Cows will not begin lactating for the first time until they become pregnant.
Farmers stop milking a pregnant cow around 60 days before she gives birth to ensure she produces ample milk for her calf.
But how long does it take for a cow to dry up after calving?
A cow will lactate for up to 10 months after giving birth before she has a decline in milk production. It will take approximately 4-14 days for the cow to dry up once she is no longer nursing or being milked. The cow will resume normal milk production levels once she becomes pregnant again.
Dairy farmers often use artificial insemination to keep the heifers pregnant and ensure high levels of milk production.
Average peak milk production occurs within 60 days after calving before drops in milk occur.
Read on for more information on the drying up period of cows after giving birth and when daily milk production will resume.
Do Cows Wean Calves Naturally?
Cows will naturally ween their calves at around ten months before any drops in milk production.
However, the calves are often separated from their mother within 3-8 months.
Calves need milk 2-3 times daily for about 6-8 weeks.
If the calves are separated from their mother too soon, they will need to be bottle-fed until they are ready to transition to grain feed.
Since up to 60%-70% of a heifer’s total milk production during lactation occurs within the first 60 days of calving, some dairy farmers remove the calves after just 24 hours.
Removing the calves early means the dairy farmer can take advantage of the average peak milk production instead of allowing it to go to the calves.
There is a lot of controversy in the dairy industry around separating the calf from its mother this quickly.
Both the heifer and calf may experience a lot of stress due to the separation.
The cow may dry up sooner if her calves are taken from her too early.
Gradually weaning a calf is often better for the health of the mother and her baby.
Another concern after a heifer gives birth is milk fever.
Milk fever occurs when a cow has low blood calcium, possibly within 24 hours after calving.
Cows with milk fever will produce 7-14% less milk than healthy cows.
To prevent milk fever, avoid feeding pregnant cows high-phosphorus foods and add a magnesium supplement to the heifer’s diet.
Once the cow has given birth, her calcium needs increase by up to 400%, and it is crucial to supplement her diet with extra calcium for several weeks.
Why Is It Important for a Cow to Dry Up?
A dry period allows a heifer to regain body condition and prevents the occurrence of mastitis.
If the cow does not regain body condition during the dry period, she will not produce as much milk when she begins lactating again.
When a cow is not allowed to recover properly because the drying period is too short, she may also suffer from a metabolic disorder.
A dry period of 40-70 days lets the mammary gland cells recover and ensures a higher volume of milk production in the future.
A dairy cow is usually impregnated around 30 days after calving, and the animal is not milked for 60 days before giving birth.
A dairy producer will begin drying off a cow by gradually reducing the amount of grain at each feeding.
When a cow is being milked, it will drink between 30-50 gallons of water daily.
Cows in the drying out period will also drink less than 10 gallons of water daily.
Whether the cow is drying off or being milked, the animal still needs constant access to clean water.
The drying-out period is also vital for cows to prevent mastitis.
Related Reading: What happens to cows when they aren’t milked?
Preventing and Treating Bovine Mastitis
Mastitis is an inflammation of the udders due to trauma or bacterial infection.
When drying out a cow, it is important to quickly end milk secretion so the teat canal will seal and prevent bacteria from entering the udders.
The dairy equipment used for milking cows must be cleaned and sanitized between each milking to reduce the spread of bacteria, which may cause mastitis.
The teats should also be thoroughly cleaned before and after milking.
Some breeds of dairy cattle, such as Holsteins, are more susceptible to developing mastitis than others.
Symptoms of mastitis in dairy breeds include:
- Swollen udders
- Heat coming from the udders
- Pus or discharge from the udders
- Lack of appetite
- Sunken eyes
- Digestive disorders
Treatment for bovine mastitis includes placing ice on the udders to reduce inflammation and gently milking at least once per day to remove the infected milk.
Antibiotics are usually administered to clear the infection in the case of bovine mastitis caused by bacteria.
Any milk the cow produces during this time will need to be thrown out until the udders are healed and the antibiotics are out of the cow’s system.
When Will a Cow Resume Daily Milk Production?
After a cow has dried out, she will resume daily milk production once she is pregnant again.
It will take approximately 45-60 days after calving for a cow’s body to heal enough to prepare for another pregnancy.
The average dairy cow will produce up to 70 pounds, or a little over 8 gallons, of milk daily.
Milk production is at its highest during the first 60 days after calving.
Heat stress or poor nutrition during a heifer’s dry period will decrease the amount of milk she produces the next time she lactates.
Deficiencies in protein, iron, calcium, and magnesium will reduce milk production for the heifer.
Related Reading: Cows having twins and what it means
When Should Calves Be Reunited with Their Mother?
Once a calf has been weaned, it should not be reunited with its mother until she has stopped lactating, which may take just over 30 days.
As a general rule of thumb, separating the calf from its mother for 30-45 days is best to ensure lactation has ceased.
Some dairy breeds take longer to stop producing milk than others.
If the calf is reunited with the mother too soon, she may begin producing milk again.
In the long term, resuming milk production without a proper dry period may cause the heifer to suffer from health issues.
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