Somewhere in between a vegan and non-vegan, I am skeptical about what happens if cow is not milked regularly.

  1. Will it die due to mastitis or any other infection?

  2. Will it get dried up (stop producing)? Will drying up cause an issue to the cow?

Source 1. Here one of the participant raised the issue about cow getting mastitis if not milked

Source 2. Lindsey Worden, Communications Manager, Holstein Association USA & Holstein Foundation.

Source 3 : Vegan point of view

Similar quora discussion

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    Hi, do you have a source for this claim, or is it just a question you're asking yourself? Note that your question could be on scope on Biology SE. Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 12:43
  • @SeriousSarah unfortunately the source is in tamil
    – samnaction
    Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 12:44
  • 1
    Ok, could you link it in your question and provide a translation ? (No need to translate a whole page, only the relevant parts) Also, what is the exact claim of the source? Is it that the cow would die or that it would dry? Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 12:48
  • So now there's a claim, but is it notable? Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 14:25
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    I know enough to say that the answer will be extremely dependant on the breed of cow. I assume you mean some type of milk cow, but it might be worthwhile to explicitly state that.
    – Jonathon
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 1:16

2 Answers 2


There is a possibility of death due to injury and eventual infection if a dairy cow is not milked. Many wild or "less-domesticated" (if you'll allow) breeds of cattle, bison and other bovines don't suffer from the same danger.

Immediately, the real problem is that the udders will swell and cause the cow severe pain and stress if not released. Generally the milk will stop producing and not cause a literal rupture at some point, but the udders may be so tight they become very vulnerable and inflamed. This can lead to infections and other health problems, which can then lead to death.

Pro Tip: Be kind and milk dairy cows at least every day or two while lactating.

Oh, in case the summary version isn't clear:

  1. Yes, it will probably become infected.
  2. It can dry from the pressure. Any hormonal transition can have effects on health. You dont want to attempt this with a cow that just started a lactation cycle. The best way is to let the current cycle run on then dry using low-calorie high fiber diets.


  • 4
    you dont really spell the terms much in ranching haha, and its been a while ;p thx corrected tho Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 20:00
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    This site has rather specific standards for references; see meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/a/2512/6308 and meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/5/…. We can't really accept your experience (1) as evidence since we have no way of verifying your credentials or the scientific rigor of your observational methods. And Google (2) is hardly a reliable source, especially since it won't show the same results over time or even to different people. Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 23:50
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    As for "logic" (3), an udder is not a bladder and the mechanisms that produce milk are quite different from those that produce urine. I'm not convinced that the analogy is valid. Anyway, wouldn't this logic apply equally well to wild cattle? But you say they don't suffer the same problems. Evidently there is something about the milk-producing structures of wild cattle that avoids this problem, so clearly they are not like a urinary bladder; why should we believe that the analogy is any better for domestic cattle? Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 23:53
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    (I do appreciate your post and am not trying to pick on you, but at Skeptics.SE, we're, well, skeptical.) Commented Jul 22, 2016 at 23:57
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    Let me offer an unimpeachable source in support of @GaretClaborn... your mother. Udders are the cow's mammary glands (breasts). Dairy cows have been bred to have massively large capacity mammary glands. Beef cattle, buffalo and other bovines have normal sized udders that are usually not even visible at a glance. If their new born dies, just like if your mom chose not to nurse you, they experience a great deal of pain unless "their milk is expressed" (they're "milked"). Drying requires them to endure some of this pain in order to get the body to stop producing milk. Ask mom about this. Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 2:28

The answers are

  1. Will it die ? Due to mastitis or any other infection-Depends on whether it is diseased or not.

    No if it is a pasture-fed, primiparous, nonpregnant cows since research shows that partial milk synthesis is possible even after 28 days of nonmilking in pasture-fed, primiparous, nonpregnant cows.

    Yes if it has severe udder stress or mastitis.

  2. Will it get dried? Will drying up cause an issue to the cow?

    No it will not cause an issue to an healthy cow since its a normal occurence in a cow's life cycle. You can read more about that here.

