Friday, February 12, 2010

A couple of questions

Our friend Alina asked a couple of questions: do chickens lay fewer eggs in the winter and do cows give less milk in the winter?

Well, lets address the chickens first, shall we?

Chickens egg laying is affected by the amount of daylight. As the daylight diminishes in the fall, so does the chickens rate of egg laying. It is starting to pick up now that the days are getting longer. What a farmer can do is to supplement the light with artificial lights in the coop. We put lights on a timer to go on early, about 4:30 or so. You gradually increase the amount of light so that they have 12-13 hours of daylight all year round and you can keep them laying just like it was mid summer. Another thing affecting egg laying is that older hens will molt and lose their feathers in the fall. It takes 6-8 weeks or so for the molt to finish and for the birds to start laying again.

Cows in milk operations generally calve in late winter, around now, and will have their calves taken from them right away so the farmers can get all the milk they can. The calves are fed milk replacer. Its like formula. Then the cows are put on a milking schedule, twice a day for probably 10 months or so. They are then dried off, not milked for 2-3 months while they are in the last trimester of pregnancy and then have their calves and are milked again.

Some farm operations are switching out of this model and are milking only once a day. Their milk yield goes way down, but supposedly the cows live a bit longer and are not pushed to the limit that their bodies can handle producing milk. Some folks, especially those with only a family cow, share the milk with the calf. They will milk once a day and let the calf have the rest of the milk. The cow's body will adjust if there is only one calf, and they produce much less milk. Modern dairy cows produce ENORMOUS amounts of milk. Much more than necessary for one calf, so its a good way to get milk for the family and still have the calf raised on mother's milk.

I will defer to our Blue Heron Farm friends on most of these points, because they are the dairy goat folks who know MUCH MUCH more about this than I do. Please feel free, BHF to correct any points, or expound on them!


Probably close to 50 inches of snow here at the farm between last saturday and this tuesday. The cattle are not particularly happy, but they have lots of hay. The sheep are in the barn. Not particularly happy either, but dry and fed. The chickens are itching to get out and SCRATCH. Its going to be a while before the big piles of snow are gone. The driveway and lane are clear. The roads are not. There is so much snow that there is no place to put it!

At least its melting here pretty fast. The snow is already compacting down and melting, probably at least 10-12 inches lower than it was 24 hours ago. Im really glad I have a front end loader and tractor. 6-8 foot drifts. Fun. Or not.

And the forecast calls for 4-8 more inches of snow on Monday. Yay.


Anonymous said...

The milk post was so TIMELY. I was wondering the same thing and now you've answered it! Do you guys harvest the milk from your cows?

SteveandAlina said...

Thanks so much for these great answers! I didn't realize milking was so harsh on the cow. And... it's so interesting that a chicken's egg-laying is affected by daylight.