I could have kept on milking Daisy for another few months, but her milk production has dropped off and Willow needs to be weaned off milk now that she's five months old.
A break in routine will allow us a few short holidays as well.
For the past week I've taken eight litres from her on alternate days in preparation for the drying off and she will now stop producing milk after a couple of days of swelling. I find this to be the most comfortable for the cow and I'll keep an eye on her, watching out for any signs of discomfort or mastitis.
Daisy gave birth to her first calf in October last year. All of our cows are taught to foster other calves but she, being the highly strung little thing that she is, refused to accept another calf despite all of our efforts.
After trying all of our other methods of introducing a foster calf to a cow, Brian smeared onto the foster calf some of the placenta that we'd frozen with this purpose in mind should the situation arise, with the intention that she would lick the calf clean and then accept it.
Nothing we did would convince her to accept a new calf and so, after three weeks of trying we gave up.
Fortunately, Bella gave birth to Pumpkin a few days earlier and happily fostered the new little calf (Lavender) that we had purchased from another dairy with the intention of giving it to Daisy.
When our cows are fresh in after calving, there is plenty of milk for their own calf, more than enough for household use (cheese making etc) and sufficient for feeding another calf as well.
After the first four months, the calves can be weaned while another calf is brought in for raising. Generally, the cow's production will settle down to a steady amount and depending on the cow, if she has enough milk, another two calves can be raised. Or if for instance, I want to make lots of cheese every day, or feed orphan lambs, or grow pigs on milk, or if the cow's production has dropped I can raise just the one foster calf.
Another benefit of teaching cows to foster is being able to have small calves on your milking cow for a longer period of time. This gives us, the farmer, a bit more flexibility and freedom.
Of course the profitability of raising more calves has to be considered as well.
We can choose not to milk the cow on some days when we leave the calf or calves with the cow. On the days that we want milk we separate the calf (calves) from the cow for up to 12 hours before we want to milk. This can be overnight if you want to do the milking in the morning, or separate the calves in the morning if evening milking is your preference.
It's not a good idea to leave a calf of more than 5-6 months old suckling on a cow. The calf is getting very boisterous by this time and can damage the udder.
We also like to have more than one calf at a time so they have each other for company when separated from the cows. ALL animals will "do" better in company. They are happier, feed better, grow better and are generally healthier.
Daisy is due to have her next calf in April. Although, strictly speaking, we don't need to dry her off until two months before calving, we need to take a few short breaks away in the next couple of months before summer really hits.
Yes, even though we're living the dream, we too need holidays occasionally.
If she would comply to our wishes, and foster a calf, we could have put a new calf on her a month ago and retained our freedom to take holidays and have our milk as well.
She was initially inseminated on New Year's Day this year and, had all gone well, she should have calved in October (next month). However, things don't always go to plan and she slipped her calf at 3 or 4 months gestation. We had to start over again and call in the AI man once more.
Now that she's more experienced we're hopeful that she will accept foster calves next time around. What a beautiful quiet milker she has become and we feel quietly proud to have trained her in the niceties of milking parlour manners and routine. Most credit to Brian who spends endless hours gaining the confidence of our new milkers, training them gently from when they are still small.
Her calf, Klaus, is booked in for the "on farm" butcher to visit next month as he will be a year old and perfect for the freezer. The most nutritious and sustainable meat, straight from the paddock, no stress, no grain feeding (no irrigation, unsustainable farming practices and chemicals).
Grass Fed beef has finally found its place out there in the market place as more people realise the health benefits to the consumer and to the Planet.