Any cow and dairy farmer will tell you how important it is to keep milking your cow.
To ensure consistent milk production, cows are milked on regular schedules, typically two or three times daily.
But we all get busy sometimes, and milking may be forgotten.
What happens if you don’t milk a cow?
If milking is skipped, milk builds up in the cow’s udder, causing discomfort. If a cow isn’t milked for a significant period, it could cause engorgement, bruising, udder injury such as rupturing, sickness such as mastitis, and even death after several consecutive days of not milking.
Dairy cows are bred to produce more milk and fed hormones to increase milk production, creating a need for careful dairy management, which a homestead situation with a cow with a calf would not.
The mother cow and calf are separated soon after the calf is born with commercial milk cows.
The milk from the dairy cow then goes towards the commercial operation.
To find out more about milking cows, read on!
How Often Should a Cow Be Milked?
When considering how often to milk a cow, think about the cow’s age, breed, and purpose.
Younger and certain breeds of cows produce more milk.
Some breeds are not suitable for dairy farming on a large scale.
The more you milk a cow, the more milk it will produce, to a certain extent.
A breed of cow kept to produce milk without raising a calf needs to be milked daily, two to three times a day.
A dairy cow with a calf to raise will produce enough milk for her calf and for you to milk her once a day.
Producing milk takes a lot out of commercial milk cows, and they need good nutrition to support all the extra milking.
Even with the best care, modern large-scale farming methods are hard on dairy cows.
Common commercial dairy cows in the U.S. are:
- Brown Swiss
- Red and White
- Milking Shorthorn
Do You Have to Milk a Cow Every Day?
Cows on dairy farms have to be milked every day, two to three times a day, to keep up milk production.
A normal dairy cow on your homestead, with a calf nursing, can skip a day of milking here or there.
Her calf nursing will prevent her udder from becoming overfull right away, but it is not a good practice.
Also, a reduction in milking will cause a reduction in the supply of milk.
A good family milk cow option is the Holstein or Brown Swiss cow, or, for a smaller homestead, a Jersey cow or Dexter cow.
Related: Are jersey cows good for meat?
When Does a Cow Produce Milk?
If a heifer (a cow under the age of two) is going to be kept for breeding and not meat or milk production, she will be bred at two years of age.
After she has the calf, she will produce about four gallons of milk daily to feed the calf.
Dairy cows have been bred to produce more milk than is necessary to feed their calves, as they produce about eight gallons daily.
All dairy cattle must give birth to one calf per year to continue producing milk and are artificially inseminated about three months after they have a calf.
Dairy cows produce milk for five or six years and taper off production as they age; in the commercial setting, their productive years are between 2.5 to 4 years.
Dairy cows are often slaughtered after they no longer produce milk or calves, as it is economically unviable to keep feeding them.
What Happens If You Stop Milking a Cow?
If you stop milking a dairy cow, milk production will continue until the pressure in the udder builds up.
The cow’s body will begin a dry-up phase to stop producing milk at this signal.
Modern dairy cows cannot dry up faster than they produce milk, leading to severe problems.
The udder will expand until it cannot expand anymore.
The cow will be in significant pain and unable to stand, sit, or lie down properly.
Milk ducts may clog, and the udder may rupture or become infected, ultimately leading to the cow’s death.
What Is Mastitis?
Mastitis is the name of the bacterial infection cows gets in their udder.
Not milking the cow is one of the causes of mastitis.
Mastitis infections can travel through a herd via shared milking equipment or even staff handling, lowering milk production significantly.
Dairy farmers pay close attention to somatic cell count (increased number of immune cells) in their herds to head off mastitis infections and maintain the quality of milk levels.
Treatment of mastitis involves antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications.
It also involves getting rid of the infected milk by milking, which is a tremendous relief to the cow.
Due to the mastitis, the cow’s milk will dry up until she has another calf.
Is Milking Cows Cruel?
In and of itself, milking is not a problem for cows.
It relieves the pressure of the milk in the udder, and they seem to appreciate it.
Poor milking technique, sore teats, and other problems can make cows not like being milked.
One dilemma of dairy cows arises in the practice of separating the cows from their calves.
Not only do they grieve for each other, but it also makes a difference in how the calves grow up.
A study in Vienna has shown calves who grow up with their mothers are much more sociable animals.
Some dairy cow owners have taken to a smaller dairy model where they can raise the calves with the mothers.
Dairy breeds are more efficient for the dairy farmer but produce so much milk (twice as much as an ordinary cow with a calf) that they must be milked often.
The cow’s limited life span and quality of life is also an issue some contend with regarding the commercial dairy industry.
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