View Full Version : Dairy cow question

05-14-2011, 10:20 PM
You'd think I could figure this out, considering I live in cow country, but unfortunately, most the dairies are now gone.

I want to know what happens if you don't milk a dairy cow - that is, you just stop. The cow can be in a barn, or out in a pasture, but for one reason or another, the daily schedule of milking stops.

Does the cow die? Suffer? Or will it suffer a few days, a week, then simply walk around eating and revert to a pre-milking state?

Are there physical effects, too?

Weird question, I know, but I've seen some very unusual questions answered here.


05-14-2011, 10:26 PM
One question first, is the cow at a modern dairy farm, or at a more natural setting?

A cow in a natural setting will just stop producing milk. On a modern farm, cows are given supplements to make them produce more milk, and it would be a problem if they just stopped milking the cow.

I used to live close to a dairy farm, but that was many, many years ago.

05-14-2011, 10:38 PM
Alleycat's question is the vital one. Modern versus the old days.

On the old days, think about things naturally, a calf nurses (milks) the mother for X amount of time and then the nursing stops - what happens to the cow then? Or, suppose the calf dies so the nursing stops suddenly - the cow obviously doesn't die. It might be uncomfortable for a little while, but with a little time the milk will dry up. Puma

Soccer Mom
05-14-2011, 10:39 PM
Would the cow suffer? The answer is yes, even in a country setting. Her bag would get so full and hard and you'll just have to trust me as a woman. It hurts. Most farmers don't just stop milking, you dry an animal off gradually. You reduce her feed and milk less frequently, then put her in a clean environment so she can develop the appropriate teat plug. If you leave her to wander around with a full, leaking bag, you risk contamination of the teat openings from manure and dirt.

She might be fine and her body gradually absorbs the fluid and she stops producing. Or she could develop mastitis and a fever. If left untreated it would be extremely painful and can even become fatal.

05-14-2011, 11:31 PM
On our little farm, we milked five cows morning and night--as already said, uphill both ways.

Soccer Mom pointed out: those we chose to stop milking, we did so gradually. Never mind stopping the milking chore--if we were even late, the bawling was loud and long and required currying and an extra helping of milled grain to sooth the tempers after milking.

Mother cows in our small herd weened calves in their own time in their own way (often by a kick in the head). If a calf died while still nursing, lots of bawling, but she got over it in time. Cruel, to be sure, but life often is (I'm told when I bawl).

05-14-2011, 11:43 PM
Thanks for the quick answers!

The cow is on a modern dairy farm, but a small one. The scenario is like 'Life After People." Humans are gone, just gone, no explanation given, but the animals remain, esp. this one poor dairy cow wandering up the road from the farm. (Actually, there's a bunch of them left back at the farm, but we only see this one.) I assumed the cow would be in discomfort. I didn't know if that would ease off in time or not. I'm also aware the poor cow would probably eventually die, but I was interested in what would happen to it a day after not being milked, then a week, up to about a month.

05-14-2011, 11:56 PM
A single cow won't wander away from her herd for any hope of finding a milker (even if alone, it will stay by the familiar pastures and milking barn unless something lures it from there).

I've seen cows with hard bags, and it's not pretty. They walk stiff in the back end and do NOT want to bump their own udders, which are massive. If they get mastitis, it gets really nasty as the milk is there and provides nutrients to the bacteria and gangrene can rapidly develop, and the poor girls still may have to walk until they can't stand it anymore and lay down and don't get up again. (wow, that was quite the run on)

Another problem any domestic stock faces long term, unless out on a huge range (I'm not talking 40 acres here, although if conditions are right, that may be enough) is getting long hooves which grow long in the toe and cause slipper foot. Without regular trimming this is a serious problem.

Cows may have an easier time getting free of their pastures than horses since many fences for cattle are cheap and cattle don't respect fences. As soon as something scares them through or entices them to challenge the fence, then off they go. Together. Anyone left behind is going to panic and go through the fence if possible.

Sadly I've seen slipper foot and hard bags in the same dairy cows :(

05-15-2011, 12:02 AM
So, Fenika, the cow would stay pretty close to home?

Years ago, when the dairies were still in operation, we'd sometimes see a lone cow walking down the road. I reported one once, in this fashion...

I called the local police and said, "A black and white cow is walking slowly down the street, right in the middle of it. I'm afraid a car coming fast might not see it and hit it."

Police officer: "Okay, Ma'am, you say it's moving slowly down the street?"


"Can you describe it?"

"Ummm...it's black and white."

"Can you give us the license plate number?"

"Ummm, I said cow, not car."

Pause, and then laughter at the other end.

Are some cows more inclined to wander than other? Regardless, you've given me more than enough information. Thanks so much.

05-15-2011, 12:09 AM
One of the problems with cows getting out is what they eat. There are several plants that grow along roadsides that can even kill a cow.

05-15-2011, 12:26 AM
I can't say exactly how likely a single cow is to leave its herd. There are always oddballs, and if a hooved animal feels safe, it will wander. Safety is key though, and most won't feel safe away from the herd. Someone else will have to tell you if this is a rare but frequent thing with cows.

That is funny about the call with the police :D

And Alley is very correct about toxic plants, but I will add that this is more a problem out west where very toxic plants can mix in very thoroughly with non toxic ones. Some animals will stay away from them (even in the same herd of animals) and some will eat them and thus die.

