Friday, November 29, 2013

Switching a Dexter to Once a Day Milking

I first heard about once a day milking when we were searching for milk cows.  I did a lot of research on the subject, and learned a lot.  But I was scared.

So we got Epi, and after she calved, I began milking twice a day.  And then Owen had some major medical problems, and was hospitalized for a week in August.  Getting someone to cover every milking was hard, but my parents helped a lot and we made it!

Then October came around.  And Owen got hospitalized again.  We thought we were losing him.  And I couldn't handle trying to ensure that the cow got milked every evening.  I made the decision.  I had my parents start milking only once a day for me--in the mornings.

Thankfully, Owen pulled through. And I loved only milking once a day!  It was so freeing.  I kept milking Epi once a day until June of 2013, when I dried her up in anticipation of my upcoming birth (in August) and Maggie's (in September) and Epi's (in October).

Since Epi and Maggie gave birth, I've been milking both of them twice a day.  We have two calves to feed, and need a gallon of milk in the morning and a gallon at night for the babies.

But, Maggie has been a bit difficult while milking.  She fights me going in.  She dances after her grain is gone.  She kicks over the bucket.  She's kind of a pain.  A pain who gives REALLY good milk.  With more cream than Epi.  So it was worth the fight twice a day.

Except now it's freezing.  Hard freezes.  And since Maggie is on her first lactation, she is still growing a bit herself.  So she converts the extra feed I've been giving the animals into fat instead of milk. Epi is on at least her third, and is giving a ton of milk with the feed.

Maggie, on the other hand, milks great in the morning.  But at night, I was barely getting a half gallon.   After much thought, I have decided to switch Maggie to a once a day pattern for milking.  Today was day 2 of this decision, and she's doing great with no signs of mastitis.

Once the calves are weaned (in January), I'll switch Epi as well, and then both milkers will be done once a day.  I choose to milk in the mornings.  This leaves my afternoons and evenings free.  But, if evenings are better for you, know that you can just as easily milk once a day in the evening.

Here are my reasons for preferring once a day:

1. I have my evenings free.  I still need to feed and water, but that can be done early or late.  Without as many problems as milking early or late.
2. I only have to clean the barn once.  With the weather so cold, limiting the amount of water I spray to clean cuts down on the ice buildup.
3. Cuts down on grain.  We only feed grain at milking.  By milking once a day, our grain goes twice as far!

Here are my reasons for not wanting to milk both cows once a day right now:

1. I don't want to warm up milk for the babies in the evening
2.  Epi is still increasing in her milk supply, and I want to encourage that as long as possible.  This is done more effectively by twice-a-day milking.
3. I can wait to clean the barn until after my evening milking.  After the sun has been out all day.  It's a bit warmer.  The ice in the barn is usually melted a wee bit, and I can sweep and spray things down more easily.   Since the calves are getting all of the milk, it doesn't need to be as clean as when I'm feeding it to my family.
4. If I milked both cows once a day, I'd have to give pretty much all of the milk to the babies.  I like milk!
5. I prefer drinking Maggie's milk--she was bred for milking lines, and had great cream.  This way I keep her milk in the morning for us, and give Epi's to the babies both morning and evening. 

So, until January, I will milk Maggie once a day, and Epi twice.  It's a win-win!I've lost a gallon a day for my family until then, but it's definitely worth it.

I know that fear was a huge factor the first time I switched.  Since I've done it before, it was easy this time.  Here are the things I've learned:

1. If your cow is producing less than 2 gallons of milk a milking, the transition can be cold turkey.
2. Mastitis risk is highest the first two or three days.  Be sure to check for swollen, warm teats.
3. The cows get used to the new schedule quickly.  It doesn't seem to stress them too much!
4. Milk production does not get cut by 50%.  I was getting 1.5 gallons of milk from Maggie milking morning and night.  Yesterday, with a once a day milking, I got 1.25 gallons.  This morning I was back up to 1.5.  That's what I'm expecting from her for a while, since her evening milkings were so pitiful before.    I've read that 25% reduction is typical.  I'll probably see about that with Epi--I'm planning on going from 2.25 gallons a day to 1.75 with her.
5. Dexters are a wonderful breed for milking once a day!

Having a family cow (or two) is much more realistic if you are able to switch to a once-a-day pattern.

A cow's teats can appear swollen without being an indication of mastitis.  Here are Maggie's teats before milking her in the morning:

They are certainly full of  milk, and she is ready.  But, they are not infected.  There is no unusual warmth.

After milking, her teats are very flexible and she's ready to go eat some hay.

So don't let fear stop you from switching to once a day milking.  It's doable and makes life a lot easier!

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