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TANSTAFM, but almost

March 8, 2008

No, there isn’t any free milk.  But, I think I probably owe my family cow money!  If your looking for dairy production information, you’ll need to look elsewhere.  I hope to convey how a dairy cow fits in on our homesteading lifestyle, and sneak in a little rant.

It is hard for me to put into words how I have felt about my milk cows over the years.  One of my biggest pet peeves, is how badly cattle are taken care of, and what people think is “OK” in regards to feeding and care of cows.  In our state it’s OK to buy sub par feed for cattle, but if you buy bad hay (read cattle hay) for your horses, LOOK OUT, the animal police are going to confiscate your horses, fine you and make sure the news cameras show up at your house to further humiliate you.   This always takes place in the winter after the “dog catcher” has been watching the animals decline for several months.  I’m not condoning feeding any animal badly, but starving livestock is starving livestock PERIOD.   Maybe a little guidance and education would help, or vouchers for feed, if someone finds themselves in financial bind.

Another issue, is a clean well-bedded area to for animals to rest in during inclement weather.  All animals by nature want to be clean.  If you are confining your livestock during the winter months to give the pastures a much needed rest,  please bed them or clean their area daily.  Unfortunately the internet abounds with too many cattle photos showing stock with dried on manure,  sometimes even labeled “cute”, this  shouldn’t be the norm.  If you are giving your cattle a choice between a clean or dirty place to lay, and they still lay in their own excrement – they don’t feel good.  Sounds simple, but this simple fact is often ignored.  End of rant. 

Della – 10 years old 3/5/08  aka “the Queen”
Click for Full Size View

Della – 1 week
Click for Full Size View

When I was growing up, the predominant breed of choice for the dairies around here were Guernseys.  Other breeds were Brown Swiss, Jersey, Ayrshire, and Holstein.  The cream was worth more than the volume of milk.  Now there are no dairies in my county and Oregon is one of many negative milk states.  (Which means, while there are dairies in Oregon, they don’t produce enough milk to meet the demand.)

I have Guernseys, because I grew up with them, I like their temperament, and they are famous for their golden, high butterfat, high beta carotene  milk.  But cattle breeds like everything else are subjective.  I’m doing my small part to conserve their breed, which has moved onto the watch list for the ALBC.  But the reason for this post is to convince you if you want a family cow, that it is do-able IF you like cattle  and want fresh dairy products, beef for your freezer, and the best fertilizer available for your garden.

Family cows are harder to come by now.  There are fewer dairymen in business and replacement heifers are a precious commodity.  When cows do get culled from a dairy, usually their health problems are too complicated for the family homesteader.  A common practice in cattle rearing is to not keep a heifers first calf.  The theory being that the heifer is still growing during her first pregnancy, and the calf may not reach its full potential.  These make good calves for a family cow. My current cow is a first calf.  Her mother was culled because of conformation and sold through the 4-H program.  I bought her from the 4-Her who purchased her as a money making project.  She was bred and 2 months away from calving.  She had many health problems that I was to learn about in her too short ( 7 years) life.  Those 7 years were a learning curve I didn’t even see coming.  Previously, I had been able to get week old calves from an old dairy family near the Tillamook area.  They had a closed Guernsey herd and practiced old time dairy husbandry.  They always left the cows and calves together for at least the first 4 days, ensuring that the calves received  full colostrum.  Also, they sold all first calf heifer calves.  While they weren’t a true seasonal dairy, they managed their pastures well and grazed except during the winter.  The two cows I bought as week old calves from them, lived to 16 years of age.  But, good things come to an end.  The wife suffered a stroke, and then the husband fell ill.  Their children who had no interest in the farm, put them in a home and sold the herd and the farm.  So I had to start searching all over again for a source for calves, I haven’t been able to find a source yet.  I am now raising my own replacement dairy heifers.

Beef cattle are easy compared to dairy cattle.  Generally, nature is allowed to take its course.  The calves stay with their mothers and get all the milk they need.  They are taught what to eat by their mothers and the other cows around them. Herd dynamics are allowed to come into play and the calves are raised with all ages of animals.  They are rarely bottle fed by a human, unless something happens to the dam.  Not so with dairy calves.  I found out later, that Della’s mom may or may not have recieved colostrum, she was fed grain gruel soaked with milk replacer (usually containing restaurant grease, oxidized milk by- products, and antibiotics.  Just to be sure the little buggers don’t get sick on ya!)  It’s no wonder they scour.  The dairy couldn’t be sure – “Do you know what shift she was born on?”  “Usually, the night guys don’t have time for that – and if we were busy milking, sometimes they (calves) get fed late.”  Oh well, so much for her actually getting a good start.    She was two by the time I got her and was a product of pure dairy science.  (NO OFFENSE HERE THREECOLLIE, I can tell you are a responsible dairy family.) 

