I had always toyed with the idea of having a family milk cow. However, the one thing that held me back was the idea of being tied to a milking schedule, twice a day, every single day for nine months. I have a family, and I don't like the idea of having to rush away from fun activities to milk a cow. My perception of milking changed, however, when I learned about share milking, also called once-a-day-milking.
The premise of once a day milking is simple. Rather than the farmer being responsible for emptying a cow's udder on a regular schedule, the farmer uses the calf to nurse on the cow and empty her bag.
How It Works
After my cows calve, I leave their calves with them. On traditional dairy farms, the calf is taken from the cow soon after birth and bottle-fed. I allow the mother cow to feed her calf. After all, in the first couple days after birth, the cow is only giving colostrum, a thick rich, yellowish liquid that is packed with nourishment and antibodies for the calf.
Once the cow's milk comes in, usually about three days after birth, I start milking my cow in the mornings. Usually, this early in the lactation, the cow is giving plenty of milk for our needs and for the calf's needs as well.
After three or four weeks, I find that the calf is taking more and more milk. Often, there is very little left for our family. So here's where I start the separation. Since I milk in the morning, I separate the calf from its mother overnight. I keep the calf in a pen adjacent to my cow so that they can see one another, but the calf cannot nurse. Just being able to stay together helps keep them both calmer, although they will both complain loudly about the situation for the first few nights while they are getting used to the routine.
If you prefer to milk in the evening, you should separate the cow and calf during the day. The bottom line is to keep the cow and calf separate for eight to ten hours before you milk.
The next morning, I get out my milking stuff and milk my cow as normal. Once we're done, I put the cow and calf back together for the day. I separate them each evening, and eventually, both the mother and the calf get used to the idea of their evening separation.
The main advantage of share milking is that the farmer can have some flexibility. If you want to go out of town, you don't have to find someone to milk for you. You simply leave the calf in with its mother the whole time you are gone. If you don't need several gallons of milk each week, you can only milk twice a week if you want.
Another advantage is that the cow will be at a lower risk for mastitis. The constant nursing of a calf is much better for mastitis-prone cows than allowing the milk to build up in her udder all day. Calves are more effective at completely emptying the udder than a milking machine or a person hand milking.
Another advantage to once a day milking is lower feed costs. Since you are less concerned with volume, you won't have to feed your cow expensive grain to keep her production up.
The major disadvantage to once-a-day-milking is that you won't get as much milk as you would if you milked twice a day. However, the milk is mainly for my family, and I don't sell it; so as long as we have enough milk for our needs, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
Sometimes, the cow will hold up her milk for the calf. This is a psychological issue of the cow wanting to save the best for her baby. You can do a few things to trick the cow into letting her milk down for you. Most often, farmers will bring the calf into nurse for just a minute or two, push the calf out of the way, and then wash the teats and finish the milking.
Once a day milking is an unconventional way of dairying, but most hobby farmers are pretty unconventional people anyway. This method allows farmers to enjoy their off-farm lives while still keeping a dairy cow. The cow and calf are healthier and happier living together this way. Everyone wins with share milking.