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Share Milking

June 7, 2012

Blake – leading lesson.

Share 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.

Jane’s first butter – June 6, 2012.

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.

Applying udder balm before going back to pasture.

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 😀

37 Comments leave one →
  1. June 7, 2012 11:25 am

    Blake is adorable. Love her boots and dipped tail : ). I was wondering what her future would hold.

    At the price of good butter and cheese, it’s definitely worth it to go to the extra work and trouble. You’ve waited so long for that butter, I hope it was everything you’d wished for : )

  2. June 7, 2012 12:14 pm

    Thank you for your detailed explanation its given me some ideas to fine-tune our milking procedure. The share milking idea worked really well for us too. We got to the stage, after about 6 months, where we were milking once a week (separating calf from cow overnight and milking in the morning) and getting about 4 L, which was plenty for the week. This was great, as we knew we could go on holiday and everyone would be just fine. Early on we were constantly making cheese just to keep up with all the milk!

  3. June 7, 2012 12:28 pm

    We milk goats OAD and separate the kids at night. Works well until the kids figure out how to get back to mom.

    My dairy farmer milks OAD, leaves the calves on for the first month then the calves get to clean up after milking each day and are otherwise separated into their own pasture. He only milks out what he needs each day leaving quite a bit for the calves. I have also seen him leave a quarter for the calf at times.

    The OAD milking thing was an adjustment for us. It really puts the condition back on the animals quickly, it’s nice not to lean against the goat on a 95 degree afternoon and they seem to breed back well but it’s weird (and great) not to wash up our bucket twice/day.

  4. June 7, 2012 1:12 pm

    You are teaching me so much just by reading this blog about how to have family cattle – milking, breeding, ect. I love it. Thanks so much for the good info. I want a family cow and cattle for family meat when we get our land and reading what you are doing helps me understand the time commitment involved.

  5. Kay permalink
    June 7, 2012 1:21 pm

    Before we weaned Minnie, we did the 12/12 thing, we milked in the a.m., let Minnie hang out w/ Molly all day, and then put Minnie in her “crib” at nite 🙂 Now, we milk twice a day, and have more milk than you can shake a stick of butter at LOL I got a Farm Girl T-shirt that says “Milk, butter, icecream, cheese, all of these from one big squeeze.” Hee I love it.

  6. Kay permalink
    June 7, 2012 1:22 pm

    Oh by the way, isn’t homemade butter just beautiful? The store bought just literally pales in comparison.

  7. cookie roscoe permalink
    June 7, 2012 1:43 pm

    I just can’t thank you enough for these informative, interesting posts. Even the photos are just so good! I learn heaps every time I open one of your emails, and I’m very grateful for the time you take.

  8. June 7, 2012 4:24 pm

    I remember when Jane was such a tiny wee baby herself. I’m also loving your blog. 🙂

  9. Lorna permalink
    June 7, 2012 4:47 pm

    Thank you for all the detail. It’s really helping me wrap my head around the idea of one day having a milk cow. I wish we had started this process ten years ago. . .

  10. June 7, 2012 6:41 pm

    Do you have any old posts that discuss teaching the calf to lead or can you post more about that?

    Our Jersey cow Dorothy calved on May 28th (about 1am) and we’re share milking too. I need some ideas on teaching the calf good manners. What I remember from my days as a teenager working on the neighbor’s farm was unpleasant dragging of calves up and down the central aisle of the barn. There’s got to be a better way than that!


    • June 7, 2012 8:35 pm

      MTM, Congratulations! I don’t think I really posted about teaching Jane to lead, but our first order of business is teaching them to be tied, and then proceed to lead training. I like to start as soon as they can get around good, and do the pressure and release for reward if they step ahead. Butt ropes help too if they are quite as willing as you like, and you can just pull them a bit while they are tiny then they get the idea that you are stronger and that stays with them even when they are grown (well, most of the time.) I use a collar for tying and a soft rope adjustable halter for lead training. It helps that Blake knows she needs to go through us to get her food, she’s a little more compliant than a calf that gets to nurse all the time.

      • June 8, 2012 11:59 am

        Way back when you posted some videos about training the very young Jane.

