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Calf Sharing Questions  RSS feed

 
Nancy Baracker
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Hi, everyone,

I'm new here, although I've benefited from the information on the permies forums many times through various Google searches!

I have been researching quite a bit in hopes of trying calf sharing with my Jersey cow. This will be her fourth lactation (due anytime). I have a few concerns, and am hoping some farmers with more experience with this method can help me fill in the blanks.

Firstly, last year Chesnea (my Jersey) came down with milk fever. I thought I had done everything right in terms of prevention, but so it goes... A vet was called and IV calcium brought her back to earth. I'm concerned about a replay of the milk fever this time, and I wonder if anyone has an opinion regarding whether once-a-day milking might have a negative influence on her chances of avoiding milk fever. Any suggestions for what methods I could use to avoid such a catastrophe this time would be much appreciated.

That leads to my second question: She tends to be a very (TOO much for her own good) heavy producer in the beginning of lactation. At last freshening, she was producing very close to 7 gallons a day. Funny thing is, even with very punctual milking, she drops off fairly significantly around the three-month mark to around three gallons. I want to go the no-grain route, but I'm a bit apprehensive about it. First, because I don't know how that will affect her condition when her body is trying to make seven gallons of milk a day, and second because she is in her fourth lactation and is mentally accustomed to having grain... My plan/hope is to just give her a handful each milking, just to get her in the stanchion, and then feed alfalfa hay for the duration of milking.

My third question is this: Although I would like to do once-a-day milking, I wonder if, at the beginning, I'm going to have to milk twice a day, just for Chesnea's health and comfort. And for how long?

I know that in so many ways, calf sharing and once-a-day milking are beneficial to cow, calf, and farmer, but I'm just not sure how this transition will go! I don't want to damage my cow's health by bumbling around blindly. I also understand that I'm going to have a harder time because I do have a cow that was bred for major production, but replacing her with a different milk cow is not an option right now; I just have to make do with what I've got!

Looking forward to hearing any advice and/or experiences you can share. Thanks in advance!

Nancy
 
Wes Hunter
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Location: Missouri Ozarks
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I'd quit grain feeding cold turkey.  I feed alfalfa pellets and molasses to keep mine occupied during milking.  I suspect her body will adjust quite quickly to lactating without grain.

You'll probably need to milk twice a day for the first week or so, with the calf given access all day.  Then start separating overnight (assuming you're milking in the morning).  Again, the cow's body will adjust milk production to match what's being required of her--a combination of diet, the calf's needs, and what you're taking.  I'd think a healthy cow really ought not be giving more than 3 or 4 gallons daily anyway.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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On my grandfathers dairy farm we didn't feed any grain, just grass fed cows.

We milked twice a day once the cows had been feeding the calves for two weeks.

A friend of mine in Eire does this same routine with his dairy herd.

The cows will regulate the amount of milk production according to what I've learned and been told.
They start out heavy because of the calf's need for the colostrum then the milk slows and the colostrum in the milk goes down and away within the first two weeks.

Redhawk

 
Nancy Baracker
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Thanks for your helpful and thoughtful responses!!

My cow has calved since I posted this. All seems to be going pretty well for now, besides the norm of dealing with a hormonal cow for a few days.

Wes, I have a couple questions for you. What quantity of alfalfa pellets do you feed? And sorry if I'm really clueless, but do you buy the molasses pre-mixed with the alfalfa, or add it as a top dressing? Is it liquid or dry? How much of it? I think my cow would love that combination.

I have no argument about the 3 or 4 gallons a day. Much more doable than seven. I wonder though, do you mean 3 to 4 gallons total production (including what the calf takes) or 3 to 4 gallons in my bucket? I'm just wondering what I should be expecting as fairly normal.

And one more question: Did you have any suggestions regarding the prevention of milk fever? It came on very suddenly last time -- from the time I knew something was wrong until the time she was lying on the ground nearly unconscious was only about an hour. Kind of scary. :/ I decided to just go the safe route this time and injected subcutaneous calcium gluconate, but I'd really like to not have to do that every time. Not pleasant for the cow or me...

Thanks again,
Nancy
 
Wes Hunter
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Location: Missouri Ozarks
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Nancy,
I have no experience with milk fever, though if I'm not mistaken high production is a contributing factor.  As for my 3 to 4 gallons comment, I meant that as total production, including the calf's share.  With my Jerseys, I tend to get at most 1.5 gallons in the bucket, milking once a day.  I don't know just how much the calves are taking, but my cows never have huge swollen udders, and I consider that a good thing.

I use dried molasses with the alfalfa pellets.  Typically I mix about 1 part molasses to 3 parts alfalfa, mixing it together in a bucket, and feed as much as they'll clean up while I'm milking, which I think is usually 2 quarts or so.  (Occasionally I'll include whole oats as well, which pass right on through and give the chickens something to scratch and peck for.)  Some days I'll have to stop milking to give them more if they're getting antsy and dancing around, and other days there's feed leftover, but usually I can nail it consistently within about a week of calving/milking.  You might get by with just alfalfa, but I add the molasses because they like it better (alfalfa isn't a huge incentive to cows that have been grazing all day and night) and it makes for more of a treat.  I want them to be happy to go into the barn and into the stanchions, and molasses is a cheap and easy way to do that.
 
