Tuesday, September 27, 2011
The Ebb and Flow of Milk Production
We are not a commercial dairy. We do not have a scientifically proven feeding program that assures we get maximum production from our cows. Frankly, we don't want it that way. We prefer that our animals graze, and although we do supplement with a small amount of grain to help them maintain body condition, we do not push them for production. What this means as far as the quantity of milk is concerned, is that in the spring when the grass is lush, green and plentiful, is when cows produce the most milk. In the fall, when the grass begins to die back, the production begins to fall. Of course, we then switch over to hay, but the cows simply do better grazing on green grass.
Other factors contribute to the milk production as well. One such factor is the stage of lactation for a particular cow. As a cow gets further and further into their lactation, their milk production will drop. Currently, my cows are basically split into two groups: spring calvers and fall calvers. I do have a few stragglers that calved in summer. (And I won't have any calves born October - January.)
Another factor in the amount of milk we have is share milking. I am very adamant about letting the calves be dam raised. I believe this is how nature intended for things to be, and unlike many dairies (commercial, organic, micro, raw dairies and many family cow owners alike), I leave my calves with their dams for at least three months. This greatly affects the amount of milk that I am able to gather for human consumption. If I have a higher producing cow, then I may be able to get a gallon or two per milking over and above what the calf is taking. However, most of my cows are bred to be low producers and by the time the calf is several weeks old, they are taking all of the milk. When the calf is about two months old, I begin separating them from their dams during the day, milking the the cow in the evening, then putting the cow and calf back together for the night. This means the calf has approximately 12 hours to nurse and can continue to grow into a healthy, young bovine on their momma's milk.
The biggest factor of all to the decrease in available milk is, of course, the fact that the cows are "dried off" two months ahead of calving to give their bodies a break and allow them to prepare for the new baby.
This "ebb and flow" of milk production can lead to some stressful moments when I either have too much milk or not enough, but all in all it works out and I am able to hold to my ideals and principles. So many times, I take for granted that folks just understand why things are the way they are, until I stop to think about the fact that most people would not have any reason to know. Hopefully, this post will be educational for those who did not have a reason to know before.