Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden
I'm cross-posting from Home Grown this week, because my cows are the most interesting thing happening on the farm right now!
I began milking Lucy when Wags was a few weeks old. Until then, he and Poppy the foster calf shared all the milk. As they began to eat a little grain and some hay and grass, I decided to separate Lucy and Honey from them during the day, giving her several hours to graze the grass in the orchard and house paddock, and then I brought her in to be fed, checked over and milked before releasing her back into the small paddock with the babies and Honey for the night. I did this around four times each week, taking around 3 to 4 litres each milking. The other days they all grazed together. This routine went well for a little while, and then Lucy was only giving 2 litres at each milking, and then just a litre for the final couple of milkings last week. And then I gave up. Why go to all the bother of mixing feed, setting up, milking, cleaning the dairy, the buckets and everything for a mere litre of milk? As I led Lucy back to the small paddock, her udder would swell and teats fill with the rest of the milk she had withheld from me, ready to feed her babies she'd been apart from all day.
Last week we let them all into a larger paddock to allow us to do some maintenance on their small paddock and the areas we graze them inside electric fence tape. I'm not milking Lucy for awhile. We've slashed their paddocks and we'll harvest some manure and hay from near their pens to use in some of the raised garden beds I've emptied out recently. Do I still have a House Cow? Or a dairy breed with her calves let loose in the paddock? I'm trying to convince them they're still our dairy herd by encouraging them back to the water troughs daily for their minerals, perhaps some hay or another treat, and some checking over and brushing. Poppy and Honey especially love to be brushed, I think because they've had less affection from Lucy, being foster calves. I use a horse brush on them and they mostly love careful strokes around their face and ears.
When it's time to wean the calves, I'll bring Lucy back to the small paddock. I'm not sure on the exact management of the herd from there, but I'll try to get her into once-a-day milking again. I don't think I'll bother with another foster calf for a little while.
We have just castrated Wags using the banding method, which seems to us to have been a humane way to carry out the process. His job now is to eat grass and grow big!
The next thing we need to think about is getting Lucy artificially inseminated (AIed), which is usually done three months after a dairy cow calves.
So much to consider... And to think that once I just thought that cows ate grass, drank water, made manure and existed with little human intervention!