There is this rumour going around on the internet, that cows explode if you stop milking them. So is there anything to it? Or is it just an exaggeration of the truth? During my time working on a small dairy, I actually had the same question, as we had to milk every day. Here I not only want to share with you some facts about not milking the cow, but also explaining what happens if you don’t.
What happens if you don’t milk cows? Well, the answer is: it depends. If a cow, just gave birth or is breed to have a very high milk production, not milking would cause pressure to build up in the udder, which can lead to infections and cause great discomfort. Cows, which are generally not high producing dairy breeds, which keep their calves after birth, will naturally dry out without complications.
So what to expect, if you do not milk a cow? Can it cause a cow to die? How long does it take for the cow to dry up? And can cows explode if they are not milked?
When does a cow start to produce milk and how much
Heifers usually have their first calf at an age of 2 years. This also includes the 9 months pregnancy period. From this point on most dairy cows will produce a good amount of milk for the next 5-6 years. Afterwards, milk production will decrease slowly.
The amount of milk produced greatly depends on breed and purpose. A breeding cow produces very little milk, just enough to sustain her calf. Dairy cows, however, produce much more up to 8 gallons (30 litres) daily. Less specialized breeds will produce about 4 gallons (15 litres) on a daily basis.
Depending on the breed of cow and the phase of lactation not milking a cow can have different results. But what would happen if you suddenly stop milking a dairy cow?
What happens if you don’t milk a dairy cow
Not milking a dairy cow, can cause a lot of problems. A dairy cow will produce about 8 gallons or 30 litres a day. Adding to the problem of not milking is the missing calf, as they are normally kept separately to ensure higher milk yields.
If you stop milking this cow altogether, milk production will continue until the pressure starts to build up. This process normally starts a dry up phase, which will prevent the cow from producing more milk.
Because of modern breeding practices, it’s impossible for dairy cows to dry up naturally in a high production phase before facing serious problems.
For those cows, stopping to milk them will cause the udder to increase is size until it can not expand any further. This cow will be in serious pain at this point. Caused by the enormous size of the udder it will also be in the way of everyday activities, preventing the cow from properly standing, sitting or laying.
If pressure still isn’t released then the udder can rupture or get infected. Ultimately leading to the death of the cow, if she is not treated and pressure is released.
Can not milking cause a cow to die
So yes, cows can die, if they are not milked. This, however, only applies for dairy cows, with high milk production. Cattle used for Beef production or breeds, that are not used for unnaturally high milk production, will not suffer the same fate.
Cows producing about 1.3 gallons or 5 litres a day will just dry up naturally. This means the milk production will steadily decrease until no more milk is produced.
What is matitis
Mastitis is a bacterial infection. It causes inflammation in the udder of a cow. Mastitis is the most common infection for dairy cattle with many different causes, one of which can be neglect, or not milking the cow.
The increased risk for mastitis from not milking is caused by open teat ducts, which make it much easier for bacteria to enter and infect the udder. This infection will cause cows death, if not treated in time.
Normal treatment includes the use of antibiotics and other antibacterial and anti-inflammatory medicine directly on the udder. Getting rid of infected milk by milking further increase the chance of healing.
During the process of treating Mastitis a cows (mostly breeders) will dry up. It will take some time for the cow to fully dry up. Once dry, cows do not produce any significant amount of milk until they give birth again.
How long does it take for a cow to dry up
The time needed for a cow to dry up can vary quite a bit. Generally speaking, a period of 2-5 weeks is to be expected. This also greatly depends on how much milk the cow is currently producing.
In nature, a cow only produces enough milk to sustain her calf, which when it gets older will need less and less milk. This decrease in demand for milk will result in the cow producing gradually less milk until she is completely dry.
On farms it’s a bit of a different story, as milk demand never really decreases, the cow is normally milked every day, always keeping the milk production high. Once stopped milked this can cause an overproduction of milk leading to the same issues dairy cows do face.
It is very important to observe a cow, which is in the process to dry up, especially if the cow was used for dairy before. Breeder-cows generally do not face any significant problems during the drying phase.
What to do if you can’t milk a cow
The biggest challenge you will face when owning livestock and cows are one of the best examples of this problem is: you will always have to be present on your farm. Taking a day off and just leaving everything for another day is not possible on a farm with animals.
Dairy cows do have to be milked daily no matter what. Should you get sick, better find a replacement to milk your cows or get better, fast. It’s a bit of a different story with Cattle used for meat, you at least don’t have to milk them, but they still require you to be present, feed them and check if any problems arise.
To be fair, not milking your cow for one day, if the calf is present will not cause any problems for the cow, and if milking is continued the next day it will most likely not be a big fuss. Not milking a dairy cow should, however, be the last resort and not just an excuse for a lazy day.
Do cows need to be milked every day? This depends on the breed and use of the cow. Modern dairy cows, which are mostly Holstein do need to be milked two or even three times a day. However, cows not used for intense dairy production do not need to be milked daily, as the calf will drink up enough milk.
How long after pregnancy do cows lactate? Lactation of a normal dairy cow can last for about 300-400 days. Depending on the demand this period can be extended up to 4 years, but the amount of milk produced will decline over time. Normally dairy cows are being kept pregnant every year to increase milk production. A dry period of 60 days is common on smaller farms to help the cow during the last months of pregnancy.
Do Cows always produce milk? No, cows and every other mammal produce milk to feed their calves. Milk will not be produced before a Cow has given birth (at this point she is called a Heifer). After her calf reaches adulthood, the cow will slowly dry off, this takes about 8-9 months in total. Once dry a cow has to give birth again to produce milk.