of plan B just in case. At 9 months of age the yearning to get back to their moms may be more of a companionship urge as anything else. As for returning the heifers back in, I think 3 or 4 weeks should be plenty long enough.

For the extended milking: In the old days the ideal lactation cycle was 305 days milking and 60 days dry before calving. Most people were able to hold close to that back then but current economic conditions have made hash of it. 380 day lactations with 20 days dry is not uncommon. My mom has made the point that it SEEMS to not to hurt the cows but I wonder about the long term health effects of doing this over and over. Keep in mind she has mostly Holsteins. I don't think Jerseys are able to handle that much physical stress of milking and carrying a baby calf at he same time. I do believe that your plan of extending the lactation period in order to have a better calving date is fine and good, but I also believe that a 50 to 60 day dry spell before calving would be well deserved. After that I would try to stick to the old 365 day lactation cycle. To me that seems much more natural and is should result in healthier cows and calves as well as better milk production.

I like the feed ration even though I have no experience with feeding sunflower seeds to cows. I think it has a good balance of protein and energy for volume of milk and good butter fat content. Although you may already know this, the feed ration has quite a bit of influence on the make up of the milk. Most commercial dairy rations tend to have a lot of protein because they are geared to Holstein cattle and for high volume of milk with a 3 to 3.5% butter fat content. For Jerseys I would back off the protein to 16% and up the energy content. The best ration I have ever seen for Jerseys took advantage of their ability to produce a rich milk with very high butter fat. It was about 35 - 40% alfalfa, 35-40% ear corn (corn on cob still in the husk), oats, sea mineral, and molasses, The milk was sweet and the butterfat content was unreal. I do grass feed beef but I have no idea how well grass feed dairy would do. I would like to see you results because yo may be on to something.



 
Adam Klaus
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I like to wean at 3-4 months of age, so your 9 month old is good to go. My experience is that I have to keep the calves completely separated from their momma until the momma has a new calf. The urge to resume nursing is simply too strong. I think that at the age you are dealing with it has more to do with emotional needs than nutritional ones, but nevertheless, that calf is pretty likely to resume nursing if given a chance.

For your milking ration, why not stop feeding grain entirely? Even the small amount of grain is having an acidifying effect on the rumen, which changes the gut bacteria in a negative way for the cow's systemic health. If you need something in the milk stanchion, I would recommend a mix of Alfalfa Pellets (50%), Redmond Real Salt (20%), Dried Kelp (20%), and Dried Nettle (10%). These are all super mineral rich supplements for your cow. She will expect her grain at first, but will quickly adjust to the new mix. It is much healthier for the cow than feeding grain of any type.
 
Adam Klaus
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Kittum Daniel wrote:I do grass feed beef but I have no idea how well grass feed dairy would do. I would like to see you results because yo may be on to something.



Grass fed dairy works great! My girls, Brown Swiss, haven't had any grain in 8 years and are perfectly fertile, highly productive, and absolutely beautiful. You can check out my book for all the details, linked in my signature.
 
Wes Hunter
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Adam Klaus wrote:For your milking ration, why not stop feeding grain entirely? Even the small amount of grain is having an acidifying effect on the rumen, which changes the gut bacteria in a negative way for the cow's systemic health. If you need something in the milk stanchion, I would recommend a mix of Alfalfa Pellets (50%), Redmond Real Salt (20%), Dried Kelp (20%), and Dried Nettle (10%). These are all super mineral rich supplements for your cow. She will expect her grain at first, but will quickly adjust to the new mix. It is much healthier for the cow than feeding grain of any type.


They are perfectly happy without the oats, but I continue to use them because they pass through the gut whole (making me wonder if they're having much acidifying effect) and they encourage the chickens to scratch the patties apart, spreading them around and presumably reducing the fly population. They often defecate as they walk out of the barn after milking, and the hens are all over it as soon as it hits the ground. Maybe they'd still scratch and spread the manure around even without the oats; I haven't tried it long enough to see. In short, I consider the oats chicken feed more than cow feed; the cow is just the carrier. All said, I'd guess the cows get about half a cup of oats per milking. Regardless, I'm not opposed to eliminating them, so long as the chickens would continue their work on the cow patties.

