Back when I first got my Jersey cows, I figured that having a nurse cow would simplify the chores on our farm. I thought I could put her out in the field with the beef herd, she would raise the calves, and that was all that I\'d have to do with her.
If you choose a dairy breed to be your nurse cow, there could be more complications than you might think. Many nurse cows do okay, but most of them need a little extra TLC to stay in prime condition. Here are the three main things that you should know about having a dairy nurse cow on our farm.
Feeding a dairy breed of cow is almost always different from feeding a beef cow. Especially if you bought your dairy cow from a commercial herd, you will probably need to supplement her pasture grazing with some more nutritious food. You see, the animals on commercial dairy farms are genetically designed to give lots of milk and eat lots of food. The poor cow can\'t help it, but most dairy cows need quite a bit of high-quality food to stay in condition. Even if you have no need for 4 or 5 gallons of milk, she may produce it anyway and her body condition will suffer as a result. When her body condition goes down, she will be less likely to breed back on time.
Be sure that you use your cow\'s body condition as an indicator of her health and nutrition level. Learn about Dairy BCS and keep an eye on her. She will never be as chubby as a beef cow, but she shouldn\'t be skin and bones either. If she starts getting too thin, increase her feed.
Dairy cows, because of the copious amounts of milk they produce, are more likely to get mastitis. If you are using her as a nurse cow, having a vigorous calf bumping up against a full udder can contribute to inflammation and infection. You should keep an eye out for this illness, and if she goes off feed and starts to look sickly, squirt a bit of milk out into a cup. If it looks lumpy, stringy, or mucousy, she has mastitis and she needs to be treated for it. The calf can still drink the milk from a mastitic cow, but you should separate her from the calves for at a good part of the day. The medicine must stay in the udder to kill the infection, so you will want to allow the calves to nurse, take the calves out of the pen, and then insert the mastitis medicine into her teat. Keep the calves away for at least 8 hours. Follow the instructions on the box and talk to your vet if the infection doesn\'t clear up soon.
3. Calves can\'t drink it all at first.
In the first few weeks of a calf\'s life, he may have a hearty appetite and still be unable to drink all of the milk in the cow\'s udder. Unless you have several bottle calves available to help keep her bag drained, she may get mastitis if you don\'t milk her out. Until you get the bottle calves installed and adopted by the cow, milk her at least once, preferably twice a day.
However, like all farm projects, you should stay very flexible. If you lose a bottle calf or one gets sick and has no appetite, the cow will still need a way to relieve the pressure on her udder. Be humane and help her out by milking her. You can freeze the excess milk, bucket feed it to older calves, keep it for your family, or feed it to pigs, chickens, or dogs. Whatever you do, don\'t ignore her; a swollen udder is painful for the cow and she will drop in milk production if you don\'t release some of that pressure.
Nurse cows are great animals to have on the farm, but they are far from maintenance free. In my experience, my dairy cows need quite a bit more feed and a lot more attention than a beef cow to stay in good shape. While I enjoy the work, they are far from low-maintenance animals. Know what you are getting into before you buy a dairy cow as a nurse cow.