What to Expect When You Milk a Cow for the First Time
Please contact your vet if your cow needs medical attention. I am not a vet and not qualified to diagnose or treat any medical issues. This article is intended for informational purposes only.
She stood still, gently munching on a flake of hay while streams of white milk flowed into the pail.
This is the picture we have in our head when we dream of owning a milk cow, but often we are dealt a bit of a different hand.
When a cow steps into the milking parlor for the first time, you may both be a little intimidated.
Whether you have experience or not, milking can become a pleasant time of day for both of you.
Before we bought our first milk cow I had read the books, watched the videos and even gone to friends homesteads for milking lessons. There is little that can prepare you for the real event.
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU MILK
ONE: If at all possible, try to move your family milk cow to your farm or homestead before she has her calf. This will allow her to get comfortable with you and your farm before bringing the baby onto the scene.
TWO: Familiarize her with the milking procedure prior to giving birth.
I have made the mistake of waiting until the calf arrives to bring my cow into the milking barn for the first time. Quite often the result is a cow who will NOT go into the barn.
This ALWAYS ends with someone carrying the calf into the milk barn so the cow will follow.
Which is quite the project. Calves are not light.
Before the baby arrives, call your family cow into the milk barn once a day. Tie her as you plan to during milking time and rub her. Touch her neck, her body, and her udder. This will get her accustomed to physical contact from you. Be sure to give her something tasty to eat while in the barn (so she will want to come back in next time).
This will accomplish a couple of things:
- She will WANT to come into the barn to get her treat
- She will be familiar with the barn and not fearful of it.
- She will be used to you touching her.
THREE: When Baby Arrives, expect change
Your cooperative, gentle cow may change after her calf arrives. A mama cow can be protective and dangerous. Be careful.
FOUR: After The Birth
Once the calf is on the ground it should stumble to its hooves and mama should begin licking him or her (this may happen before or after she eats the placenta- gag).
Watch the mama cow and baby closely to be sure the calf is nursing in the first hour or two. If you do not see the calf nursing, you will need to tie up mama and help the little one find the udder.
The first day you can leave mama and baby alone as long as the calf is nursing.
On day 2 plan to bring mama into the milk barn and check on her udder. It is important that you not “milk her out” at this point.
Milk fever is a real threat to cows after giving birth and emptying her udder could bring on the problem. If your cow seems especially engorged, milk just a little out of each quarter (1 pint) in order to make her more comfortable. Save the colostrum for future use (put in airtight containers and freeze it).
Continue checking the udder on days 3 and 4, and relieve a little pressure (only 1 pint from each quarter) but do not milk her out.
Do not be alarmed or panic if the udder is uncooperative to milking. I have encountered several udders that wouldn’t release a drop of milk even though they looked as if they were about to pop. Be patient. The engorgement only lasts a day or two.
Continue to bring your cow into the milk barn and attempt to relieve a little pressure each day. Eventually, the milk will begin to flow and the udder will soften.
FOUR: Milking time!
Once the calf is 5 days old, begin to slowly increase the amount of milk you take from the udder.
Calves can be finicky, and you will be the one in charge of making sure your cow’s udder is nearly emptied at least once a day. Sometimes a calf will favor a couple of quarters and leave the others full.
Plan to milk once a day at the same time so that the udder is emptied every 24 hours.
Before you call your cow into the milking barn have all of the supplies ready:
- Open doors and turn on heaters or fans (if using)
- Fill the feed bucket
- Tie the lead to the wall and have it ready to fasten to the cow’s harness
- Prepare the warm soapy water, washcloth & drying cloth
- Grab milking stool
- Have buckets and milk pails standing close by
- Have the electric milker ready to go (if using)
- Don’t forget the poop bucket
And have plenty of extra feed ready. There have been many times that cleaning or milking has taken longer than expected. An extra scoop of food is often all it takes to correct stomping or impatient behavior in cows.
For more details on how to milk a cow go here.
About 10 days after birth, you will be able to milk your cow without too much fear of milk fever. Continue to watch her closely and call the vet if you see any signs of trembling or shaking.
At 2 weeks the milk should be getting less like colostrum and more like milk.
If the calf seems to be drinking more than its share, you may separate it a few hours before you plan to milk.
If your cow is a first-time freshener (this is her first calf) she may not produce an enormous amount of milk. Heifers I have milked typically give me 1 to 1 1/2 gallons of milk per day with a calf on them.
Milk production will slowly increase, peaking at about 4-5 months after calving.
Once the calf is 2 months old or older you may notice a decline in your milk level. When this happens, simply separate the calf in the evening before you go to bed and milk your cow first thing in the morning before reuniting them.
The calf will get all the nourishment he needs during the day.
SIX: Holding Up Milk
Milk cows pretty savvy animals. They can easily tell that you are not the calf and they have the ability to “hold” up milk. Their strength is greater than any hand or milk pump I have found. When this happens, you can bring the calf into the barn to help with the milking. Letting the calf have a drink is usually all it takes to get the milk flowing.
SEVEN: The Learning Curve
It can take several weeks before you feel like you are in a milking groove, especially with hand-milking. It takes time to learn and experience for speed.
Expect it to take time. Give yourself some grace and smile. You and your cow are just learning and it will take some time before you are both in a good groove.
Hang in there, it gets easier.
Enjoy your cow! Enjoy the milk! Enjoy the experience. These are the best days of our lives. Don’t let them slip by.
For more information about calving go HERE (Help! My cow Just Calved).
Grow More, Shop Less, Live Better
Ready to ditch the rat race? Grow your Groceries? And Enjoy Farm Fresh Meals?
“Homesteading made easy. Meal plans that delight. Help when You need it.”