Back Under the Udder Again

Sienna with her calf, Seven-Up.

Seven-Up is now nearly two weeks old. Thanks to his mama’s creamy, plentiful milk, he’s growing fast and gaining weight like, well, a cow. He’s half Jersey, of course, but the other half is Red Angus. I always like to see calves with spots and/or patches. I think they are cute and more distinct. However, Seven-Up is solid brown. He’s still pretty cute though with long black eyelashes and a black tip on his tail.

Three days after Seven-Up was born, I was able to start keeping Sienna’s milk. Here’s the first gallon and a half I kept. I repurpose gallon glass jars for the job.

Sienna’s milk supply is still quite hefty, and Seven-Up isn’t able to keep up. That means Milkmaid Mandi must milk twice a day until the calf starts drinking more. I’m not exactly sure how much milk Sienna is giving in a day right now, because I can’t measure what the calf drinks. Most people who have dairy cows separate the calves from their mamas, so they can get all the milk. Then the calves are bottle-fed. There are other people who just use their dairy cows as nurse cows and put multiple calves on them to raise. Even Sienna’s previous owner told me she separated her calves from her, because Sienna wouldn’t “let down” her milk when she tried to milk her. I will explain this.

A cow can actually “hold” her milk and not “let down” when you try to milk her. The “let down” reflex happens when the milk is allowed to flow freely. You may be able to get a little milk out, slowly, but it can be extremely frustrating when a cow won’t “let down.” Why would it do this? Well, there can be a couple different reasons. First, it’s not relaxed. If a cow is nervous and doesn’t want you to milk it, it won’t allow “let down.” Second, if a cow says, “Nope. I’m only giving my milk to my baby.” Then she won’t “let down” for you either. It’s pretty amazing that this can be a conscious thing for these not-so-bright animals. 

Anyhow, luckily, I have not had this issue with Sienna. I have also never tried to take away her calf. In fact, as I explained in my last post, I allowed the calf to come with us to the barn for the first couple of milkings. I think another part of it is that Sienna was so big and uncomfortable that she was probably very ready for me to take some of the milk off of her. The heavier the udder, the more difficult I think it can be for a cow to “hold” onto its milk very effectively. But, like I said, she’s never tried. 

However, my previous milk cow, Callie, did try to do this. It’s very annoying. The first couple of days can be exhausting, because what I had to do is try and get the calf nursing, so Callie would “let down,” and then I would usually try and milk her at the same time. Yes, you heard right. The calf is on one teat, and I grab hold of two others and milk as fast as I can. I’m sure it’s as amusing a sight as it sounds. 

Seven-Up wears a halter already, because it’s important for me to keep him used to being handled.

Not only do I think it’s much healthier for the calf to be with its mama, but, selfishly, it’s much, much easier for me. First, I don’t have to feed the calf a bottle twice a day. Second, the calf helps take the milk, so it doesn’t take me as long to milk. This is good, because after my three-month milking break, my hand muscles are out of shape. My hands have been sore trying to get back into practice. I assume other people who have similar soreness include massage therapists, knitters/crocheters, and those who work pizza dough all day. Just a guess.  

I believe Sienna is probably giving around four gallons of milk a day right now. Like I said, I don’t know how much the calf takes, but I’m getting almost three gallons from her a day in my bucket. Four gallons a day is a lot and much more than I need. However, it’s not that much compared to the big dairy Holsteins who can give something like 7 to 9 gallons of milk per day. Got milk? They sure do!

Sienna’s production is at its peak right now, right after birthing the calf, and will go down. Also, the calf’s consumption will go up. Pretty soon, I will only have to milk once a day. In about a month and a half is when I usually have to start separating the calf over a 12-hour period, so I can get any milk at all. As calves get bigger, they get greedier. A calf doesn’t need 3 or 4 gallons of milk a day. They only need about a gallon, so there is plenty to go around. 

In closing, I have to mention that I was so super thankful that Sienna did not come down with mastitis this time when she freshened! Yippee!

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