Friday, October 18, 2013

our family cow update

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.


  1. Good for you! Glad to hear it's all going well now and no, it certainly isn't all about the money as no amount of money can ever buy that feeling!

  2. How inspiring! Well done on being responsible meat eaters, I agree with your views & would like to take steps in ethical meat eating myself, although raising our own meat is out of the question here on a country-town regular block!

  3. Yay Tania, well done to you! I have been wondering how you were going. xxBrenda

  4. We have just moved off property and I to town. On our property we raised and butchered our own beef. Our beasts were all named and had wonderful lives and they paid us back with lovely meat. Our children grew up with this and understood the cycle of life. Well done to you and yours. Love those big beautiful eyes if Bessie and her calf.

  5. Bessie looks in great condition.
    Glad to hear that all is going smoothly and you are getting the hang of it. x

  6. She looks very similar to our cow Bella with that dark face, although Bella does still have her horns. It is all worth it isn't it to be able to have raw milk. But the comforting feel of a cow chewing it's cud is such a delight. Oh and the manure is so good for the garden. so many pluses I think!

  7. I know exactly what you are saying! Our milking heifers are not yet old enough to become milking cows (we raised them from calves after purchasing from a dairy where they simply shoot male calves & females they have no room to keep!) We grow our own beef & chicken, eggs & a good supply of our veggies. Occasionally we treat ourselves to some biodynamic free range pork that is raised in the neighbouring town but other than that all meat comes from our small farm. Soon we hope to be able to keep a pig or two and half a dozen sheep alongside our Lowlines & many chickens.
    Growing food, and making it from scratch does feel so good doesn't it?
    Bessie looks wonderfully healthy!

    Sarah xx

  8. Thanks for sharing! I do so enjoy reading your blog, whether it is your latest sewing project or beautiful photos of your property. One of my fave's Tania.


  9. Oh yay ! They look lovely :) have you watched any River Cottage Australia (you tube!) - he butchered his first pig... Your kids will know where meat comes from then ! Question though; who will milk her if you want to go away for a few days ?
    Hope your weekend is a bit less busy !

  10. Hi Lauren :) Luckily share milking means you can go away for a day or two as you can just leave the calf with the cow all the time(though we would plan to have someone check on them). Otherwise I have a family member who has a lot of goat milking experience and has volunteered her services if need be :)

  11. Jeanie (in Scotland)October 19, 2013 at 1:22 AM

    Hi Tania,
    We have eleven Jersey heifers along with our Belted Galloways.

    We've found that the Jerseys need better pasture than the Galloways.

    In view of your poor pasture I wonder if it's wise to think of introducing another steer (of any variety)?

    Your two look to be doing well in view of the poor state the heifer was in when you bought her.

    By the way we've found that our Jerseys don't lose condition when they give birth, far from it, they positively bloom!

    You're right, keeping cattle can be so calming, who needs antidepressants when you can lean on a fench watching them (after the chores of course!)

  12. Hey, thanks for linking to my blog! It looks like you are doing really well with Bessie and getting your own routine figured out, well done! Sounds like you have a good plan for the calf, they get less cute and more pushy as they get older, so the butchering isn't as difficult as it might seem now when he is so cute. Cheers, Liz

  13. She is such a sweet looking girl, well done on the milking, not sure I could master it so quick!
    If everyone took responsibility for where their meat came from, how it was raised and lived there would be far less animal cruelty in the world. Kudos to you and your family, I am seriously jealous. :)

  14. Fabulous Tania!

    Thankyou for sharing this wonderful post! I would love to have a milking cow one day. We have two steers that will end up in the freezer too. Whilst the thought is a bit daunting, we are meat eaters and I think it is better to know where the meat is coming from than purchase it elsewhere. Thanks for sharing the links too...hopefully one day I'll be milking our own dairy cow too! xx

  15. We raised a steer (castrated) for meat once and one night in the middle of the night he jumped over the fence and ran away. He was found the next day with a herd of cows down the road. He was lonely! They are herd animals of course. The farmer let him live out his days there with his friends until we had him butchered. We found out he wasn't completely castrated so maybe that's why he went looking for friends?

  16. she truly looks wonderfully healthy! will you always bring in hay or do you have hopes of revitalizing your pasture?

  17. Lovely post and the cow & little steer are looking so good! It brought back memories when you spoke of eating him. We used to eat our young male goats and would name them Ed, for edible... terrible, but it helped us to remember and keep that bit of self awareness. And yes, I would rather eat an animal that I know has had a good lovely pastured life with company and plenty of food & water. We never tied our male goats up. Apparently some do & they live sad little lives tied up "out back". Ours had their very own pasture & we had a few, for company. Anyway, I digress, but I think you are spot on raising your own meat animals, and he obviously has a nice life! :-)


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