        Not a lot of detail but some. You handle her, you lead her, it rains. More detail would be great.

        This might be a good time for my monthly request that you get busy writing a book or a series of books. You have enough information, experience, web traffic and goodwill to make it worth your time to try.

        • June 8, 2012 12:50 pm

          I’d buy two or three copies, end up lending them out and then have to buy more…. You are for critters what Carroll Deppe is for veg.

        • June 8, 2012 12:50 pm

          HFS, thanks, for digging those out, I just didn’t have time to go back and search. 🙂 The greenhouse competition is on here, I have zukes but my tomatoes aren’t clipped yet, and my girlfriend doesn’t have zukes yet but she has clipped her tomatoes twice now! I had to get to the greenhouse and get my arse in gear. 😉

  11. June 7, 2012 8:36 pm

    The butter looks wonderful! What a treat after two years of waiting 🙂 I am making about a pound of butter a day and still haven’t weaned myself off of the 1/2 gallon churn. I suppose I could make butter every other day if I went to the bigger churn and that would save me some more time! Maybe we could see photos of all of your churns?

    • June 7, 2012 9:02 pm

      CT&S, I’m on the every other day plan, it does save time if you have the bigger churn 😉 I forgot to tell you about Ginny’s butter whorls…they are huge. Jane’s are up high and I’m not sure what that means, but at least they are symmetrical which is good according to Guenon.

      • Kristin permalink
        June 8, 2012 5:31 am

        Alright you two. Let’s get a milk mirror post up. I’ve got on old .pdf copy of A Treatise on the Milch Cow in my kindle but haven’t gotten to the milk mirror part yet. Frankly, I’m skeptical but, according to the book, most were skeptical at that time too.

        • June 8, 2012 7:51 am

          Kristin, I need to print a PDF because I have original and it is in pristine condition, which doesn’t bode well for the book when looking at a cow’s hind end in the pasture. Della had real nice butter whorls on her udder and Jane’s I think are too high but they are symmetrical and a complete match for her matching ones above her eyes (which is good.) I never thought much about the escutcheon since with the beef cows we always looked at the whorl on the face long before I ever read any Temple Grandin stuff. I’ve found that part to be pretty true as far as disposition. As for Jane’s butter production it is a little hard to tell yet, but seems a little less than Della.

  12. June 7, 2012 9:48 pm

    really interesting post – tons of info to digest here. Thanks!

  13. Kristin permalink
    June 8, 2012 8:18 am

    Google has the book in .pdf here:

    In case anyone else wants to read it. Oh, and Open Library has it for the Kindle! Reading .pdfs on the Kindle isn’t always easy:

  14. June 8, 2012 9:57 am

    So Blake and Jane are only together for a few minutes after you’re done milking, then you seperate them again?

    • June 8, 2012 12:36 pm

      Ben, Blake and Jane are probably together about an hour to hour and a half a day, by the time I get the milk refrigerated and everything washed up and then build a new fence while they are bonding (usually Blake is getting a bath) 45 minutes has gone by pretty quickly. Jane is always ready to go and graze by then, Blake isn’t too happy though, so she gets her mind taken off the separation by going for a leading lesson or getting tethered out.

  15. Anne Taliaferro permalink
    June 8, 2012 10:38 am

    I FINALLY got to taste my cow’s milk for the first time today. I am also milking her in the stall, and if I could milk her in five minutes we would probably be fine. However, since neither the cow nor I have ever done this before, it takes me a LONG time, and she gets impatient.

    She doesn’t kick me, but she does pick up her feet and shift around, and by the time we were done today she was standing with her body sideways and her head sticking into the stanchion. It’s difficult to keep debris out of the bucket with that movement, so today I tried securing cheesecloth over the top of the bucket and milking through that. This is the first time I’ve felt comfortable drinking the milk rather than giving it to the pigs, and OH MY… so sweet and creamy and delicious!

    Although she is a dual purpose cow, if I were milking her two or three times a day and only allowing the calf access to her at appointed times, AND if I were more proficient at milking, I suspect I’d be getting more than a gallon at each milking, which is way more than I need. And that’s without grain – just pasture and some alfalfa at milking time.

