Drying Up — Time for a Break

Fresh spring grass really increased Sienna’s milk production.

The long-awaited day finally came — the day to dry up my family milk cow. Before Sienna calves, I always give her a break from milking. Of course, this means I get a break, too. Hooray!

Usually, I dry up Sienna three months before her due date. However, this cycle was different. It did not go as planned. Sienna calved in early July last year. After the calf is three months old, I make sure Sienna is bred back. Last fall, I decided to try artificial insemination, because I really wanted Sienna bred to a dairy bull. You can read all about that experience in AI part one and two. Long story short though, it did not work. Sienna went through two heat cycles without getting pregnant. Then I put her in with our visiting bull who got the job done. This meant she got bred much later than I had planned. 

As I’ve talked about in other posts, having a milk cow is a huge time commitment. I have to put off all trip plans until that window where either Sienna is dry or her calf is able to keep up with her production. 

Since I had already made plans for the months of May and June, I had to dry SIenna up four months ahead of her due date instead of the usual three. If I would have had a calf on her, I could have waited, but that in itself is a project. Her own calf had already been weaned months ago. (She would have been far too old to stay on Sienna so long.) That means I would have had to get Sienna to adopt another calf (if I could find one). I decided that it would be easier just to dry her up a month early. I surely don’t mind the extra milking vacation time. 

This is Sienna’s udder the third day after I stopped milking. The swelling isn’t bad at all. Compare to the photo below.

This cycle was also different because usually Sienna slowly decreases her milk supply as she gets further away from the date she calved. Not this cycle. The pasture grass started to really take off in March, so instead of a diet of hay, Sienna started to eat grass again. This increased her milk production. You may be thinking this is a good thing. Most of the time an increase in milk production is what you desire from a milk cow. However, not when you are trying to prepare for drying her up. Sienna was giving me almost four gallons a day. In the past, Sienna was giving less than two at the end of her cycle. 

Her is Sienna’s extremely swollen udder right after she calved last year.

I started decreasing her feed. I cut it WAY back and still her production was not decreasing. I guess it was the perfect combination of fresh, new grass and cool spring weather that really bolstered Sienna’s milk supply. (She tends to drop production in severe heat or cold.) 

I knew I shouldn’t try and dry Sienna up when she was giving four gallons a day. That abrupt stop could be harmful to her. I also didn’t want to take her off the pasture and give her hay again. Although that surely would have helped decrease her supply. So what to do?

I knew from past experience that if I changed from milking her twice a day to just once a day, her production would drop. So, that’s what I did. 

The first three days of the change were rough on Sienna. Her bag got really full, and one of her teats cracked. However, her body adjusted after that, and her supply dropped to two and half gallons. I actually expected her supply to drop even more than that, but it stayed steady at that mark for the next two weeks. When I switched to just milking in the morning, I paid close attention to any sign of mastitis, and I also made sure to use Udder Balm to help her crack heal. Thankfully, the crack healed quickly, and she didn’t get mastitis.

Besides decreasing her feed and only milking once a day, the other thing I did in preparation for drying Sienna up was make sure to put on Udder Balm after I milked. I should have done this last step before switching her to once-a-day milking. The balm keeps her skin from becoming too dry. More supple skin means it’s less likely to crack when her bag and teats get full.

On the advice of my vet, these are the ToMORROW injections I use when drying up my cow.

The last time I milked Sienna, I injected ToMORROW* in each of her teats, put on the Udder Balm, and, as always, sprayed her with the teat wash. I’m sure she’s been a little uncomfortable, but she seems to be adjusting just fine. Her bag and teats look healthy, and the swelling is going down. Thus, I begin May with a milking break! 

*I use ToMORROW as a mastitis prevention measure.

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