In my walk as a vet and practising dairy farmer, I have come across so many myths on milk production, some farmers take them for gospel truth. Today I will debunk some:
Friesian ultimate milk producer
Nine of ten farmers I have given advice to start dairy farming have told me their breed of choice is Friesian. Their reasoning is that it is an automatic milk producer regardless of other factors.
Yes, Friesian ranks first in quantitative milk production terms, but there are other critical factors at play.
One is genetic traits and environmental factors.
While genetic make-up of the Friesian endures it to produce more milk, it must be fed on nutritive feeds and taken good care of for the genetics to mix well with environmental factors and subsequently produce more milk. So if you have a Friesian and deny it enough feed, do not expect any magic.
Cows versus heifers
Heifer is a mature female cow yet to give birth to a calf. When the heifer gives birth, it becomes a cow.
Some farmers say they would rather start with a cow some say they would rather start with a heifer! They may be all right but the most important thing is that they should have facts behind their stance.
Yes, a heifer depending on its breed and parental genetics comes with a hidden potential that will come to the fore upon its transiting to a cow.
On the other hand a cow’s potential is already documented and you will be acquiring what is already known. It is also a fact that milk production increases with parity (number of births) it peaks at third parity then starts declining.
Advancing age is a factor farmers use when culling cows, I doubt a farmer will want to cull off a high producer unless under very exceptional circumstances.
But greedy farmers keen to cull a dairy cow will heap a lot of praises on it and it is up to you to decipher the myths from facts as you make a decision.
Playing music and giving concentrates during milkingincreases volumes
A story goes that milk is for the calf and human beings are robbers or conmen who “steal” (read milk) from the cow.
I agree with this fairy tale and advise that you better be a con man than a robber.
If you chose to rob, chances are you won’t get much but if you choose to be a con man then you will milk (or did I say steal) more.
Farmers do the con game by offering some concentrates or palatable pastures (mixed with molasses) to make the cow happy and entice her to produce more milk. This is a scientifically proven fact.
Milk let down and eventual expression is governed by a hormonal system consisting of two hormones — one working to support the let down and another works to block the process.
If you choose to rob the cow, it produces the blocking hormone and if you choose to con it, it produces the milklet down hormone and milk comes gushing.
Slow music plays tricks that support the production of more milk.
But this is pointless if all you do is wait until milking time to feed your animal. This is just a finishing gimmick to a race flagged off in the morning.
‘Jujus’ and strangers during milking
My late grandmother Okolwe always used to warn me that whenever I was milking the family cow, there should be no stranger around! The reasoning was that the stranger might bewitch the cow and interfere with milking. Yes, the presence of a stranger can interfere with the milkingprocess, but it has nothing to do with black magic.
I learnt the scientific explanation at vet school in Kabete.
The process of milking is closely tied to the milk hormonal system. A stranger to any animal elicits flight or fight reflex and this governed by the hormone that blocks milk let down.
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So when it is time for milking, kindly request the strangers to leave the parlour not because of the ‘juju’ they can drop, but because they can trigger release of hormones that will block milk production. Now you know!
Milking several times equals more milk
Most farmers milk twice a day — morning and evening, while others milk up to four times a day under a false believe that the cow will produce more.
The increase is not significant but in high producers prone to mastitis, research has it that frequent milking reduces mastitis incidences.
(The writer is the Vet of the Year in 2016 and works with the Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council – KENTTEC, [email protected])