|Molly cow with her calf Ruby|
A cow makes the most milk after she first calves and then her production gradually decreases. The amount of milk she makes will depend on her genetics, her health and the quality of her feed. We notice a huge difference in milk production if we have lush green grass in summer compared to dry grass in winter.
For the first few weeks after the calf is born, you leave the calf with the cow and milk the cow twice a day. The cow will gradually produce less milk and as the calf grows, it will drink more milk, so the amount you get at each milking will decrease. When you’re only getting 2 L at a time for a few days, you can cut back to milking once a day, either morning or afternoon, and the calf gets the rest. When you’re only getting 2 L a day, you can stop milking altogether. Now if you want milk, you separate the calf from the cow, usually overnight, and milk your cow in the morning. This provides plenty of milk for us for one week, so we milk once a week and calf gets the rest. This means we can go away for the weekend if we want to. It also means that we have 10 L of milk per day for only the first few weeks, and then gradually less until we only milk when we want to, so we’re not constantly trying to use up all that milk, but we can make cheese for a few weeks with the excess.
The easiest way to separate the cow and calf is to lead them both into a small pen where the calf will spend the night. You then lead the cow back out of the pen, she is usually tamer and quicker to follow a bucket of grain or hay than the calf. You give the calf some grain and hay and a bucket of water for the night. Don’t set up this pen too close to the house, because you will have to listen to them both crying all night! Gradually the calf will get used to having its grain too, and will follow you into the pen by itself. Make sure that there is no way that the calf could manage to get a sneaky drink through the fence, or you will be disappointed in the morning when your cow still has no milk!