Generally speaking, if there's nice grass around, and you aren't in the western states, the cows won't bother *MUCH* with the crap in the ditch. (I can't recall if there's a toxic plant that cattle love. Stuff like pigweed they will eat, but it will take a fair bit to kill them and it will kill them over the course of weeks usually) If they are stuck outside the pastures though, they don't get much choice, but they still might be lucky to find nice grass in said ditch or area.

If you want your hoofstock dead in fiction, there's no limit to how to do it unfortunately for us IRL.

05-15-2011, 12:45 AM
Off topic . . .

One of the problems around here is black cherry trees. They are quite common here (I have two in my yards). When I was growing up no farmer who had cows would allow one in or around the pastures. They said the cherries would kill a cow.

Is that correct, Fenika?

05-15-2011, 01:37 AM
Chokecherries are toxic; I've never heard that about black cherries (and we have lots around here and used to have a lot of dairy herds.) Puma

05-15-2011, 01:41 AM
Chokecherries are toxic; I've never heard that about black cherries (and we have lots around here and used to have a lot of dairy herds.) Puma
I did a little research. There are a few pages about it.


05-15-2011, 02:23 AM
I don't recall learning about black cherries in Toxicology, but we covered a TON of toxins- natural and chemical. The link says they contain cyanide, which we did cover obviously, and which is of course a nasty toxin. I'm guessing black cherries aren't a common issue in Oklahoma*, where I went to vet school, since my professor raised cattle and loved to emphasize all the things that will drop a herd like flies. (Lead, arsenic weed killers, oil, and a number of plants come to mind. Cattle love to lick things, and if you've got old batteries around, or just sprayed for weeds around a fence or ladder, they'll come up and check it out.)

*Or we didn't have time to mention black cherries, or my memory sucks and it was mentioned, but not emphasized, compared to the other nasties.

05-15-2011, 02:27 AM
I actually wasn't sure. I just remember all the old farmers saying that. But . . . old farmers say a lot of things.

05-15-2011, 02:56 AM
Dairy cows get used to their routine and if they've been milked a while, will usually line up at regular time to be milked & will wait their turn, then go back out to graze.

If it is just the first day I think you'd be more apt to find the cow still trying to stick to its routine.

05-15-2011, 06:49 AM
Interesting article, Alleycat. But it also made me wonder - what about deer? Wouldn't they also be affected by the cyanide in black cherry leaves? I'm pretty sure I've seen them eating leaves off black cherry trees. And deer seem to love little branches that have broken off trees in storms. Makes me wonder whether they have some innate way of telling what's okay and what's not. Puma

05-16-2011, 12:01 AM
Fewer conventional farms are using rBGH, an artificial hormone used to increase milk production, than five years ago. Monsanto sold their line because consumers are learning more about food and how it's produced and are refusing to drink milk from rBGH-treated cows. It's not safe to assume a conventional farm is giving growth hormone injections.

I have black cherries and chokecherries and had livestock. Few animals will eat toxic plants. We never had a problem with horses, cattle, goats and pigs eating either kind of tree.

Makes me wonder whether they have some innate way of telling what's okay and what's not.
Instinct is a wonderful thing.

05-16-2011, 01:13 AM
We definitely covered choke cherries in vet school. That is hit or miss with livestock (as in, will they be smart enough to leave it. Most are. If they are hungry they are more likely to try it, but random stupidity is also a problem). If they do eat some choke cherries it can get ugly fast.

05-16-2011, 01:28 AM
FWIW, the local dairies are cleaning up in our area because they don't use the milke hormone with their cows and are selling their milk for $2 cheaper than the supermarket milks that make the same claim.

The milk is overall far better too. ;)

05-17-2011, 03:05 AM
Thank you, cow-people and cow experts all.

You've really, really helped me.

05-18-2011, 06:00 AM
The main reason cows give more milk today is that they are bred to put more into making milk and less into making bodyfat, and they are fed a hugely nutritious diet.

If just suddenly left unmilked they would be in pain pretty quick but I don't know if/how quickly it would kill them.

05-19-2011, 06:45 PM
Fence-crawling cattle aren't so unusual, though I think it's more common with ranch cattle than dairy cattle.

Dairy cattle are generally kept on smaller acreage, and in closer groups. Their "comfort zone" is a little smaller than ranch cattle that get moved from pasture to pasture throughout the year.

There will still likely be that one trouble maker.

We had about a hundred head of cattle, and every year there were always one or two that felt inclined to slip through the fence and strike out for greener pastures on their own. They were the first to go to the sale barn in the fall. Mostly to keep the peace with the neighbors, but also to keep them from teaching the others how to go through the fence.

The only time we ever had cattle go through the fence "en masse" was when a mountain lion scared the hell out of the yearlings that had just been put out on the meadow pasture away from the rest of the herd.

Moving cattle from one pasture to another always brought out the dissidents, too. A few would break off from the herd, and run back. They were almost always the fence crawlers.
I could spend hours on my horse trying to chase them out of draws, and brambles, and steep ravines they tried to hide in.

Milk- Yeah, the cow would be miserable when her bag swelled up from being engorged with milk. It would eventually dry up, and she'd be fine. She would have to get pregnant and have a calf before she could produce milk again.