Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Living with a House Cow

Posted by Bel
From Spiral Garden

I've written before about our house cow:
House Cow FAQs
House Cow Journey Part One
House Cow Journey Part Two
House Cow Journey Part Three
House Cow Journey Continues

It's been over two years since we first brought Lucy home and we're feeling more confident about raising our own cattle these days.  The timeline of our journey (if you don't want to read everything above) goes like this...

We brought Lucy, a pure Jersey cow of a few years of age, here to our 42 acre farm from a dairy.  She was in calf to a Wagyu (beef breed) and had never been hand milked, halter-led etc before.  We also got Honey, a pure Jersey heifer, from another dairy at the same time, just a couple of weeks old.  Lucy raised that calf (begrudgingly), and after she was weaned she had a break, then delivered her Wagyu-cross bull calf named Wags whom we later steered.  I got another pure Jersey heifer, Poppy, to raise alongside this calf.

They weaned and we had mixed success with milking Lucy that lactation.  Awhile after she was AIed we sent her out into the large paddock for a break.  During this time we cared for (and milked) someone else's cow for a few months.  We also had the butcher in for the steer calf, Wags (at 20 months).  Honey went to live with my friend and had her own heifer on her 2nd birthday (a surprise beef X - neighbour's bull!).

Mimi and Lucy
Between Christmas and New Year, we were blessed to welcome another little heifer calf.  This leaves us with 3 pure Jersey females.  Lucy (the original cow), Poppy (the 2nd foster heifer) and now Mimi (Lucy's own heifer calf).  These three will be our house cows in rotation over the coming years, all going well!

The delivery of Lucy's second calf on our farm went smoothly.  I went out to the shops after lunch one day, and when I drove back in the driveway there was a calf at her feet.  The delivery of the placenta, her feeding the calf, first milkings etc all went very smoothly.  It's hard to tell if that's luck, experience or good management though!

Mimi and Lucy
Again we froze all the colostrum we milked off during the first week.  We keep this in case the calf becomes unwell, but we've not had to bottle-feed any calves to date.
Baby Mimi
Because I'm share-milking with only one calf this time, we get a lot of milk each day.  It's time to get back into making feta, yoghurt, quark, custard, bechamel sauce and all those other recipes to use up milk!  It's probably time for me to learn some more cheesemaking.  I'll be heading over the Little Green Cheese for some inspiration!  While I wasn't milking, I was buying Misty Mountain dairy products.  It's lovely to have a local alternative so similar to our house cow's milk, but of course it's just not the same!

Looking back, the first months with our house cow were the hardest.  It was a huge learning curve and we were having a dry spell so feed was expensive.  Feed doesn't ever cost over $20 per week now, during peak milking/feed times.  I switched to chaff (oaten/lucerne) over bales of hay to reduce waste (stalks flicked onto the floor by Lucy).  I still give a little steam rolled (micronised) barley at milking time only.  We found a bulk source of seaweed meal which makes it much more affordable and so tend to give this valuable supplement more generously.  We use natural sprays for flies, balms for udder etc as per suggestions on The Family Cow forum.  We mix these up ourselves from ingredients bought in bulk.  We use diatomaceous earth (DE) in the feed buckets for about 4 days around the full moon each month as a worming preventative.  We also dust it on for ticks and flies and sprinkle in the bedding area as required.

 I'm always seeking the best way, asking questions, reading books, articles and forums when I have questions no one knows the answer to.  Trying different things with my cattle, and being as present as possible - checking them over daily so that any health problems are immediately recognised.  A lot of what I do is quite different from standard dairying practice in my area.  But when you're working with a very small herd, you can afford the time and resources to do things differently.

Timing of holidays is really tricky with a house cow.  Recently we had a two month break of no milking, and I really should have taken advantage of that more.  It still took some effort to arrange for people to look after our pets and other farm animals, but it's really tricky to get someone in to milk a cow!  When thinking about weaning a calf, drying off a cow, timing of AI, etc - we try to time this to best suit family commitments.  And these things don't happen overnight, so spontaneity can go out the window somewhat!

When others ask me about having a house cow, I strongly suggest that unless they are really passionate about it, and willing to spend a lot of time with their cow, don't bother.  Even though these past couple of years of raising our own cattle have been so very rewarding for me, I know it's not for everyone, especially in today's fast-paced society.

cow - adult female bovine who has had a calf, generally over 2 years of age
bull - adult male bovine who has not been castrated
steer - male bovine who has been castrated
heifer - young female bovine, who hasn't calved
AI - artificial insemination - how to get a calf when you don't own a bull
colostrum - first milk