 They say you get the kid, dog, horse, husband, milk cow, ______ (fill in the blank) that you need, to guide you to the next level of whatever.  At the same time I bought Lee, (Della’s mom) I met a homeopathy student who was interested in treating animals also.  Our journey  with this cow and her subsequent calves began when she freshened.  She delivered OK, but had retained her placenta.  Conventional treatment would be to go in, pull out the placenta, maybe not getting all of it, throw in a uterine bolus of antibiotic and call it good.  After all, a retained placenta is considered normal.  We gave her Caulophyllum 30c bid for 5 days and I tied a towel on her placenta for gentle traction.  It worked and she came into heat within 35 days and re-bred.

This is getting too long – so before I lose you I will give you my milk cow expenses for this last year:

Kelp meal, Thorvin                                    41.00 *   55#
Salt, Redmond trace mineral                      7.00*    50#
Nutribalancer, Fertrell                              42.00*    60#
Azomite                                                         15.00*   44#
grass hay, 2 tons                                       260.00**
grass hay, Eastern Oregon grass
10 bales                                                         80.00
 straw, 1 ton                                                  88.00 

Total                                                           $533.00 

Actual cash out for milk cow                    $203.00  see *, **

*This is the smallest amount I can buy of these items.  I offer these free choice, not mixed together, so I can tell what mineral the cow is eating. This varies by season depending on grazing, dry feed etc.  A good estimate would be probably 1/3 of each bag is consumed by the milk cow and her calf each year.  The rest goes to the beef cattle, pigs or poultry.
**We grow and put up our own hay, this is the price of local grass hay in 2007.

Since our dairy cow is for home use,  and part of our total homestead picture these figures are an estimate.  These are the benefits/offsets to the cash outlay:

-Our production-                                                     -Cost if we purchased same-

1 gallon raw milk per day avg.                                       $12.00 per gallon
60# butter for freezer                                                     $13.50 per lb.

We butcher our grassfed beef at two years, allowing them to gain full size and flavor.  So after waiting two years, you would have a beef each year for family use or to sell.  Our price last year for grassfed beef (ONLY sold during the height of grazing season) was $3.05 per lb. hanging weight. This price is for a split half, so if you sell 4 quarters at that price, assuming your beef dresses out at 550#, you could gross $1700.00 per animal. 

I frequently make yogurt, creme fraiche, kefir and soft cheese, and use the whey for lacto-fermented vegetables.  This usually comes out of the gallon per day of milk that I bring to the house.  The rest goes to the calf, which I will explain in the next post along with our labor expenditure.

I stable the cow and calf during the winter months.  Which is approximately 120 days.  My compost figures are based on that rough estimate.  I clean the cow and calf stalls every day, resulting in about 10 cu. ft of soiled straw and manure.  120 days x 10 cu ft = 1200 cu ft or 45 cu yds.  This 45 yards of compost material break down by about 50% resulting in approximately 20-25 cubic yards of finished material.  This is two large dump truck loads!  Since we use stable minerals for the cattle, the resulting compost is more than just cow manure and straw.  This amount easily covers our 1/2 acre garden space plus the berry garden and orchard.   This from just one cow!  So are the dairy products and beef free or is the compost?  You decide.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 8, 2008 7:50 pm

    I miss having milk cow around. We don’t drink milk but I use it in cooking and I always made cheese and butter. We really miss one around at calving when you need to grab a quick, warm bottle to feed a calf.

  2. March 8, 2008 9:22 pm

    thanks for that run-down on costs, much appreciated. I’ve been reading a lot and had a general sense that it’s a no-brainer in terms of pay-back, but it’s great to see your numbers.

    and of course – you know exactly what you’re drinking/eating, and that’s priceless.

  3. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    March 9, 2008 12:59 am

    Linda – I know what you mean, I freeze the extra colostrum every year just in case. Since we have reduced our beef herd so much and are calving later we haven’t had to resort to that lately. But there is no substitution for the real thing.

    Hayden – thanks for the thanks and stopping by. This morning at chore time I realized a couple of things I had forgot on that post. I will add them, but they still don’t amount to much $$wise.

  4. March 11, 2008 3:26 pm

    There was no offense taken. When Liz went to California on a college trip to tour dairies she was absolutely stunned by what she saw there. Although those mega dairies (who are driving little folks like us right out of business) are held up to us as an example of how to run a dairy business, we could never be so callous. No farm is perfect, but we love our cows. Easy to know and care about fifty….five thousand is another thing entirely. I liked your post…there are only a handful of Guernseys around here too, but Pistachio Pie won grand champion at World Dairy Expo this year, much to our delight. She is a gorgeous cow.

  5. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    March 11, 2008 6:09 pm

    threecollie – I know what you mean about the big dairies. The biggest around here (Oregon) is in Eastern Oregon. The Tillamook Creamery owns it and I think they are licensed for 7500 head and at nearby facility 3500 head for heifers. That’s too many cows in one place. It is a factory plain and simple. Most of the dairy people I had the good fortune to be around while I was growing up, were like you. 50 – 75 head, and when they retired, they switched to beef cattle. You must be doing something right if Liz can see a career path in dairy. The trend here is to switch to organic, pasture based with some emphasis on seasonal production. Some have been able to save their business this way and with less cows too!
    Here’s to a continued good calving season for you with lots of heifers!

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