Well, I was totally unprepared for the bellowing. Let me explain; to do once-a-day milking you lock up the calves at nighttime once they are several weeks old. You milk in the morning and then open up the calf pen so the babies can be with their mamas all day. At night, you lock the babies up in a pen where the mama can see and lick them, (but just not nurse them!), and repeat the next day. You eventually have to seperate mama and baby cause the baby will start taking all the milk, and grow too fast too soon. We could tell the babies were taking all the milk cause we were getting less and less each day. (One night, Abigail was empty and Bonnie only gave a half gallon.) Someone asked me if I was ready to hear them bellow and I laughed; we were giving them a low stress environment after all! They would be fine!
Well, we got the calves in the dairy pen the first night and went home satisfied. Then the bellowing started. Mama's calling to their babies in distress, babies calling back to their mamas. Jason and I were heartbroken. Our poor cows! We were trying to raise them in the most humane way possible and here they were totally stressed out and sad. I was comforted by the thought that AT LEAST mama and baby could lick each other, smell each other and even sleep on the opposite side of the fence together. When I night wean MY children, I am still close by touching and comforting them, I'm just telling them that we aren't going to nurse at this time anymore. We went to bed hoping tomorrow would be easier. When we woke in the morning to the cows still bellowing I practically pushed Jason out the door (the sun wasn't even up!) to milk the cows and let the calves out of their pens. All during the day the cows were happy, but that night they bellowed again. This was tough. Jason and I questioned what we were doing, but decided to stick it out.
I need to note that it is said that the dairy cow bellows for three days when her calf is taken away from her a few days after birth.
Day Two we woke up to peaceful cows and calves. It's like a light switch flipped on and the cows realized what was going on. When we locked up the calves that night, the mamas left the barn to go out and graze almost like, "I'm going out, thanks for the babysitter! See you in the morning!" Some nights the mamas stay out in the field all night and run up to the barn to meet their babies when we call them in the morning. They almost seem to enjoy this break from their calves.
We have successfully transitioned to once a day milking now. Studies show its 20% less milk, but 50% less labor. I guess you have to put a value on time to see if 20% more milk is worth 50% more labor? I'd rather just get another cow...
So, it ended well; but boy was it hard. Everything good requires sacrifice. To feed my children, many pigs, chickens, cows and deer must die. These animals don't only keep my babies stomachs from growling but they provide them with nutrient dense food that my children NEED to grow up healthy and strong. Dairy cows are no different. The benefits of raw grass fed milk are amazing, but they do come at a sacrifice. How about that for Cow Appreciation Day?
I'll end with some pics:
Here is our daughter practicing the milking motion with her hands. She is very proud of being able to milk a cow (to get a few squirts in the bucket).
While I was helping Jason in the dairy barn I turned my back for ONE SECOND and found this little guy, happy as a clam. Can you guess where he is?
He had climbed up onto the four wheeler all by himself! Our little guy loves the country life. What little boy wouldn't?
and because he's so cute, I'll add one last pic to leave you with...