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.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

1 Dexter Cow, 2nd Lactation, and the First 3 Weeks Post-Freshening

If Ebony thought she could escape getting embarrassing photos of herself plastered all over the internet by calving early and pre-empting my Calf Watch post, she had another think coming!

Ebony calved on April 10 (at 273 days' gestation) about 5:00 a.m.  She calved unassisted in the pasture, passed the placenta, and duly ate part of it.  By the time I got out there about 9:15, the calf was licked dry, was up walking, and had nursed.

Ebony surprised me by calving that day, not because she was three days early, but because she had not displayed many pre-calving signs.  Her udder was filling but not very full yet, and her teats were far from "strutting," (when they become so full that they stick out sideways).  Also, her "pins hadn't gone," meaning her pelvic ligaments had not relaxed.  And finally, she had not gone "slab-sided," where the calf drops prior to moving into the birth canal and you can actually see the cow's round belly drop down, leaving her sides flatter.  This just goes to show that not every cow "does it by the book."

My only previous experience was with a cow on her first lactation (Siobhan).  This was Ebony's second lactation, when milk production increases, sometimes dramatically.  I knew that I had to keep a close eye on Ebony's udder to be sure the milk was moving through, being nursed out by the calf, so she wouldn't get mastitis.  Here are the notes I made throughout the first two weeks:

April 10: 

I checked Ebby's udder several times that first day, and it seemed full, but not hard or tight, still no teats strutting.  The heifer was up and nursing and quite lively, and had pooped yellow colostrum poop (see photo below).  So I could tell that Tiggy was getting colostrum and that Ebby's milk had not come in yet.

April 11 - That morning I noticed Ebby's udder seemed quite hard, especially the two front quarters.  

The first thing I did was to give the stanchion a thorough cleaning with bleach water, scrubbing down every surface that I could.  Since I had last milked Siobhan in there, even though the milk tests showed that her mastitis was gone, I wasn't taking any chances with Ebony.

Once the stanchion had dried enough that Ebony wouldn't slip, Herb helped me carry Tiggy into the stanchion and tie her at the front near mama's head.  I led Ebby in and cleaned her udder.  

I didn't have a separate dip cup for pre-dipping yet, so I sprayed the teat dip carefully all around all four teats, left it on for 30 seconds, then wiped it off with a paper towel.  I massaged mint balm on her udder and tried to milk.  The rear quarters I could do okay, but I could hardly get anything out of the front ones, the ones that needed it.  Ebby was upset and restless (understandable with a new baby and hormones).  The calf kept skittering and moving despite Herb holding it, which made Ebby jump around in anxiety.  I worked on her for maybe 20 minutes and got 2 1/2 cups, mostly from the rear quarters.

That afternoon I went out and bought raspberry leaf tea, brewed 4 bags and dumped the tea along with the grounds on Ebby's alfalfa pellets for her to eat while I milked her.  I tried milking her where she was standing by the hay while the calf slept nearby. It went fine until Tiggy woke up and walked away, at which point Ebony got upset.  Understanding that her instinct to keep her baby in view was stronger than any training, I got her to stand still for an instant, then let her go. 

The front quarters were still almost impossible to get anything from.  I managed to get a quart of 2nd day colostrum, still mostly from the rear quarters.  I figured if I emptied them, the calf would have to nurse the front. 

April 12 - That morning my daughter Kara came to help me milk.  We started with hot, moist compresses held on the two hard front quarters--wrung out so that no water dripped down the udder.  I have no idea how much milk we got because Ebby kicked the bucket twice and spilled it.  She also pooped and peed several times, so we had to keep stopping and cleaning her up again.  

Kara was working on stripping the the right front teat (that quarter was harder) when a bit of yellow substance appeared protruding from the teat orifice.  Try as she might, Kara could not strip it out.  So I pulled it and got out a piece of a plug (the small piece on the photo above).  Kara stripped some more, and another bit appeared.  I pulled, and out came a really long piece of plug (above).  The milk came out better then, although soon it stopped coming.  Kara invented a technique of gentle pinching down along the teat, which worked a bit better:  If we "pinched" (a teasing kind of pinch, for lack of a better word) for maybe 30 or more seconds, we could get one short squirt.  Period.  More pinching, one squirt.  We worked on her for a good half hour, got what we could, emptied the rear quarters, and quit.

We repeated the same procedure Saturday evening, but didn't get much.

