Free Range Jane
ogistics for a family milk cow in a rotational grazing set-up requires some creative thinking. There is more than one way to skin a cat, so I’ll post about what I do and how it fits into our farm situation. Right now Jane is free ranging in a hay field that was cut three weeks ago. In this field she has access to tall grass and hedgerow plants in addition to lush new growth. She is also eating about 15 pounds of grass hay per day to balance out the high protein regrowth. This is our grass hay, not eastern Oregon grass hay which is a whole different animal when you live in the Pacific Northwest. Eastern dry side hay is pretty hot stuff, and not what I am looking for in hay for my animals.
When you have a family cow the milking is what most people fixate on, but it’s actually the easiest part of the whole process. I spend more time planning for the feeding process of the cow for the entire year. Starting from a timed calving on grass to continued good forage/hay for the rest of the year. And chore flow too, here are some of the things I think about and try to implement with my family cow.
♥ Spring calving, healthiest for the cow and calf and people who consume the milk. I’m not all that into the store-bought mentality of fresh, on demand food year round. It drives me crazy to hear everyone get on their soap box about animal treatment in large dairies and then watch them do the same with their own cow and or demand that of their milk provider – that’s my soap box! Seasonal means seasonal.
♥ I milk on a 14/10 schedule so I can have a life in the evening. It’s nice to have chores done before dinner. This also fits in with my plan of having the calf be the relief milker. Soon Blake will be able to take over the evening milking and that frees up more of my time and gives her more milk so she can grow into a big healthy cow. My milk cow’s calf is as important to me any other calf we have. The calf will either be a future cow or future food for someone, no point in shorting the calf.
♥ I keep the milk cow separate from my beef cows because my cows may be a mile away. That’s too far, and I have no desire to cart my milk supplies and milk all over the farm. Jane comes to the barn to be milked, and her calf is brought in at the same time to nurse as well. This requires halter breaking and manners. This also requires that Jane be kept reasonably close too.
♥ Family cows are a very intense project, therefore I believe they fit in permaculture zone 1, which in turn fits in with our farmstead layout. All the areas around the greenhouses and gardens need mowing, by utilizing these spaces as pasture for the house cow they become less of a maintenance chore and a more integral part of the permaculture stacking principle. Of course, if you want a manicured lawn look, grazing a house cow around your garden headlands will not work, since you need to let the forage regrow so it can be grazed. Aesthetics vs practicality, you choose.
Lots of nice clovers, plantain and dandelions here too. A good mix for grazing animals.
We harvest sunlight for winter by cutting hay, and also by growing root crops for the milk cow.
For Jane, from left to right: parsnip for seed, parsnips, and carrots in addition to the mangels. Root crops are a medium fertility crop, easy to grow in large quantities, and in my location store in the ground until needed. A welcome treat for Jane in the dark days of winter, and a welcome relief from the feed store bill. Since she had a spring calf, her feed demands will be less in winter, as she will be in late lactation and heading towards her dry period. If you have stock and you are buying a big percentage of their food, you should probably ask yourself what would you do if that source dried up (pun intended) or became so expensive you could not afford to feed your stock? Or if you are having to irrigate and drag and mow your pasture to keep it green? What if? Could you do with less production or do you need a different cow? If I run up against a brick wall I try to think of a way around it by being flexible in my grass management.
Miss Blakey – Wakey, recalcitrant one minute and coming when called the next. Typical calf. Like Jane she is put wherever is the most convenient for us and satisfies our criteria for providing what the animal needs. At the moment she has the run of the barnyard where she has the water delivered from the spring, shade, sun, grass, a mineral tub and a loafing shed should she be so inclined to loaf inside.
My best advice is not to impose too many rules on yourself regarding your milk cow, just provide the basics, and enjoy the fresh dairy products. If you make mistakes in your grazing, it’s easy to fix and I think most us learn more from our mistakes anyway