Another inquiry about weaning calves. Italics are the questions:
My thinking is that our best bet would be to subdivide the run-in portion of our barn by relocating an unused metal gate and mounting it on one wall and connecting it with a central post for support. That way we would have both Mom and Junior under cover, out of the wind, etc., and close to hand when we wanted to milk in the AM, and Junior would be within sight, sound, and smell [?] of Mom. I presume that if the two are preventing from nursing, at least it would be better to have close contact– or would it be better to have them in totally separate pastures, about 150′ from gate to gate, both with 6-wire high-tensile electrified fence?
The gate idea sounds like a winner. If you can keep Mama and baby close enough to smooch but make sure the little one can’t get her nose through and nurse, it should work. They may complain, but presumably they’ll take comfort in one another’s presence. The idea when you separate FAR apart is for when you’re actually weaning and you’re trying to accelerate the amnesia.
We laughed when you mentioned giving Junior 2-3 quarts twice daily, since that’s probably about 5x what we got from Mom on the best milking day! I presume that that would change when we were controlling access. I tried doing an evening milking, thinking that maybe we were just getting low yields due to hitting her right after a big dawn breakfast for Jr., but the results at 5:30 pm were no better.
No, I wouldn’t expect that you’ll get much until you’ve pulled Junior off for twelve hours — Mama’s only producing what he’s been demanding. On the next lactation, if you’re milking as well as letting the baby have constant access to his mother, you should see a lot more milk in the first few weeks — until the baby gets big enough to take it all. That’s when you’ll start thinking of strategies to get more milk up to the house.
Curiously, her front two teats are much longer than the two rear ones. The back ones give pretty consistent yields, all things considered, but we’ve been milking them goat-style, with 3-4 fingers.
Dairy cows are being bred for such small teats that even the calves have a hard time using them.
Further note, upon discussing logistics with Barb:
A simpler option, weather permitting, would be to simply put Mom in the barn at night, and not release her until after she’s been milked. That would not require any further tinkering with the barn, but would presume that it was weather the calf was OK being out in. If a shelter was advisable, how would a couple of metal roofing panels set up as a sort of lean-to be?
Shutting up the cow accomplishes the same thing — isolation of mama from baby. My own concern would be if the calf was confused about where Mama was and went wandering, but it’s not likely so long as they can hear one another. And the roofing-panel lean-to sounds functional. Be careful of sharp edges, I’ve seen some mammoth tears in cowskin from metal roofing.
Is it possible to go from milk-sharing straight to weaning to grass? Going to the trouble of milking Mom out completely, then giving half of it back to Jr., plus the issue of training her to bottle or bucket feed seems like an awful lot of time and effort, when presumably the calf would progress to an all-grass diet naturally at some point. If we were not intervening at all, with the cows gone wild, or being beef cattle whose milk we did not care about, how would the calf’s dietary habits proceed? Is there any other benefit to weaning to bottle/bucket feeding vs. milk sharing which we are not seeing?
The only reason you might wean to a bucket/bottle is to increase the volume of milk the house is getting. Many (most?) cows, if they are nursing a calf, will hold back when they are being milked and save some for the calf, with the result that Baby will get more than just his/her twelve hours’ worth. When this happens, not only are you getting less milk, but the milk held back is the hind-milk, which contains most of the cream. Might be fine, but if you’re frustrated with the situation you can wean to a bucket so you, not the calf or Mama, decide how big your share of the day’s milk will be. Otherwise, milk sharing with the calf can (will) go straight into weaning to grazing.
We will probably try the locking-up-Mama-for-the-night approach, once the weather gets to be fairly consistently above freezing at night, with no desperate windstorms or inordinate precipitation in the forecast (we seem to get bizarrely windy weather here in the bowl of hills where we are located…) We will keep you posted on how it all pans out —