April 13 - That morning Kara and I both stayed home from church to work on Ebby.  I made a very hot bucket of water and added tea tree oil, lavender oil, eucalyptus oil and thyme oil (a very fragrant mix that helped Kara's allergies!) and we held hot compresses on the front quarters for about 5 minutes.  It did seem to help Ebby let down.  The calf was much calmer by this time, too, although she did NOT like going anywhere with us!  We got about 1/2 cup from the left front quarter and about 1/4 cup from the right front.  That teat seemed slippery, so the calf had nursed it, but the two front quarters were both still very hard and tight.

We tried to get Tiggy to help out by nursing in the stanchion, but she absolutely refused, even though I wet the teat with milk and stuck it in her mouth.    

We worked on Ebby for about an hour and a quarter.  During that time she pooped four times--almost liquid, which splattered all over every single thing in the milking parlor, including shooting poop into our hot compress bucket.  She also peed five times and continued to move restlessly from side to side.  I cleaned the compress bucket out with bleach and used my bucket heater to heat more water while Kara went to the house for clean dish towels to use for compresses and more oils.  And we repeated the compresses.  Again, it helped, but we still couldn't get much of anything out.  We finally gave up after Ebony pooped for the fourth time.  :(  I did NOT let her out right away, so as not to let her think that pooping in the stanchion means she gets out!  I dipped the teats, waited 30 seconds, then wiped the two front ones (as the vet suggested) hoping they would taste better for the calf to nurse.

When we finally let them out of the stanchion, Tiggy went to nurse on a front teat.  
However, she quickly gave up and moved to the back.  It was clear that she preferred "fast food" to "slow food!" 
Fortunately, she seemed to be spreading the love around to all four teats.

When we strained the milk, there were a few more tiny clumps so even thought it was Sunday, I called the vet. He said this was probably normal clots often found a few days after calving, but that I could use Pirsue on all four quarters if I was worried. Just milk her out, infuse Pirsue, shut the calf away 12 hours, then milk out and leave the calf on her all day.  He also said we could give Bute every other day, that it might help her let down.  (I didn't have Banamine, the anti-inflammatory for cows, on hand, but he said you can use Bute for cows, just not to drink the milk for several days.)  (Note: I have since learned that Bute is completely contra-indicated for use in cattle.)

That evening we got more milk and it came out of the front quarters better, for the first time, really.  We got about 3 1/2 cups total, I think. We could tell from a couple teats (slimy to wet fingers) that Tiggy had been nursing, plus she had several nice neon yellow poops.

When we filtered the milk, this is what we got.  Based on what the vet had said, we assumed it was still more pieces of waxy plug coming out and decided to hold off on the Pirsue.  (I double-checked with the vet, and he thought it was fine to wait.  He's a VERY kind man and very understanding about my anxiety over Ebby after having dealt with mastitis!)  I watched Tiggy nurse, and she seemed to be nursing all four quarters without avoiding the front ones.

April 14 -   I gave Ebby the Bute on her feed and raspberry tea.  (Note:  I learned afterward that Bute is completely contra-indicated for use in cattle.  I would never again give Bute to a cow.) The morning milking went much better, and it was easier getting milk from the front quarters than it had been.  We got about a quart.  (I forgot to measure that day so just have the total amount since I pooled the two milkings to clabber for the chickens.)  It strained with no clots.  Hooray!  Ebby had no noticeable tenderness, although she's still a bit restless so it's hard to tell.  

In the evening milking the front quarters was a bit easier.  We got a total of about 3.5 cups.  (See note for morning.)  However, there was one tiny yellow clump when I strained it.  I decided against starting Pirsue because we would have had to go back out, clean her up again, milk out anything new, and then do the Pirsue.   And I really hated to use to use antibiotics if I wasn't sure she needed them.

The two photos above are of the pooled April 14 milking, taken the next morning after sitting out overnight.  The cream seemed to have a lot of colostrum still, and even the milk underneath was fairly yellow, as you can see at the top when I tipped the bucket.

April 15 - In the morning, we got a little over a quart, which was good news.  The best news was that we could jiggle Ebby's whole udder!  I felt reassured that we had beaten the edema.  Whether it was the twice daily doses of raspberry leaf tea, the mint balm, the massaging and hot compresses, all of it together, or just time is anyone's guess!  

Tiggy was transitioning from colostrum-poop to normal. 