Effects of reduction of milking in cows:

  1. Reducing milking frequency reduces milk yield. Dry period requirement is peculiar to dairy cows.

    Most dairy cows throughout the world are milked twice daily. In intensive dairying systems, however, it is not uncommon to increase milking frequency to between 3 and 6 times daily to increase milk production. Reducing milking frequency is much less common; however, once-daily milking of dairy cows, practiced either strategically during certain parts of the lactation or for the entire lactation, is not uncommon in key dairying countries where less emphasis is placed on milk production per cow. The practice fits well with more extensive dairy production systems, particularly those based on grazed pasture. A feature of once-daily milking is that it reduces milk yield by approximately 22%. Source: Invited review: reduced milking frequency: milk production and management implications

  2. Long periods of nonmilking is noted to result in reduction of milk secretion, milk composition modification, and eventually shrinking mammary glands.

    Conclusions : Changes occur in the mammary gland during the dry period which influence mammary cell proliferation and mammary function in the subsequent lactation. Source: Dry Period in Dairy Cattle

  3. Lactoferrin is noted to increased during short nonmilking periods of 2 days.

    Two experiments with cows in mid and late lactation were carried out to examine milking strategies to increase milk lactoferrin concentration and yield. Milking was suspended in cows normally milked twice daily, for periods of 2, 4, or 7d (mid lactation) or 2 or 4d (late lactation) after which cows were milked out and twice-daily milking resumed for 4d. In all groups, lactoferrin concentration was significantly increased during the remilking period, approaching concentrations similar to those found in human milk (~1 g/L). Lactoferrin yields were significantly higher in all treatment groups, although increasing the nonmilking period beyond 2d offered no advantage. Source: Suspension of milking in dairy cows produces a transient increase in milk lactoferrin concentration and yield after resumption of milking


  1. Partial milk synthesis is possible even after 28 days of nonmilking and fully reversible if remilked after seven days of nonmilking in a pasture-fed, primiparous, nonpregnant cow. This shows that nothing severe happens to a pasture-fed, primiparous, nonpregnant cow if left unmilked for a period of 28 days.

    These data indicate that the process of involution is fully reversed after remilking following 7d of milk stasis but more extended periods of nonmilking prevent the complete recovery of lactation. However, even after 28d of milk stasis, the milk synthesis capacity of the mammary gland could still be partially recovered. Source: The effect of milking reinitiation following extended nonmilking periods on lactation in primiparous dairy cows

  2. However, if udder stress or infection causing mastitis occurs during the nonmilking period, this might result in the death of the nonmilked diseased cow.

    Whether or not cows will die if they're not milked depends on two factors: How much they're milking at the time, and how fast milking ceases. If a cow is only producing 20 pounds per day or less per day, she can be "dried off" (caused to cease milk production) simply by stopping milking her. That happens to almost every cow every year, and is a normal part of the "have a calf--produce a lot of milk per day---milk less and less per day--dry off--have a calf" cycle that's a cow's life. Done right, there's no problem at all.

    However, if a cow is producing much more than 20 pounds per day, stopping milking her in one fell swoop will cause severe udder stress including inflammation, and the more she's milking the greater the chance that this stress and the resulting infection could kill her. Unfortunately, we have first-hand experience about this in this region (45 miles south of Montreal) since a few years ago we had a devastating ice storm that killed electric power for several days. One farmer who couldn't get a generator lost a bunch of high producing cows when he wasn't able to milk them. (He had about 150 cows, and milking by hand was out of the question.) Source: Can dairy cows die if they aren't milked?

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    "This shows that nothing severe happens to the cow if left unmilked for a period of 28 days." Sorry but this doesnt make sense as it only applies to those healthy cattle that were not severely affected, by developing mastsis, as you note in your second point. "However, if udder stress or infection causing mastitis occurs during the nonmilking period, this might result in the death of the nonmilked cow." Also see added sources on my answer which detail adverse effects specific to long-term udder inflammation. So the answer to the first point is, yes, the cow may die. Commented Jul 23, 2016 at 16:55
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    Confused by your answer. You seem to be stating that it will not die or get any infections because research shows that it is possibly to resume milking even after many days of not milking. These two statements are not related.
    – Jonathon
    Commented Jul 24, 2016 at 1:22
  • @Jonathon Wisnoski-I have modified the comment to reflect for healthy cows. Let me know if this makes it understandable Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 6:25
  • @Garet Claborn-Thanks for further confirming my answer because my comments are for nonmilking in healthy cows and not for cows which have an inflammed udder or affected by mastitis which is covered in the second point! Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 6:29
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    I think one point of clarity may help... when you say "No if it is a healthy cow ", its important to note that non-milking is generally what causes mastis. Udder inflammation leads to it pretty easily. So it's not like cows with mastis and cows without mastis are two control groups for this scenario. Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 6:40

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