Today, we are going to talk about drying off a family milk cow.
It is sad.
Then again, it is good.
First, the sad part:
We are no longer milking Emme, our family milk cow. Needless to say, we are really missing the fresh raw milk... and cheese... and yogurt... But most of all - the ice cream!
That's right, no more ice cream for dinner - I mean literally, dinner consisted of ice cream many nights. If you remember, we had many flavors of ice cream like Blueberry, Coffee and of course, Vanilla, for dinner on hot summer nights through the end of September. We have reverted to our time living in Switzerland and adopted the European tradition of having our biggest meal midday and a light dinner in the evening which, after all, ice cream is! It was especially refreshing after working in the vineyard heat all day.
Now for the good news:
Emme is pregnant! Her due date is the middle of January. It was just about time to dry her off anyway.
Have you ever heard of drying off a family milk cow? I hadn't until we bought Buttercup and I read Keeping a Family Cow. Drying a cow off refers to the period when you stop milking her and it is normally done about 6 weeks before the cow delivers a calf.
Emme had dropped in her production of milk to about a quart twice a day. Now, let me tell you, it is not worth getting out of bed a 6 am for 1 quart of milk ! So, when we decided to stop milking Emme, everyone was glad. In fact, you might say, "glad" is an understatement!
I wish I had a "before" photo for you to see her udder when she is producing but I don't. But, I do have "after" photos - after the drying off process that is. You can see in the photo below a side view of Emme's udder - it is small and flat.
I guess it is hard to tell so maybe this will help - here is a back view - the dark thing on the left side is her tail.
When she calves her milk will come in and her udder will look very different - more like a surgical glove all blown up with the fingers barely sticking out.
The milk production in cows is very similar to that of humans. Cows need to give birth to produce milk - like we do. And, just like us, the quantity of milk is greatest after birth - for Emme the production level continues for about 1 month before slightly decreasing. The further a cow is from having calved the less milk she gives. It is a natural process of supply and demand for the milk supply to taper off as the calf gets older. It makes sense because, as the calf gets bigger, it eats more grass and needs less milk. So, the mother's milk supply dwindles because the demand is less.
When the time to dry off a cow comes, we normally begin stretching out the miking times which further helps the milk supply to decrease. Then, after a week of stretching out milking time, we begin milking only once a day and do this for a week before stopping completely.
In Emme's case, she really dried herself off! Her milk production never recovered after we sold Buttercup. I would never have dreamed that cows are such emotional creatures!
It is important to give a family milk cow a rest period before calving for the calf's growth and development, as well as, to build up her body to be able to produce milk for the calf. Even if Emme had not dried herself off, we would have within the next couple of weeks. This lack of milk was earilier than expected but expected none the less!
When Emme calves in January, she will freshen with about 6 gallons of milk a day. That will make a lot of dairy products including cheese, oyster stew and ice cream! Until then, I have resorted to buying raw milk to drink from a local supplier.