Ebby's front quarters were still quite firm, especially up high like they had been, but they no longer had that hard feeling.  We milked each quarter separately at first and watched closely as we poured the milk into the bucket, and we did not see any visible clots.  Then partway through, I felt up high on the rear quarter that Kara was working on because she said there was a lot of milk in it.  High on the rear quarter, it felt hard, and it seemed like I could feel a large, hardish duct lower down, too.  Ebony also seemed to react in discomfort, really shifting quite a bit when we massaged those areas.  So we worked on it a lot, Kara massaging with mint balm while I milked until nothing more came out.

When we got inside, we strained the milk we took toward the end from that quarter separately, and got no clots.  (Once I had noticed the apparent tenderness, we kept the milk from that quarter separate.)  However, when we strained the combined milk, this is what we got:

As you can see, there were four small clots (two really tiny ones at the right edge of the filter).  That got me worried again because this was starting the sixth day after freshening.

So I did what I probably should have done right away:  I asked for help on the wonderful "Keeping a Family Cow" ProBoards forum.  Here's that post, a summary of this one, and the VERY helpful input I received.  Also, please note the discussion on the use of Bute in cattle.  Because of it, I decided to err on the side of caution and not give any more than the small amount I'd already given Ebby.  The responses I got from people really calmed my fears!

It was predicted to get below freezing overnight, "feels like" 22°.  I had planned to put Ebony and Tiggy in a stall with some fresh hay bedding and put a fleece sweatshirt on Tiggy because we were already having really cold winds.  Tiggy was very active, but she shivered a bit during the morning milking.  I waited to put the jacket on is because there was more rain  predicted during the day, and I wanted the jacket to be dry and warm for overnight.  I had thought about starting PIrsue, but didn't for three reasons:
  1. I was worried about having Tiggy and Ebby being separated on a freezing night.
  2.  I was concerned that milk stagnating in the udder would cancel out any good the Pirsue would do.  
  3. And finally, I was reassured by my KFC friends that we were still within the range of normal post-freshening.

In the evening, there was one tiny clot in about 2.5 cups of milk.  The hardness in the udder was decreasing, although there was still some hardness high up in the right rear quarter.  Kara and I were realizing that Tiggy preferred to nurse left side.

April 16 – In the morning, we got slightly over 1 quart of milk with no clots.  Ebby's udder finally jiggled all over.  Hooray!

In the evening, we got bout 2 1/3 cups of milk with no clots.  Ebby stood very still in the stanchion devouring the chaffed hay and seeds from the bottom of her feed box.

April 17 -  That morning we got a quart plus 2/3 cup.  There were no clots and no hard areas in Ebby's udder.  She stood pretty still in the stanchion, and only lifted a leg once, but she set it down when I said "No!"  Tiggy nursed from the front quarters after we let them out of the stanchion.  She was one week old this morning.

That's a bright-eyed, healthy, spunky little heifer!

By the evening of the 17th, there was no need to milk Ebby, as Tiggy had her udder well-nursed on all four quarters.  Kara and I both agreed that she was free to go home and that I could carry on by myself since the scary part seemed to be over.

April 18 - I needed to milk again that morning and got just shy of a quart.  In the evening I got only 1 1/3 cup.

April 19 - 2 1/2 cups in the morning.  3 1/4 cups in the evening.

April 20 - Slightly over 2 cups in the morning.  I didn't need to milk in the evening.  When I milked in the morning, I collected sterile milk samples to send off to Tennessee Quality Milk Labs to test for mastitis, just to be sure Ebony was okay.  I was able to freeze them so that I could get them off to FedEx first thing Monday morning.

April 21 - I didn't need to milk at all, although I checked twice during the day.

April 22 - I only needed to milk once and got a quart.  This is a photo of the left side of Ebby's udder before milking.

And the right side.  It was the full front teats that made me decide to milk when I did.  We were going out for the evening, and I wanted to be sure Ebby wouldn't be too full overnight, so I milked in the afternoon before we left.

April 23 - Tiggy handled all the milking just fine.

April 24 - Tiggy handled the milking again.  I thought I was done helping and would be able to go on my scheduled trip to Texas on April 30, leaving Tiggy in charge of milking.  However, I continued to check Ebby twice a day.

April 25 - That evening Ebby was pretty full again, although I only got 2 1/2 cups.  Several Dexter owners have told me their cows are "Hold-up Queens" that do a good job of keeping milk back for their calves.  I was pretty sure this was what Ebby was doing, but I wanted to relieve the excess that Tiggy didn't handle, especially since I had seen her take it all for two days.

April 26 - I didn't have to milk at all.  Way to go, Tiggy!