Where does one go about finding dried nettle? Grow it yourself? Or is there a commercially-available source? I feed free-choice Redmond salt and kelp, so including it in the milking ration would just be redundant.
 
Kittum Daniel
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I agree about the whole oats passing through, they are a bit of a challenge for horses or cows to get much out of them. I just assumed everybody was feeding the rolled or the milled oats.

As for the salt, Redmond is good but I believe we found something better and cheaper. I you look at Redmond's analysis their product is 98% salt and about 2% mineral. That 2% mineral is why I think Redmond is "good". Sea-90 is about 71% salt and 29% mineral. We switched to Sea-90 and we are real happy with it after using it about 1 year. I know from other conversations that there is a bit of alarm about some of the mineral content in Sea-90 such as arsenic, lead, and essentially everything else. I had the same concern myself but I do recommend reading the book "Sea Energy Agriculture" to understand why even these minerals have a place in life. Since then we have used several tons of it on fields, pastures, and in feed and I will testify that it has met and exceeded all expectations to the point that that it is hard to tell everything with out being called a liar. This is the product that caused me to cease using and deeply detest commercial fertilizers and weed sprays. I sincerely urge anyone to please check it out.
 
Adam Klaus
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Wes Hunter wrote:

Where does one go about finding dried nettle? Grow it yourself? Or is there a commercially-available source?


I wild harvest it if it is abundant, grow it on the farm as possible, and otherwise it can be purchased from Frontier Organics in bulk. Definitely more expensive pound-for-pound than alfalfa hay, but certainly worth a lot more.

Juliette de Bariclay-Levy (sp?) is a huge advocate of feeding dried nettles to livestock. Considering how much it benefits pregnant women, it must be good for dairy cows.
 
Adam Klaus
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Wes Hunter wrote:
They are perfectly happy without the oats, but I continue to use them because they pass through the gut whole (making me wonder if they're having much acidifying effect) and they encourage the chickens to scratch the patties apart, spreading them around and presumably reducing the fly population. They often defecate as they walk out of the barn after milking, and the hens are all over it as soon as it hits the ground. Maybe they'd still scratch and spread the manure around even without the oats; I haven't tried it long enough to see. In short, I consider the oats chicken feed more than cow feed; the cow is just the carrier. All said, I'd guess the cows get about half a cup of oats per milking. Regardless, I'm not opposed to eliminating them, so long as the chickens would continue their work on the cow patties.


I like your thinking Wes. At the incredibly small quantities you describe, I too question how much of an impact on rumen biology it would actually create. I would say it creates 'some' effect, not zero. Is that enough to 'matter', I don't know.

My experience with hens around the dairy barn is that they love scratching up cow manure regardless. I don't think they need to be incentivized too much.

I think it is important that we all keep experimenting and never become dogmatic. So I really like your line of thinking and experimentation. Nothing says good farming like happy productive cows, so good job!
 
Wes Hunter
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Adam Klaus wrote:My experience with hens around the dairy barn is that they love scratching up cow manure regardless. I don't think they need to be incentivized too much.


Since the hens hang around the barn/homestead far too much, my main concern is incentivizing them to follow the cows back out to pasture to scratch up the manure patties there.

Somewhat in reply to myself, what I've been trying the past couple of weeks is going out to the pasture, feed bucket in hand, hopefully with a flock of hens following behind, and toss out handfuls of whole grains. I'll mostly spread it in a line (to make sure the hens can find it), but I make a point to toss it on top of fresh cow patties when possible. This does two things: guarantees that the cow patty will be scratched apart, and prevents the cows from trying to nibble the grain. (We graze our herd rotationally, but sometimes because of field layout or timing or whatever we move the front fence only, leaving the back fence stationary, so the cows at times have access to pasture they grazed a few days prior.) I offer that as a potential solution to my own problem, I suppose.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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