hare milking is a somewhat common term among family cow folks, and has many interpretations. Just to keep things simple I will just talk about what I do, since it is what I know. What share milking means to me, is that instead of taking the calf away from the cow and bottle feeding, or selling the calf, and harvesting all the milk from the cow to sell or use, I allow the calf to nurse from the cow. I think it is healthier for the calf to nurse from a cow than a bottle, and makes a better future cow, and I think the cow suffers less grief also from being separated. Where I differ from most sharemilkers though, is that I say when the calf nurses, and I don’t leave the cow and calf together after the first few days. I do separate them. Longtime readers know this goes along with my ideas about free-range stock. I think by leaving a calf with a high producing cow to nurse at will is inviting problems. The calf can’t take all the milk especially when young and the cow lets down and the milk just sits there waiting for you to come along and milk on your schedule. So some quarters get empty and the others are there full of milk, meanwhile the cow’s teat orifices are opened many times a day and there is a good chance that bacteria can make its way into the teat canal.
My main objectives for my family cow are:
♥ Provide enough dairy products for my family.
♥ Raise a healthy calf for a future cow or for beef.
♥ Keep the cow in a positive energy balance so she is able to produce milk and calve each year.
♥ Achieve the above without compromising anyone involved in the process, human or bovine. In more detail, I don’t want to short the cow or the calf, or shortchange my family by focusing too much on the home dairy project. It should flow and fit into the rest of the farm and family activities.
Blake is my relief milker, depending on how much her mother produces, (and I won’t know how Jane peaks and finishes lactation until we get through a complete one) Blake should be able to drink all the milk for me once a day after about 3 months. It’s not the same with every cow and calf but in my experience it usually can work out that way. I’m a morning person, so I don’t mind the morning milking, but afternoon and early evening are a pain for me and when the calf is big enough I can usually relinquish that milking to the relief milker.
Blake has already learned to stand tied. Of course this training takes place when mama is out of sight, since usually the tantrums ensue as soon as you try to bend their will a bit. In order for Blake to be my relief milker she has to have manners, because I will be handling her twice a day or more when she is 9 months old, and unlike a bottle calf she will retain her flight zone and won’t be all over us. She associates us with food already and pees and poops about on cue – this is very nice. We worked hard on giving Jane a flight zone, since she was a bottle calf, and it worked real well – she will stand on her own hoof before stepping on me.
The downside of share milking is the interference with the letdown reflex, and while I haven’t ever really had a problem I know it is pretty common. Especially with a low producing cow, like a dual purpose that probably really only has enough milk for her calf. Cows aren’t dumb, their instinct is to feed their calf not us – so it makes sense for the cow to hold up. Getting around this takes conditioning, and the best way I have found to combat this is routine, routine, routine. I do not change my routine with the exception of adding milking times etc. Otherwise, I stick to my rule book.
Assuming the cow is on pasture:
♥ Tie up the calf.
♥ Make sure the milking area is clean. ( I milk in a stall, so this may differ for you if you have a separate milking area.)
♥ Prepare the cow’s feed. Hay, grain etc.
♥ Get the cow. She should be waiting patiently at the gate… .
♥ Clean the cow’s teats. This practice varies from farm to farm, I use soap and water, and if the cow is dirty, I go back to the house and wash my washing bucket, and start over. If that’s the case I usually don’t save the milk either, since my DH is immune compromised. Just like my clean egg philosophy, I try to make sure my cow is clean rather than trying to clean her, I work on that area of management a little harder. The important thing is cleanliness, finding a procedure and cleaning products you like and feel comfortable with.
♥ Milk. I milk by hand, and it takes me about 5 minutes + to milk two gallons. I leave the rest for the calf, and put the calf on at that time and go to the house and process my milk. I am sacrificing some cream this way, since the hindmilk (last milk) is the richest, but I’m trying to strike a happy medium with my family cow.
♥ After the calf has nursed, I check her work. I don’t want to send the cow back to the pasture with some letdown milk left in any quarter. If there is milk present I milk it out, if not I put udder balm on the cow, and take her back to the pasture.
♥ Repeat in 12 hours.
For us a family cow really makes sense, we have enough quality pasture to support a high producing dairy cow, the same quality pasture provides enough hay for winter during the cow’s dry period. Equally we can grow supplemental root crops for winter which keeps us from buying in too much grain or having to rely hot hay (fertilized with who knows what) from the east side of the mountains.
Other offsets to the family cow budget are – enough manure/bedding for a large garden, skim milk for pigs or chickens, or even fertilizer for the pasture if you’re so inclined. Not to mention all the butter and ice cream you can stand 😀