The “Secret” to Milking

Ethiopians maintain milk cows with none of the food supply Americans have, yet American books constantly warn of nutritional deficiencies.

If you read any books about dairy animals, they love to make milk production a great mystery.  As all modern Americans do, they usually imagine that the key to health and milk production is finding the secret combination of foods and nutrients that will, like some secret code, “unleash” the body’s potential, blah, blah, blah.

It’s not that complicated.

Yes, the animal’s diet must be sufficient to support milking–especially when most animals are pregnant during a part of their time milking.  However, animals give milk in Ethiopia. where the people have hardly any food themselves, let alone for the animals.  Therefore, there is no way that Americans, who have food coming out of their ears have nutritional deficiencies–unless they just eat garbage (as many do). 

The secret of milking is to remember that human beings, like all dairy animals, are mammals.  Milking, therefore, should not be a mystery to us.  However, the “experts” rarely look to learn from women who know more about milking that anyone.  When I have questions about milking animals, I ask my wife about her own nursing experience and they put it into practice with the animals…and it works.  Therefore, if you are a mother who has successfully nursed babies, you should have no problem at all understanding milking.   Just apply what you know to the cows and goats.

The most important part of milking is demanding milk of the mother animal.  Women produce milk on demand and as the baby grows, demand increases.  When the baby begins to eat other foods, the demand decreases.  We wean a baby by reducing feedings.  Therefore, our milking patters must resemble those of a heavily nursing baby.  In milking, we must place a routine demand on the mother for milk and it must be consistent.  Often, when the baby is still hungry, he will keep sucking, leading to additional “let-downs” of milk after the breast appeared to be empty.  The same happens with dairy animals.    Milking until the teat is empty is not to finish milking.  Continue working and massaging and more will come–not much, but that is not the goal of this.  The goal is to communicate a demand for more and that will lead to increased production and over the next few milkings you will see the quantities go up. 

For example, La Leche League, which provides counseling to nursing (human) mothers says this of women seeking to increase their milk supply:

 The breasts work on the law of supply and demand. The more baby “tells” mother’s breasts to make milk, the more milk she will have.

All of the advice has to do with keeping the baby sucking…not making the mother eat more, sleep more, etc… The baby signals the quantity of milk needed and the mother’s body responds.  Well, the milking farmer is replacing the baby when it comes to sending those signals and while there are natural limits, it is those limits were seeking to find and then maintain.  Normally, milk production gows down on the farm because the farmers are getting lazy.  They’re not maintaining their daily routines or they’re quitting early…and signalling to the mothers that LESS milk is needed. 

Even in poor countries, where food is scarce, mothers provide milk for babies.  Don’t fall for 1,001 suggestions abuot how to increase milk supply…just keep a routine milking schedule and place a heavy demand on the mother for milk…as her babies would. 

Note:  We do not use electric/vaccuum milking machines.  I do not offer advice for farmers that do not milk by hand.  In fact, I think most of the problems in modern dairies are caused by not having one’s hands on the animals.   Just a note.

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7 Responses to The “Secret” to Milking

  1. Makes perfect sense, of course.

    Guess what? I have another question for you! 😀

    I have heard of some families who don’t want to milk their cows at o-dark thirty in the morning, so they let her calf milk her then, and the family hand-milks in the evening. That way she is milked twice a day, but they don’t have to get up so early. What do you think?

  2. jessica hannon says:

    Paula, I know people that separate their goats at night, then milk the mama in the morning(after sunrise). The kids are allowed access to the mother all day at pasture, then separated again in the evening. I know it is not the same animal and I am curious to know if you could do this with a cow,too.

  3. jessica hannon says:

    Being an experience nursing mama, I found that having liquids (water,really) was more crutial to my milk supply then adequate/healthy food.

    • Jessica, I concur! Lots of water is crucial for having enough milk. However, lots of protein keeps me from completely falling asleep when nursing. Maybe it doesn’t matter whether a cow falls asleep while being milked – as long as she doesn’t fall on the milk maid!

  4. veromarybrrr says:

    Thirst can be a sign of the let down or milk ejection reflex. And breastfeeding makes mother and baby sleepy through the hormone cholecystekinen (hope I spelt that right, CCK for short). Your body should be able to tell you by thirst and hunger how much to eat and drink.

    • villapacis says:

      Doesn’t this require a sensitivity however that is destroyed by inordinate eating and drinking? Most Americans, who can’t seem to avoid being overweight, don’t even know what true bodily hunger or thirst feels like because we often eat to satisfy our desire to taste than actually be nourished physically. I would think that we had to establish a certain level of temperance before the true signs of hunger and thirst would be rightly sensible to us. No?

      • veromarybrrr says:

        True. Many people use breastfeeding as an excuse to eat heaps, but like you said, if women in Ethiopia can breastfeed then it can’t take that much extra food and drink to feed successfully. Some mothers get concerned about tiredness when feeding, thinking the baby is draining them, when its this sleepiness that helps them slow down and hopefully love their babies.

        You’ve hit the spot saying its keeping the baby sucking that increases supply. As a breastfeeding counsellor its frequent feeds, skin to skin contact, and some understanding of the let down reflex since it goes through the brain and anxiety can get in the way – probably easier to address with cows – I think they would be much simpler.

        Now I’ll be thinking about cows during my next helpline shift!

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