April 27 - That evening Ebby was VERY full on the right side, especially the rear. (This seemed to be the side Tiggy ignored most frequently.) I milked out that side and got a quart and a cup.

April 28 - That morning it was the same thing, with the right rear quarter very full. So I decided to try a different method, which I called "Trick Tiggy!" I relieved the pressure on the neglected right side and milked out the left side completely, getting a quart plus 3/4 cup. Then I got Tiggy to nurse the right side. She went right for the front teat and ignored the fuller back one. So I covered up the front teat, and after a minute, she did nurse on the back one. She didn't begin to drain the quarter, though. It was clear that she doesn't really like to nurse in the stanchion with me beside her.  I checked to be sure both right quarters were soft, then went over and milked out the last bit that had let down on the left side. My hope was that Tiggy would then have to nurse the right side again when she was hungry.

However, I realized that I could not depend on Tiggy yet to handle all of Ebby's milk production.  She would do it for a couple days, and then I'd have to step in.  So I went back to my milking gurus at Keeping a Family Cow and asked their advice on the best method of milking when the calf couldn't drink all the milk, without doing anything to increase Ebby's supply.  Their answer was to go to OAD (once a day), milking out everything the calf didn't take.  They also advised me that it was quite normal for such a small calf to be unable to keep up with all the milk, and also that she might not learn to "count to four" until she was four to six weeks old.  In other words, she was likely to keep neglecting one quarter or even one side until she was older.  I had already observed her on occasion bypass a very full quarter and go nurse on one that was softer and easier to nurse. 

This meant two things:

  1. I needed Kara to be my relief milker while I was out of town.
  2. Tiggy was a normal small calf, and she would eventually catch up with the supply.  The end was in sight!
Since I had milked Ebby in the morning, I thought she needed to be milked again that evening; I decided to transition to OAD the following day.  I got a bit over 3 cups that evening, so I was glad I'd decided to milk her.

April 29 - Today began our new OAD milking routine.  Since Kara would be my relief milker, I let her vote on the timing, and we settled on 4 or 5 pm.  That would give Tiggy all day to nurse as much as she wanted, while ensuring that Ebby would not be too full overnight.  I got just shy of a quart.

April 30 - I took off for Houston, and Kara took over milking.  She got just 1/4 cup that evening.

May 1 - Kara got 2 cups of milk.

May 2 - Kara got 1/2 cup of milk.

May 3 - Ebby didn't need milking again.  Kara continued to check once a day, but from then on Tiggy handled it all by herself.   It had taken only three weeks for Tiggy to be able to handle Ebby's milk supply and for Ebby to be able to adjust the supply down to the demand.  Kara didn't end up having to do much relief milking, but it was a huge relief to me to know that she was there to do it if it was necessary.  It meant I was able to enjoy my trip!

While I was in Texas I called TQML to get the results on Ebby's milk samples.  Nothing grew!  That was marvelous news!  No mastitis!

This has been a very long post--so long that I didn't finish it until after I got back from Texas.  I'm posting in detail in hopes this can help others who might be struggling with the same newly-freshened cow concerns.  The important thing to remember is that the plugs and clumps and hardness did NOT mean that Ebby had mastitis.  Everything that was happening was just as normal as the vet and my KFC friends assured me it was.  

Let me end by saying that I'm extremely thankful for:
  • My great vet!
  • My great friends on Keeping a Family Cow!
  • And my great relief milker, Kara!


  1. Great post Susan, I learned a lot and appreciate the many details. this will help when I start to raise cattle. Thank you very much.

    1. You're very welcome, Gordon! Since you'll have beef cattle you may never milk routinely, but I just had a friend who raises Dexters for beef (and doesn't milk), have a plugged teat duct on her cow which ended up with mastitis. She actually had to have the vet out to remove the plug with a little corkscrew kind of thing. Ouch! Way to go, Kara! We were lucky with our first cow because we didn't know to check for things like that, but her first calf for us was her fifth calf, so she had already started to transition down in her production. There's such a learning curve, it's always helpful to let someone else do the learning! :) Glad I could help!

  2. Wow, way to go Susan and Kara!! "raspberry leaf tea"--whaddayaknow! It's good for human mamas too! lol

    1. I think that's how people discovered it's good for mama cows, Barbara--it just takes a lot more! ;)


I LOVE comments so please take a minute and let me know you were here! Sorry I have to use Captcha, but I hope you'll comment anyway! Comments make my day! :)