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Drying off a house cow without antibiotics

Its important to "dry off" a cow before she has her next calf, this allows her body to recover and prepare for her new baby.  It is recommended that you give the cow at least 6 weeks, but it all depends on the cow's condition, the available feed and the calf (if it will also be weaned at the same time).  Drying up is nearly as risky for mastitis as the start of lactation, so its a time that needs to be carefully managed.  The two options are to either stop milking completely, or to gradually stop milking as much until the cow is making very little milk.

Molly with baby Monty 6 months ago
In the past, when we dryed off Bella, it was simply a matter of taking the calf away to be weaned in another paddock, and milking Bella a few times (not taking all the milk) until she stopped producing.  She was usually only making 4L by that stage, so there was no problem.  This method is not recommended as it doesn't allow a natural plug to form in the teat (maybe that's why Bella got mastitis last lactation).

We were not prepared for Molly!  We decided that she needed to be dried up, even though Monty is only 6 months old (he could have had a bit longer).  We have Bella in milk, so we didin't really need to milk Molly and she was looking very thin, and Monty very fat.  We didn't have much good grass for Molly, so we decided to dry her off so we could try to feed her up to better condition before she has her next calf (in maybe 4-5 months).  At first we tried the same method we used with Bella, but Molly was making 10 L at each milking (daily), which didn't seem to decrease, no matter what we did for 2 weeks (I made a lot of cheese and ice cream!).  This explained why she was so thin and why Monty was so fat, she is such a good cow!

Finally we realised that we were going to have to stop milking (and that's when I found out that the other method isn't recommended) and let her body stop making milk.  The key here is that we also changed her diet.  The problem with milking her is that we feed her grain when we milk, so it was difficult to reduce her protien intake.  When we stopped milking, we stopped feeding grain too.  We just gave Molly lots of hay to fill up on, and a tiny amount of grain with all her minerals (and extra garlic for antibiotic properties).

I was a little put off by the conventional advice to use an intra-teat antibiotic and an artificial teat sealant to prevent mastitis.  I didn't want to do either of those things, and I had to trust that Molly's own immune system was strong enough to manage what should be a natural process (although we have engineered dairy cows to make an unnatural amount of milk).  So if you're still drinking non-organic milk, those cows are routinely treated with antibiotics when they are dried off.  They will be out of the "with-holding" period by the time you drink their milk, but is it really safe?

Gradually, over the next few weeks, Molly's udder began to shrink, so we knew it was working.  Molly seemed happy with the hay, but lonely (she had to be separated from the others so she didn't steal their grain, being he dominant one with horns).  We won't know until she has her calf if we've been succesful, but I'm hoping my big strong Molly cow is going to be ok.

Here's some useful links if you want to know more:

Conventional
http://www.lely.com/en/farming-tips/drying-off-the-dairy-cow
http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/404/404-212/404-212.html
http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/sfn/su10dryinglivestock

Organic
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3113871/
http://orgprints.org/7681/
http://www.homesteadorganics.ca/dairy.aspx

Any tips for drying off milking cows or goats?

You might also be interested in my series on getting started with homestead dairy

Comments

  1. Awww Molly, hope you're all ok soon xx

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh wow! It's such a huge wealth of knowledge you've had to embark on in this adventure isn't it! She's beautiful - hope all is well x

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for this post, Liz. I have been wondering about drying up a larger producing animal. Our new goat gives us 3 L per day (which is heaps for a goat!) and she does the same thing , her body keeps giving and giving because she is a really good milker. I will be able to use this advice when it is time to get her back in kid again ,because like you , I was concerned about mastitis .

    ReplyDelete
  4. I hope you do find it useful Kim. It is difficult Bekka Joy because most of the information is for commercial dairy herds and we do things quite differently :) Thanks Rachy!

    ReplyDelete

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