    • June 8, 2012 12:45 pm

      Anne, congratulations! It’s sure good isn’t it 😀

      Dual purpose is fine as long as the calf is getting at least 2 gallons a day, and I want more than just milk, I want the cream for butter. It takes a lot of butter to go through an entire year and even with adding lard in, I think good home produced fats are one of the most overlooked self-reliant, SHTF item.

      Your strength will build up and you’ll be fast in no time. I think woodsplitting kept me in shape.

    • June 9, 2012 9:03 pm

      It took me a long time to milk my first cow and she was a small Jersey mixed with Dexter and didn’t give much at all. After the first couple months I got better and better. I was so bad in the beginning that I ordered a milking machine. By the time the machine came in about 1 month later, I had improved enough by hand that I didn’t want to fiddle with the machine for roughly a gallon a day. You will get faster and faster!

      • Anne Taliaferro permalink
        June 10, 2012 9:38 am

        Thanks for the encouragement MOH Cloudtreeandsun! She seems to have plenty of milk, and let down is no problem at all. She starts dripping as soon as I begin to wash her down – sometimes before. I may just be too timid with my technique because I’m afraid I’ll hurt her if I squeeze too hard. I guess I just need to spend more time watching her calf butt her head and guzzle the milk. We are going to build a stanchion outside the stall too, and I think that will keep her from moving around too much. At least she doesn’t kick me. Her name is Angel, but yesterday when she planted her foot in the bucket when I’d gotten half a gallon of milk out I was thinking a name change might be in order!

        • June 10, 2012 10:04 am

          Anne, I know what you mean about the name change! Jane and I haven’t gotten to that stage yet, but I’m sure as soon as fly season gets here, we’ll have a few words 🙂

  16. June 8, 2012 11:53 am

    MOH do you think the share milking like you describe would work for goats as well? We are bottle feeding to end up with friendlier babies, but there are times it would be nice to leave them on the mom…

    • June 8, 2012 12:46 pm

      Adalynfarm, I don’t see why not, and they sure would be easier to handle than a calf, Blake is already stronger than she looks, we’re just lucky she hasn’t figured that out yet!

  17. Bee permalink
    June 8, 2012 3:09 pm

    We use a slightly different method. Mama and baby run together all the time. Early in the lactation when Maybelle (our Jersey cow) is producing about five gallons a day, we milk once or twice a day. As the calf gets older, we drop off on milking frequency, as we don’t need anywhere near that much milk all the time. We don’t drop off earlier because we want to establish a demand that’s fairly high at the start of lactation, since a cow gradually drops off normally as the months go by. By the time the calf is about five or six months old, we are usually penning Maybelle up at night and milking each morning. The calf nurses the rest of the time. If we need to be gone for a day or two, we just leave them together and resume the milking schedule when we get back. Remember all the old “thou shalts” of dairying? Take the calf away immediately, milk twice a day, exactly twelve hours apart, etc. I don’t know about you, but I’ve broken every one of those rules and not had any problems…

  18. June 8, 2012 6:33 pm

    That made for an interesting read, we used to milk for a living (well I’m not sure you could call it a living in the end and that’s why we got out of it) but we actually used to do this with our calves, as we thought it made for better calves and healthier mothers. We used to do a shorter milk on the feeding cows (and their milk couldn’t go into the vat with the other milk anyway so it was always put into containers and used as an extra feed for the calves if they needed some more) after we had put them in with their calves. We liked the calves to be feeding and drinking water as soon as they could as we found it make for better animals

  19. June 8, 2012 10:31 pm

    I like the idea of your milking regime and makes a lot of sense.

  20. June 12, 2012 3:39 pm

    There you go again – a girl out milking her cow in rubber boots… When I get my longed-for dairy cow, I’ll be going over all of these posts with a fine toothed comb! Unless your book is out by then, in which case I’ll just carry that with me wherever I go.

    • June 12, 2012 9:05 pm

      Sophie, rubber boots for sure! We’ve had about 7″ of rain since the first of June – this does not bode well for much gardening 😦

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