What is Drying Up? The Dairy Cow's Journey at CT Ranch
February 24, 2024
At CT Ranch, we're all about understanding every aspect of our bovine buddies' lives, from hoof to horn. Today, let's delve into the intriguing world of "drying up" and what it means for our dairy cows.
So, What Exactly is Drying Up?
Think of it like hitting the pause button on the milk production line. Our dairy cows benefit from a hiatus to recharge their bovine batteries. Producing milk takes a ton of energy, and giving our cows a break ensures they stay healthy and happy during their pregnancy.
The Drying Up Phase: Saving Energy for the Big Day
Yes, cows produce milk even while they are pregnant! As our cows approach the 8-month mark of their pregnancy, it's time to start thinking about drying them up. Near the end of their pregnancy, their milk naturally starts to change to colostrum (the first milk rich in antibodies for newborns) making it the perfect time for them to take a breather.
That's when we step in and give them a much-needed break from the milking routine. We give them this break in their milking routine to save them even more energy as they get closer to birthing their calf. During this phase, we remove the higher calorie alfalfa from their diet and switch them to just grass or hay. This decrease in calories stops their milk production and gears them up for the exciting journey of motherhood once again.
Why do we remove the alfalfa from their diet?
Now, here's where things get a little tricky. While nutrient dense, calorie rich alfalfa is a staple in our cows' diet, especially when they're producing milk, timing is everything. If we give them alfalfa right before calving, it can spell trouble in the form of “milk fever.” This nasty condition occurs when a cow's calcium levels plummet, leading to a host of health issues. To avoid this, we carefully monitor their alfalfa intake and adjust accordingly.
The Weaning Process: A Gradual Transition
After the mama cow has her calf we let the two remain together for the first few weeks so the baby can get all the milk they need. When it comes to weaning, we like to take things slow and steady. After the first three weeks, we start separating the calf from its mama at night. This allows us to gradually increase our milking sessions on mama from once to twice a day. By the time the calf is 4-6 months old, they're pretty much taking all the milk, signaling that it's time to start the weaning process. We do this in the gentlest way possible by separating them into adjoining pastures that are separated by a fence where they can still see each other and socialize but the baby cannot nurse any more. Trust me mama is ready for the much needed break by this point!
The Breeding Cycle
Once our cows have had their well-deserved break, it's time to get back in the game. We typically wait 4-6 months after they've calved before breeding them again. Interestingly, they can cycle even while still producing milk, proving that these ladies are true multitaskers.
Pregnancy Tests and Milk Samples: The Science of Reproduction
No, we don't use cow urine pregnancy tests (trust us, we've tried!). Instead, we rely on milk samples to determine if our cows are expecting. Once we get the green light, it's time for our mama cows to kick back, relax, and grow a baby for the next 8 months.