Nancy Baracker
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Wes,

Thanks again, and sorry for all my questions... This is so valuable to me, having these guidelines to work from! One thing I forgot to ask... When, a week or so after freshening, I go to once-a-day milking, would I transition to that slowly, or does it matter at that stage? Just go from milking twice a day with the calf on 24 hours a day to milking once a day with the calf separated at night?

(And don't worry; I'm not following your advice blindly, but just want to make sure I understand correctly. I'll adjust as needed according to the needs of my cow, I promise! )

Nancy
 
Wes Hunter
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Location: Missouri Ozarks
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I'd just switch right over whenever it felt right (though I wouldn't separate baby and mama until a week at least).  The main purpose of milking twice a day to start is to relieve the mama of (at least some of) the excess milk.  That said, folks are divided.  Some say that the milking helps reduce udder inflammation, and others say it just creates more demands on the cow's body and therefore does not ultimately make a difference, and maybe even worsens a problem.

My Jerseys have all been small-framed, low producing cows, so I've never had much trouble.  I can never fully milk a just-freshened cow anyway, as her udder and teats are usually so swollen, and the milking goes so slowly, that at some point I just decide that's enough for now.  In the end it always seems to work out.
 
Wes Hunter
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Location: Missouri Ozarks
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This is perhaps past the initial intention of the thread, but it may be useful nonetheless.

Our lone Jersey calved three weeks ago.  Starting the first evening (she calved mid-day), I milk her twice per day, morning and evening.  I have left the calf on 24/7 so far, milking whatever the calf has yet to drink.

I have been getting anywhere from 2 to 3.5 gallons per day.  The amount varies depending on how recently before milking the calf has nursed (to some extent, at least), and how hard I push the cows on the pasture.  If I leave them in a given section an extra day to knock down weeds, and there is thus less lush grass, there is a noticeable drop in milk.  Otherwise, she has held steady at 3 to 3.5 gallons per day.

I'm not sure when (or if?) I'll start separating the calf at night.  This way has been so much easier (not having to deal with separating the calf) and has yielded a higher total milk yield to boot.

For what it's worth, we got straight colostrum for the first three days, shifting over to milk by the fourth day, with all milk by day six.

It has also been interesting to note that the calf greatly prefers mama's front right (passenger's side) teat, followed by the front left (driver's side).  Only rarely does she seem to nurse from either of the back quarters.
 
Nancy Baracker
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Thanks for the update, Wes. My Jersey cow calved on April 20, so we've had some time to work things out. Everything I had read involved separating the calf after one week or so, but I decided to just let him stay on 24/7 until I wasn't getting enough milk to suit my needs. She produces a LOT at the beginning of lactation, so I knew production wouldn't be an issue.

For the first couple of months after freshening, I pretty consistently got 3 to 3 1/2 gallons, milking once a day (besides the first week, when I milked twice a day). If there is a disadvantage to leaving the calf on 24/7 for an extended time, I'd love to hear it, but it has worked for me. Just recently, the calf started to take a lot more milk, so about 6 days ago, I started separating him at night. I milk out three quarters fully in the morning, then let him out to empty the fourth one. He can then nurse as desired for the rest of the day. I rotate which quarter I leave full so that I know they're all getting emptied completely 3 out of four days -- although I'm certain he's emptying his quarter!  I'm not getting a lot, but just enough for my use -- about 2 gallons per day.

I think I may wean him from her soon (maybe at the 3-month mark) while still giving him milk as I don't have great pasture to put him on.

One thing I wonder about: For about the first week and a half after the calf was born, I was putting a halter on him and tying him at the front of the stanchion. However, after one week he was starting to catch on and was difficult to catch, and he could run underneath my fences so it was just about impossible to herd him into the barn. I didn't think it would behoove me to chase him around, so I just decided to try putting the cow in the stanchion while he wandered around outside. Neither of them seemed to mind this setup, so that's what we've done up to this point. However, now I have a pretty wild calf that I have to herd into the barn at night... I think we'll be able to tame him up, but I was hoping to have a halter-broken calf from day one... that didn't work out too well. Any advice about a way to do that differently? It doesn't matter SO much in this case as we're going to eat him, but I don't want it to be an issue in the future -- and I would prefer for him to be friendly/comfortable with us as well.

Thanks!
Nancy
 
Becky Mendelsohn
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Location: Near Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
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Hi - I've got a question regarding milking Dexters.  I have 2 established cows and 1 heifer, and all are set to calve about next April at this point.  The cows were wild heifers when I bought them, but in the years I've had them I've worked with them enough that both will let me touch them and one will allow me to milk her.  However, because I have only one pasture with just an open shelter, I am not able to separate the calves and cows at all.  So, what milking I have done has been with the calf slobbering away at the other teats as I milk one. 

Next year, my idea is to sell the calf of the best milker as a bottle calf, thus eliminating that problem, and allowing me to finally get some milk.  Now for the question - Will the other two calves try to nurse from the cow without a calf? Will she try to steal a calf?  Will it break her heart to have no calf while the others have theirs?  Thanks.
 
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