Our friend M. wanted some reminders for how to care for a first-calf heifer and her newborn. As he pointed out, one of the biggest obstacles for the small farmer/homesteader is the lack of peers, neighbors who do anything similar. When you’re the only dairy cow owner around, there’s no one to use as a sounding board when things events throw you a curve ball.

Q: My cow calved Sunday afternoon. I noticed when her udder was full that she’s got a fifth very small teat! Have no idea what problem this might be: will it need to be milked? Or is it just an extra on one quarter and can be ignored?

A: Common, probably insignificant. Since the quarter has a normal teat, that teat will drain the reservoir. Just ignore the extra.

Q: I’m starting to wonder whether my Jersey/Limousin heifer is really more Limousin than Jersey. 
I’ve left the calf on, and so far here’s what I’ve received:
Sun afternoon: birth;

Mon 6am: ~ 1 quart (didn’t weigh); Mon 5:30 pm: ~ 8 lbs; Tue 6 am: ~ 5 lbs; Tue 5:30 pm: ~ 5 lbs; Wed  6 am: ~4 lb; Wed 5:30 pm: ~ 3 1/2 lbs; Thur 6 am: ~ 3 lbs; Thur 5:30 pm: ~2 3/4 lbs.

But I’m thinking as this calf is really taking almost as much as she produces, I probably won’t need to milk at all by next week. And if I wean the calf off completely, I’ll probably only get less than a gallon each milking. ‘

A: Well, right now her milk is just starting to come in — she doesn’t make the same volume of colostrum as she will of milk — so what you have here isn’t surprising.  Never fear, she’ll make more milk! I think two things are going on — yes, her calf is taking a lot, but I’m guessing she’s holding back her milk for you.  See how much cream is on what you get: if it’s only a half inch or so, she’s holding her milk back.  Can you milk one side and let the calf take the other?  She’ll let down then. Give her time; she’ll get used to the routine and decide you’re her other calf.

In any case, she’s a first-calf heifer, so she’s not going to make as much milk as an older cow — nothing in the five gallon per day range, for example.  Over the next few weeks she’ll be increasing in production. If her calf is a bull, he’ll take a lot of what she makes, and by the time the calf is six weeks old it will take most of her milk regardless of whether it’s a bull or a heifer calf.  At that point you’ll either separate them half time, wean the calf to a bottle and milk full time, or go without significant amounts of milk for a while.  No problem — as long as the calf is nursing she’ll lactate, and if you like you can let the calf take it all until you want to start up milking again.  I sometimes put a first calf heifer and her baby out with the dry cows for the summer, then wean the calf at the end of the summer and milk the cow over the fall and winter.  

Oh, yes, and (neighbor’s name) is milking two Jersey/Limi crosses and they give lots of milk — two gallons each, a day, they were giving in January on just grass.

As M. says, what would help us most is having other farmers around to share things with. We’re looking forward to our conferences this year, when a great many homesteaders/small farmers will be gathered in one place to talk about their favorite subject. October will be Homesteaders of America, in Front Royal, VA, and as they are having a membership drive the week of March 22 – 28 ($10 off the basic $35 membership), this would be a good time to join and buy tickets.