Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Tracking Milk Production for My Dexter Cow

After following several discussions on the Irish Dexter Cattle ProBoards forum about the importance of recording our cows' milk production, I decided to make like cream and rise to the occasion.

First, I started a flow sheet with Siobhan's name at the top.  After this lactation is finished, I'll print the entire set of records and put it in her file, as well as keeping it in her file on my computer.  I started the flow sheet with some notes that I thought were important.

  • The date she freshened with notes about how she nursed Macree.  
  • The date she was first milked.
  • A brief summary of her production from the lowest amount to the maximum.
  • The separation period I used, in this case, overnight.
  • A descriptive record of her behavior during training.
  • Feed amounts and routine.   This is good to keep track of for future lactations.  I have tweaked the routine over the months, and this is how I remember what worked and what worked better.
  • The date she was dried off.  I'll add this when it happens.
  • The duration of her lactation.  This will be calculated from the date she freshened and will be recorded for future lactations.
  • Average milk production.  I'll calculate this once she's dried off, both in pounds and in quarts.
After the notes, you'll see a line of fractions.  My computer would only convert certain fractions into nice neat little fractions, and this drove me crazy.  So I found them online and copied them into my document.  Now when I want to record 5 7/8, I just copy the neat little fraction from this list and paste it in.

I also thought it would be nice to convert cups, quarts and ounces into fractions.  I guess my years in France turned me into a metric sympathizer!  Going on the principle that you can find anything you want on the internet, I did!  I added these two websites to my bookmark bar so I can open them in an instant while recording production on the flow sheet.
Finally, I created columns for the date, volume (which I record in cups and quarts), weight, and a space for notes.  In the notes section, I include things like interruptions, visitors, whether Macree cooperated for a let-down nursing, cold snaps, etc.

The one thing about my flow sheet that I found inadequate was the lack of a visual-at-a-glance.  So I created the chart above in Word (being an Excel illiterate).  The amount in quarts runs up the left-hand side of the chart with the days of the month across the bottom.  

Take the 1st, for example.  If Siobhan gives 1 1/2 quarts of milk, I find the line that represents 1 1/2, run over to the square or line for that date, and put a dot there.  

Then I connect the daily dots for an easy visual on what milk production is looking like.  I use the space below each date to jot whatever notes, taken from the flow sheet, are relevant to that day's production.

You can see from this that Siobhan's peak production of just over 2 quarts occurred on Christmas Eve, a very sweet Christmas gift from my cow!

If you're a milker, hopefully you already understand the importance of keeping production records.  If you're a breeder, it's something you should definitely consider.  If you sell milk cows, obviously it's extremely beneficial for buyers to know what kind of production to expect from a cow they are buying or what a heifer might do based on her dam's production.  If you raise dual purpose cattle like Dexters and raise them for beef, someone might be more inclined to buy your cow if you can show that she will have heifers worth milking.  And even if your cows are never used as family milk cows, it's helpful to know what they're capable of providing to the calves they're nursing.

Feel free to use my charts and ideas to get started recording your own milk production.  I'm sure most of you can come up with better charts and ways to keep records, but the important thing is to start!

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