Note: Everything said below is also true of dairy goats, for which we practice the same methods.
On our farm, we milk our cows once per day, around 9am. We get 2.5-4 gallons of milk per cow. Our cows are fed 12 lbs. of corn, 6 lbs. of soybean meal and whatever grass, hay and water they want throughout the day. They raise their own calves who grow up beautiful and healthy. We don’t spend time bottle or bucket-feeding calves. We don’t spend time trying to get every last drop from the cows at milking time. We don’t use milking machines.
How do we do it?
1. At 7pm, we put our calves into pens in the barn and separate them from their mothers. The cows are fed richly and then set out into a small, dry pen area. They are left with a ring full of hay and plenty of water for the night.
2. At 9am, we bring our cows in for washing and leave them to dry while we attend to the other animals. There’s no crazy 5am work schedule here. We have to pray in the morning and we’re up late working in the office–I’m up until 2am usually. We milk when it’s convenient for our family, farm an business. Our cows love being washed–they even lift their legs for us when we brush their udders. When dry, we feed them richly and milk them–by hand. I stress this manual washing and milking because it is impossible for any serious problems to develop in our cows. We have our hands and eyes on them every day and when ANYTHING looks off, we take care of it before anything serious develops. Most of the illnesses and infections you will hear about with cows are caused by the cows being served by machines–which don’t check to see if they’re healthy.
Their diet (at each feeding) consists of 6 lbs. corn and 3 lbs. soybean meal, for a total of 18 lbs. of grain per day at about 25% crude protein. The mill charges $8 per bag for corn and $15 per bag of soybean meal, we can buy high quality hay at $3-5 per square bale. If feed is purchased, it costs about $2 per feeding to feed each cow plus about $4 for hay per cow per day as we do, which can be compared to the value of the milk, manure and calves provided. So, $12 of feed for $20+ of milk, garden manure and a calf that will be worth over $1000 whether female (future cow) or male (future meat). As you produce your own feed the profitability continues to increase with time.
3. After the morning feeding/milking, the calves are released from their pens and spend the day with their mothers at pasture. They drink all they want from 10am to 7pm, when they are separated again. We put the calves in pens and leave the cows outside because it keeps the cows cleaner than keeping than in stalls overnight. This is an important part of the dairy because the calves strip all of the mother’s milk that is left after milking and place a high demand on the mothers for milk throughout the day. Milk production increases with demand and, after the calf spends all day calling for more milk, the mother spends the evening preparing it…for us to collect in the morning. The calf gets the gallon or two he/she needs and we get the rest.
That’s how we do it…and it’s very pleasant and productive.