The day we brought our sweet milk cow home was a glorious celebration. Her name was Faith. We couldn't wait until morning to get our hands on that udder. Words could not tell you how excited we were to have our own fresh, raw milk.
Unfortunately, just a week after we got our first milk cow she was sick.
Here's the quick version:
• Our cow had spent her entire milking life on a dairy farm.
• She lived with 120 other cows and a wonderful milk pump.
• Her electric milk pump emptied her udder in 30 seconds.
• I am not an electric milk pump.
• It takes me 10 minutes to empty an udder — with help — on a good day. Go here to read about that.
• Faith got a bad case of mastitis. Go here to read about that.
Now that we are all on the same page ...
Next, our vet came to the rescue.
He instructed us to give her a 7-day treatment of excellent antibiotics (teat infusion) to clear up the mastitis. After the 7 days of treatment we gave her an infusion that dried up her milk and supplied an antibiotic that would stay in her udder while she was dry. Go here to read all about teat infusion & how to do it.
It was about time for us to dry her off anyhow. She was expecting her calf in a few months.
Dairy cows are dried off a couple of months prior to calving so they can have a rest. It gives the cow's body a rest from producing milk. It also helps provide a healthy start to that little one.
Faith got some rest, so did her udder. She had an adorable bull-calf named "Henry" 2 months later.
When Faith's milk returned it was good. It was orange and thick and disgusting (normal, cow colostrum); however, it was mastitis free ...
With the calf "milk-sharing" Faith remained mastitis free for 10 months. When the calf was sent to the processor our mastitis battles began again.
We invested in an electric milk-pump to milk Faith. This was a worthwhile investment and did keep the mastitis at bay for the most part.
In time, we leaned that Faith had a staph-infection that was basically incurable. We could feel the "lump" that lived in one of her quarters. Our vet tried his best to fix our cow — but, unfortunately, his hands were tied. We could cull the cow or learn to live with it.
Since we loved our Faith, we chose to live with mastitis too. I can say that it was not fun, but it can be done. We were able to control Faith's mastitis for years before she passed away.
Here are my best tips for surviving mastitis:
• Stick to a schedule — Being late, early and moving milking times around is the enemy and can bring on a mastitis flare-up. A healthy cow has all sorts of flexibility with milking times. If your cow has a tendency toward mastitis you will want to keep her on a set schedule.
• Use an electric milker if at all possible — There is just no way to empty an udder in 4 minutes by hand. Once the milk "lets down" you want to get it out of the udder as soon as possible.
• Strip her out — if you don't know how to strip out a cow with an electric milker, go here. It is very important that you get every last bit of milk out of that udder. An empty udder is a happy, healthy udder.
• Milk more often — especially if you suspect an infection — the more often you milk, the better. There have been days when my milk was thick and wouldn't strain (a sign an infection could be coming) and I just milked the cow 3 or 4 times that day. It has been a great tool to stopping an infection before it got started.
• Keep the calf or get a calf — this may be the best solution we have found. If there is a calf in the field keeping the udder empty, the mastitis seems to stay away. To learn how to share with a calf go here. To see where we get our calves go here.
• Keep your cow healthy — make sure she is getting the grain she needs, the hay she needs and the minerals she needs. Milk cows have different needs than beef cows. Be sure yours has a proper diet.
To read more about our battle with mastitis and how we have managed: