Milking a cow, though a bumpy ride for the first few weeks, has slowly become a normal part of the morning routine. It has involved working out feed quantities, sourcing economical hay and which grains to feed at the morning milking. I have learnt to be very organized and to have everything ready before I open that stable door, because running out of feed will quickly put an end to the morning milking! For a two year old cow on her first calf I think Bessie is doing quite well to put up with our beginner milking attempts. She is pretty happy during milking as long as that feed doesn't run out.
I know I would not have been able to any of this without my hard working other half. He has fixed fences, chased up a giant roll of hay, pumped water and puts a rather cunning calf away every night. I am very grateful for his help. Although I do sometimes hear him mumbling that we should really just go and buy milk.
Share milking with the calf, by locking him up during the night, seems to be going quite well. I usually arrive home with between 3 and 4 litres. She still withholds some milk for the calf, because I know that udder is not empty, and besides not very long after milking the calf has frothy cream dripping from his mouth at his first feed of the day. But I have heard that can be the price you pay for share milking. It eases the pressure of milking, and can even mean a few days off. But you do only get half the milk, sometimes less. For now though, we are happy with that. I gave myself a day off last weekend, and actually missed milking!
Our little steer calf, beautiful and doe-like that he is, is sadly destined for the freezer at some stage. It is an unfortunate fact of life that few people can afford the keep of a pet steer. So we are not becoming too attached to him, while at the same time he does not seem to like us very much. At some point in the future he will be weaned and separated from his mother, and we hope to be able to provide perhaps another steer to keep him company as he fattens up. Some people may find this hard to comprehend, but as meat eaters we see this as an opportunity for taking responsibility as to where our meat comes from. Knowing that he has lived a pleasant life and hasn't had to endure the stress of being butchered elsewhere has to be better. Besides, there is not much point spending the money to buy meat, when we have it here already.
With all the decisions to make, the hard work and time involved, do I feel it is all worth it? For me the answer is yes. There is a sense of satisfaction difficult to find within other areas of life, that has to do with working with animals and providing food for the family. Watching cows eating in the paddock is strangely calming. It feels good to be both physically and emotionally connected to our food supply.
I have not added the monetary figures up yet, but I know it will be quite some time before we break even. But it's not all about the money, is it? There is so much more to it than that.
We're consuming a lot more milk now as a family. Raw milk feels very nourishing, and it makes me feel strong and energetic. The kids drink several glasses a day, and no one has had a hint of sickness since we started milking Bessie. Sadly there is not enough milk left over to make any cheese, but I do manage to make yoghurt, kefir and occasionally ricotta with any excess.
I thank you all again for your wonderfully supportive comments in my previous cow post.
Here are the books that I have found to be the most helpful :
Keeping a Family Cow : I love this one, it is like the bible of keeping a family cow, and there is a new addition out now that I am very tempted to order.
The Heathy House Cow : A little local book that is my favourite reference. Marja's love of her cows really shines through, and her Australian perspective is very handy.
The Family Cow : The classic 1976 guide, and it is quite an entertaining read.
Natural Cattle Care : Pat Coleby's guide to healthy cows using organic methods and minerals.
The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable : A good book to have on hand for herbal treatments.
The Untold Story of Milk : This was the book that started me off on our cow journey!
Other useful links :
Keeping a Family Cow proboards
Once a Day Milking by Patrice Lewis
Inspiration from the blogging world :
Eight Acres : an Aussie blog starring a lovely Jersey cow. Highly informative.
Longest Acres : How to buy a family cow.