How Do I Stop a Cow From Nursing?

How Do I Stop a Cow From Nursing?

 How to stop a cow from nursing…

I have all sorts of experiences with cows nursing off my Jersey’s udders when I do not want them to.
Sometimes it was sweet.  Who’s heart isn’t touched when you see a 900-pound cow chasing a little-orphaned calf around, mooing at them and beckoning them to have some milk.  The ease that they will not only accept, but seek out and pursue little ones without mamas is precious.
Other times I am a bit appalled.
When big and beefy was here last year we had a seriously disgusting nursing scenario taking place in the cow field.  I’m not sure why I was so offended, but I was.  Ack.  Ugh.  Gross.
Big-&-Beefy was a bull.  A fully intact, black Angus, a monster of a bull.  We are talking about 2000 pounds of bovine testosterone.  We affectionately referred to him as “Big-&-Beefy,” “Mr. Beefy,” “Mr. Beef,” and of course “Mr. Balls.”
He was an impressive specimen of a bull.  Mr. Beefy was manly and large and here to do a job.  I don’t ever want to talk about or deal with artificial insemination again, so Mr. Beefy was a welcomed member to our herd.  He was good at his job and easy to get along with (kinda).
The main problem I had with Mr. Beefy was that he couldn’t seem to decide where he belonged alongside my jerseys.  One minute he’d be on top of my cows, giving them what he came to deposit, the next minute he’d be under them drinking all my milk.
Then I have the whole “Jersey cows will adopt anything” problem.  I swear, my jerseys would strut around before Mr. Big-&-Beefy and shove their udders in his face.  It’s like they were beckoning him to the buffet.
He would happily partake and they would just stand there and lick him while he nursed.  All 2000 pounds of him.
You may not have a 2000 pound bull drinking all your milk, but you may want to get a cow to stop nursing…. if so this is for you.

There are lots of reasons you may want to stop a cow from nursing:

  1. He’s a 2000 pound bull who is not supposed to be drinking your milk.
  2. You would like to have your butter.
  3. Your calf is getting huge.
  4. Your calf is getting old.
  5. You want to graph a new calf onto your cow & need her old calf to stop taking all the milk.
  6. You want to dry up your cow.

If you are drying up your cow because she is about to give birth it is critical that you get her current “calf” to stop nursing.


Problem #1:  It can put too much stress on the mama (to be making milk and a baby).
Problem #2: You WANT your mama-cow to “bag-up.”  Bagging up happens after a dry spell.  It is when the udder comes back to life and fills with nutrient-rich, antibodies-filled colostrum.  This colostrum will nourish your new baby cow.  The bagging-up process will also be a HUGE indicator as to when birth is imminent.
If you have another cow, calf, bull or another bovine in the field with your “soon to be mama” who is drinking from her udder she will not dry off or bag up – not good.
Problem #3:  Colostrum.  If there is another calf/cow currently partaking from the udder you now have 3 issues:
  1. your cow can’t “bag up”
  2. she can’t “take a break”
  3. AND that other cow will drink all the colostrum that the (unborn) baby needs to eat.
Problem #4:  Who’s the baby?  After the new calf is born there will be a competition for the udder.  I know what a grown cow can do to an udder (Thank you Mr. Beefy) and you do not want this happening while you have a new baby around who might want will need a meal.  I’m pretty sure the new, little guy (or gal) won’t stand a chance at that udder.
If you have a newborn calf who misses out on a few meals it could cause a lifetime of health issues.


ONE – Jerseys Are Great Mamas

Jerseys will adopt anything.  It doesn’t matter the size, breed, age, weight, or sex.  If you have a Jersey cow who is producing milk she will want to feed everyone in her pasture.

TWO – Calves Remember their Mamas (even the adoptive ones)

Calves don’t forget.  When our Jerseys have a female calf it is such a celebration.  Boys are steaks, girls get to grow up and live and make lots of baby cows for us.  Someone told me I was a sexist.  That it wasn’t fair to eat the boy cows just because they are boys.  She said I was discriminating. Ha!

Anyhow, here’s the scenario:

Your Jersey has a girl.  You are elated.  You have a new milk-cow on the homestead.  Someone get out the cigars.  Your Jersey raised your little heifer for you.  She grew up eating milk & meadow & the world is a beautiful place.  In 10 months your little heifer isn’t so little any longer.  In fact, she is nearly as big as her mama and is still slurping up all your butter.

It is time to get the calf cow off your cow.

This obviously isn’t going to happen as long as they are in a field together.  Separating calves from their mamas is a necessary practice among farmers everywhere for a reason.  If you want the calf to stop nursing – you have to get them away from the mama.  I’ve been told that a beef mama will naturally wean their own offspring before a year but I have no experience or data to back that up.  I have Jerseys and they don’t wean anything.  I have to do the weaning.



Separate Fields

The easy answer is to put the calf in a separate field and let her scream for 10 days, get over it and grow up.  After all, it’s time for this 10-month calf cow to start becoming her own person and think about raising a cow-family of her own.

If you have multiple pastures this separation system will work.

New Pasture – Mama is gone.  Mama can be dried up & they will never meet again.


What if I don’t have lots of fields? 

On the other hand, if you have limited pastures and would like to keep your Jersey mama in the same field with her (all grown up) baby you are probably hosed.  Yup, I said “hosed.”

On my farm, in my experience, it can’t be done.

We have tried everything:

FIRST:  We separated them for MONTHS

As soon as we reunited them that stinkin’ calf went straight back to the udder.

SECOND: We separated them for months & dried up the Mama so there would be NO MILK when the calf came back into the field

Not only did the calf go straight back to the (dried up) udder – he actually got the milk production to start back up.

Yes, it brought her back into milk production.  Yes, my dry cow who had not been milked in months who had been separated from her calf for months started making milk.

Did you hear that?  People say that in order for a cow to produce milk she must have a baby every year… Uh.  Not necessarily.  Not all cows.

My DRY COW went right back to making milk as soon as that calf returned.  Arg.

THIRD:  We attached a horrifying metal appliance (recommended by our vet) to the calf’s face so he “couldn’t” nurse.   

We tried it on frontwards (spikes facing the calf).  We tried it on backward (spikes facing the cow).

Guess what?  He still found a way.

We have tried everything we can think of to stop the babies from going back to the Jersey udders.  We have had no success.  The only way we have been able to completely wean our grown cows from their Jersey mamas & guarantee they will never go back to the udder again is to put them in separate fields forever.  The end.

There is one more technique that may work…..

Bottle feed the calf.  
If you remove the calf from your milk cow & bottle feed it (thus, it is never on the actual udder of your cow) you will be able to put them in a field together when the calf is grown.  I know many folks bottle-feed their calves for this exact reason.  They want to put the calf in the field with their mamas in the future & not have to worry about having milk shortages.  The Amish folks I know around here always do this.
There are a couple of problems with this scenario:
  1. She may still adopt the calf (allow it to nurse) in the future whenever you decide to put him/her in the field.
  2. You will not have a calf to help you with the milking – this means you are milking 2 times a day every day.   (How to milk once a day or less:  here.)
I wish I had more information or a secret tip that works.  I don’t.  We have fought this problem for years.  If you have successfully weaned a grown calf from your milk-cow (and been able to keep them in the same pasture) – please share in the comments below how you did it.  I would love to know your secret.
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