Raising Dairy Cows, Part III

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PHOTO: RANDY KIDD
Consistency in your milking routine is key to Bossie's comfort, and one of the keys to raising dairy cows.

In “Raising Dairy Cows, Part I,” and “Raising Dairy Cows, Part II,” I presented “ten commandments” to
help you raise your own healthy backyard dairy cow. And now
that the basic methods of feeding and caring for of Bossie
have been explained, it’s time to turn our attention to the
task of safeguarding the “liquid assets” produced by the
bovine boarder.

Cleanliness Is the Key

To insure that your homegrown dairy products are tasty
and safe to eat and drink, you should follow
several simple principles of milk handling. The first (and
most important) rule is to make certain the liquid doesn’t
become contaminated after it leaves the mammary gland. The
best way to assure this is to keep the milking equipment
and building scrupulously clean.

[1] Maintain a spotless milking area. You might want to
paint the enclosure white, so you’ll be better able to
see–and eliminate–fly specks or spots of fecal
matter.

[2] Keep strong odors out of the milking and milk storage
areas.

[3] Use only sanitized pans, strainers, and bottles.

[4] Don’t give your dairy animal onions, silage, cabbage,
moldy grains and hay, or any other feed that can impart an
“off” flavor to the milk.

[5] Make certain the beast herself is clean. Keep the hair
around and above the mammary gland clipped.

[6] Always scrub your hands before you set to work.

[7] Clean the udder prior to milking. Use a paper towel
soaked in a disinfectant solution to wash off any mud and
dirt, then throw that towel away. Next, clean each teat in
a dip cup filled with fresh disinfectant solution.
(The containers and cleaning liquids can be purchased from
farm suppliers or feed stores.)

[8] Finally, be sure that the milk itself is clean. Always
strip the first three or four streams into a black cup and
swirl the liquid around to look for the small chunks or
clumps that can indicate mastitis (an inflammation or
infection of the mammary gland).

Keep a Ready Routine

There’s more than one reason for washing your animals’
udders carefully. Milk flow is brought on by the hormone
oxytocin, the production of which is stimulated by
massaging the udder and performing other premilking
routines that the animal is accustomed to … such as
(noisily) scrubbing out the milk pail.

It’ll take from 45 to 90 seconds after the stimulation
begins to produce a milk flow, and the hormone’s effect
lasts only eight minutes. The milking process should thus
be finished within little more than eight minutes after you
wash Bossie’s udder.

When you’re done, dip each teat once again in fresh
disinfectant. This procedure leaves a drop of solution at
the end of the teat canal to help keep out infections.

Dairy animals must be milked at least twice a day, allowing
about 12 hours between sessions. If you milked three times
a day, you could likely increase production by 10 to 20%,
but the additional labor and time involved would
have to be weighed against the value of the extra milk.

More on Mastitis

Mastitis can occur in any dairy animal, including goats
(contrary to what many doe owners believe). The disease is
caused by a variety of organisms: bacteria, fungi, and
possibly viruses. It can be triggered by something as
seemingly inconsequential as a bump to the udder, which can
lead to inflammation and eventual infection. Cuts, bruises,
cold, dirt, or stress may also leave the udder vulnerable
to the invasion of mastitis-causing micro-organisms.

On the other hand, proper milking techniques can help
prevent the disease. The cleaner your cow’s environment,
the less chance there is of introducing mastitis-causing
organisms into the udder. The last little teat dip in
disinfectant–recommended above–will make it
difficult for such “bugs” to enter.

Extra care in the selection of your critters will help
prevent mastitis as well. A cow (or doe) with an udder
that’s carried tightly up against the flank (one with
strong suspensory ligaments! will suffer a lot less udder
banging and bruising than will an animal with a pendulous,
low-slung bag. And the less trauma the udder endures, the
less chance there will be for infection to occur.

The CMT and the SCC

Severe mastitis can be identified by clumps in the milk
(actually fibrous masses of infection-fighting white blood
cells) but evidence of milder cases isn’t always
visible. There’s a simple examination, however–called
the California mastitis test (CMT)–that helps bring
any cells present together, to make them detectable in less
advanced cases.

The CMT uses a white paddle-shaped device, which has
attached cups, and a blue indicator liquid. A stream of
milk from each teat is collected in a cup, after which a
few drops of the indicator are added. The examiner simply
swirls the two substances together, then tips the paddle
slightly so that the milk slowly runs to one side. If white
cells are present, they’ll show up as clumps, easily seen
against the blue color.

Another mastitis screening procedure is the somatic cell
count (SCC). Performed by the Dairy Herd Improvement
Association (DHIA), the test provides a count of the
somatic cells–white blood cells and epithelial cells, for
example–present in the milk.

An excess of somatic cells in the milk might be an
indication of mastitis. However, some epithelial cells are
continually sloughed off into the milk produced by any
animal, and the “normal” quantity will vary according to
the stage of lactation and the age of the beast. Your
herd’s DHIA records should help you determine whether a
critter’s cell count is normal or too high.

A Check Program

Take the following steps to keep a close watch for mastitis
in your dairy animals.

[1] Swirl the first few streams of milk around in a black
cup every time you milk, to check for evident mastitis.

[2] Periodically use the California mastitis test to
uncover any less obvious cases. (A general guideline would
be to perform the CMT once a month for nonproblem herds,
once a week for problem herds, and once a day for problem
individuals.) If your DHIA records provide a somatic cell
count, compare your cows to their norms. When an animal
scores higher, you should assume that she’s contracted the
ailment.

[3] Once mastitis has been diagnosed, feel the animal’s
udder. If it’s hot, call the vet immediately. Should the
udder feel only normally warm, though, simply milk the cow
out every two or three hours for a total of 72 hours.
(Discard the milk or–in light cases–feed it to
your pigs.) Many cases of mastitis can be cured without the
use of antibiotics by merely emptying the udder as often as
possible and letting Bossie’s immune system work its own
magic. (However, if the repeat CMT is still positive after
three days, call your vet.)

You can increase disease resistance in the udder by giving
all cows a two-month layoff between lactations. The
vacation will give their milk-producing systems a chance to
recuperate and regenerate.

Preparing the Milk for Consumption

You know, then, that your cow is udderly healthy … and she’s just given you a bucketful of fresh milk.
What should you do to guarantee that the beverage will be
fresh and tasty for the day’s meals?

Well, once you’ve got the liquid into a bottle or pan, cool
it–as rapidly as possible–to 40°F to
insure a longer shelf life and a better flavor.

After chilling it, you may want to pasteurize the milk.
This process will kill most of the disease-carrying bugs
that could affect humans. There are two ways to go about
the task. One is to heat the milk to 165°F for 20
seconds (actually, you just bring it to 165°F and then
shut off the burner). The other is to warm the milk to
145°F and hold it at that temperature for 30
minutes. Be sure to use stainless steel pans and to stir
the milk constantly with a stainless steel spoon while it’s
heating. (Copper, iron, or chipped enamel pots–and
metal thermometers–may give the milk an “off”
flavor.) When the time is up, quickly cool the liquid to
60°F, and store it at 40°F.

Pasteurization and animal testing have greatly reduced the
incidence of brucellosis and tuberculosis in this country,
but it’s still wise to exercise caution. Whether you
consume raw or pasteurized milk from your homestead animal,
test the cow (or goat) annually for both diseases.

And That’s Not All

Naturally, in order to keep your dairy cow producing milk
on a regular cycle, it’s necessary to breed her every year.
In “Artificial Insemination in Cattle,” I’ll explain the method often
used today to guarantee both new offspring and another
year’s supply of fresh, wholesome homegrown milk.