My cow Katika is now officially dried off and on her annual two-month vacation. No more fresh milk until she calves (knock wood!) at the end of June.
I had weaned Rocky, Katika’s own yearling calf, in early March before we went to Florida, when the weather finally felt safe for him to have the weaning ring in his nose. Then I weaned her foster bull calf, Duke, at the beginning of April. Since Katika barely tolerates foster calves, to wean them is blessedly simple. It merely requires not letting the calf out while she’s locked in her stanchion. Et voilà, he’s weaned.
The following week I began to decrease how much milk I took every day. It amazed me how quickly her production fell off. Three gallons one day; one gallon the next. I stopped milking altogether on Good Friday. Yesterday I noticed her front quarters were quite full. When I felt her bag it was warm and solid and meaty, like a baby’s bottom. A dried-off udder should be loose and floppy. Too much heat would indicate mastitis. I milked just to be sure everything was OK.
She was fine. I only took about three quarts. When I got home I strained it and jarred it as usual, only realizing on looking at it, that of course the greyish milk was not good. It looked just like what it was — milk that had sat around in a warm place (her udder) for three days. I dumped it.
The last milk in her bag should resorb over the coming week.
Simply with weaning, Katika is looking much better. Her winter coat is almost completely shedded and she is regaining her gloss. Though I can still see her ribs, her tell-tale short ribs and spine are properly covered with a light layer of fat. For a while there she had been reminding me of a moth-eaten old carpet propped up on sticks, so this is very rewarding. My friend who grew up on a dairy farm had been worried by how much grain I was feeding her (about 12 pounds a day). Though this isn’t a huge amount for a dairy cow, it made him nervous. Now I will cut her down to half that. In another two or three weeks we will have grass and she will happily graze all day, building up her reserves.
The forecast is for dark skies and rain every day this week, but the temperature is not due to fall below freezing. I imagine the rain thawing the soil and calling up the grass, and I don’t mind.
Drying off my cow is always a time of mixed emotions. On the one hand, I’m relieved: no more milking! One less chore every day. On the other hand: no more milk!
It will be strange to make my way to the dairy case in the supermarket.