29 July 2008

There go the last of my marbles...

Well, now I've gone and done it.

I bought a cow. And a calf. And the cow is bred to calve in the spring.

Yes, clearly I have lost the last of my marbles.

Now, you have to understand that cattle scare me. Oh, I like cows in the abstract, and I love it when the man who leases the land across the road brings his cattle out to eat the summer pasture - their lowing and lumbering walk just makes me feel peaceful. I enjoy milk and cheese and beef. However, when we're at the 4-H fairs I go the long way around so that I can keep plenty of space between myself and any cattle - they are just so overwhelmingly large and powerful. The fact that someone's calf always gets loose and there's 1200 pounds of meat on the hoof racing through the aisles doesn't do much to allay my fears.

And then ...

Well, and then I started to think. That's always the beginning of trouble.

The Reluctant Farmer mentioned plans to build a barn on the back of the shed, so that we'd have a place to put sheep out of the weather during lambing season and a sheltered spot for various outdoor things.

This led to more thinking: a barn would be a place to milk a cow. If you have a cow for milking, you have calves for beef. If you have calves and a milk cow, you can do what's called shared milking where the calf nurses freely all day, and you separate cow and calf at night ... so you only have to do morning milking, and if you are away for a day or two, the calf will milk the cow for you meaning that you aren't tied to the farm the way you are in a traditional twice-a-day milking schedule.

And then I found a Dexter cow/calf pair for sale right nearby.

And last but not least, The Reluctant Farmer agreed that this made sense.

Good heavens.

Our new cattle are Dexters. Dexter cattle are very small (under 700 pounds, which is just over half the size of a full grown beef cow) and they are considered ideal for acreages due to their size and efficiency. The cows can sustain a calf while still providing enough milk for a human family as well. You can keep a cow/calf pair on as little as an acre of good pasture, and cows and sheep share pasture really well as they prefer slightly different sorts of grasses and they do not cross-infect each other with the various ailments that afflict livestock.

Our household goes through approximately 312 jugs of milk each year, at four litres per jug, and we eat about 260 pounds of beef annually. A Dexter cow will give us at least 270 jugs of milk each year, and 455 pounds of beef, with the input cost of pasture in summer and hay in winter. We are already outside feeding sheep, and so tossing hay to the cows as well adds very little to what we are already doing. Milking is an added chore, to be sure, but the numbers make the decision obvious: the projected value of milk and meat from this investment (after deducting the annual cost to maintain the cows themselves) will mean more than a thousand dollars off the grocery bill every year. I ran the numbers several different ways, and consistently get that result ... it's amazing.

For that kind of payoff, I think that taming a cow, training her to milk, and donating a bit of time every day to the task of milking is easily worth the effort ... never mind the satisfaction and sheer goodness of having home grown milk and grass-fed beef to put on the table.

So, without further ado I am pleased to introduce you to the newest members of the Apple Jack Creek Farm: Sasha the soon-to-be-dairy-cow, and her steer calf Darth Vader.

Sasha & DarthVader

The great Lord Vader himself, looking regal

Sasha, showing off her figure


  1. Anonymous9:18 am

    I guess if doesn't work out for you, you can always sell the animals. I will be interested to know how the kids like the "fresh" milk. When we were served it at the farm, as a kid I was not impressed. Now the wonderful whipping cream......that is entirely different.

  2. Yes, that's pretty much how we looked at it too: if it works, great! If not, well, we have a beef calf that can go to the freezer and someone else will no doubt be happy to take a Dexter, they are fairly popular in this area.

    I don't think I have ever had fresh milk, not that I recall, anyway ... so it'll be an experience for all of us!

  3. Anonymous9:30 pm

    Congratulations on your new addition(s. We have found our dairy cow to be the most economically sound unit on our farm.


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