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My Happy Cow is 12

March 3, 2010

I haven’t seen a chart on cow years compared to human years like is common with dogs.  But I doubt it is 7 to 1, she seems pretty spry for 84!

A little vitamin D, and some dirt on your horns and you’re set.

Della’s birth here on the farm was the beginning of a very frustrating journey for me.  I had no idea what I was getting into.  I bought her mom as a bred first calf heifer, from a girl who went on to be the dairy princess in our state a few years later.  Her parents no longer dairied but had specific ideas how modern dairy calves should be raised.  Basically drink milk from a bucket (no sucking) and lots of grain and no forage except alfalfa.  Besides early weaning, she had been in a continuous graze situation with sheep.  Which means I doubt that she ever really had any long-stemmed forage in any quantities until coming here.   Cows have no top teeth in the front, therefore they have to tear their grass off, sheep and horses can nibble the grass right down to the dirt.  It’s fine to have multiple species pastured together, providing there is enough food for them, otherwise it is a bad idea.  And short grass is  minerally deficient, since the roots mirror the leaf in length.   And we all should admit, that we need to do more to replenish our soils, it is an ongoing effort, that many times takes a backseat.

I had previously bought week old heifers from some old dairy folks near Tillamook when I needed a replacement or had extra milk and wanted another calf to raise.  They were frugal, with a seasonal grass based dairy, (before it was “in”) and their cows lived long and so did their calves that I bought from them.  But good things come to an end – and the old dairy farmers got too old and sick to continue.  No more good Guernsey calves for me.  I depended on them being there forever, which I know is silly, but it’s like going to the store – the shelves are always stocked right?  I should have  been AI’ing some of those good cows I had, but it was much easier to breed the milk cow to the beef bull and not mess with AI.  Hindsight is always so clear.  My fall back plan was the raw milk Guernsey dairy in the neighboring town – but while I was busy with my family cow, the raw milk guy was losing a battle with his new neighbors.  You know the story, move in next to a dairy and then all of a sudden, there are sights, sounds and smells that you can’t live with.  The raw milk guy sold out to developers and moved to a less populated area of Oregon.


Lee, Della’s mom was peach, but she was nightmare to keep flesh on.  Not a really high producer but a bear to keep in halfway decent shape, and get rebred.  I was used to cows who never missed a beat and did well on grass and a small amount of grain.  My experience with dairy cows was that they were not that dissimilar from our beef cows, only they gave more milk.  Sadly, Lee died at age 7, I take the blame for not knowing and learning more about modern feeding protocol on some dairies.  I also vowed that I would not change my habits to match the popular trend in unnatural rearing for dairy calves.  Della is some proof that I reversed a little of Lee’s bad start.

I am sure I have real dairy people laughing at me and shaking their heads, but dairy cows were not always fraught with so many health problems.  There must be a happy medium without going into faddish dual purpose or mini cows, I want a cow that produces enough milk for my family and that can raise her calf without being sick.  I don’t want to be the farmer who proudly says I take care of my cows because I have the vet out to perform routine surgery that doesn’t need to be routine.  I expect more in the way of health not more in way of production.  But I have to do my part.  Thanks Della, it has been a great 12 years!

43 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2010 8:21 am

    Happy Birthday, Ms Della!

    Twelve, wow. And many more years to come for her I am sure with her great care.

    Interesting factoid about no upper front teeth; goats don’t have them either. And interesting about trying to get Lee to eat. I am having the same issue here with our goat as she’d never really been exposed to anything except hay bales and commercial grain. Baby steps, though; she now likes greenhouse goodies and the ever-present apples and beets around here.

    I am loving life as a milkmaid and I have to credit you, Nita, for a good part of it: you’ve done such a great job communicating the ups and downs, but mostly ups. Thank you!!

    • March 3, 2010 5:35 pm

      El, 12 is getting up there for a cow – heck I just got her trained 😉 Rather, she finally has me trained.

      Lee loved to eat, but her rumen didn’t really function well since it never really developed properly. I had no idea, since she was raised so differently than what I was used to. She just couldn’t get enough goody out of her food. Live and learn.

      Good luck with your goat – sounds like you have got it handled already!

  2. Susan permalink
    March 3, 2010 8:54 am

    I have a neighbor who dairies about 60 Holsteins. He ‘gave’ me a Jersey (mostly) heifer calf, which he is keeping there until I can set her up. I am worried about the interim, as he keeps his cows in all winter, tied in stanchions, then out in the spring. His usual MO is to put a bull out with the herd, though he also AIs his best milkers. This would mean he wouldn’t put Jasmine out at all, since we are planning to AI her in April. I am thinking I would prefer to have her in a small pasture with my sheep and feed her hay with her forage. What do you think?

    • Susan permalink
      March 3, 2010 8:56 am

      Yikes! I forgot to add that Della looks amazing and healthy, which was what compelled me to fire off the earlier comment! ;o)

    • March 3, 2010 5:45 pm

      Susan, if you can bring her home I would, the more exercise she gets the better for her bones. I confine my cows in the winter, but they do get to move around freely. She wouldn’t really be eating anything but hay in the winter so she may as well be eating it at your place, that way she can get to know you, and you can be feeding her what you want in the way of hay and minerals. She sounds like a sweetie. I wish there were dairies near here, sadly there aren’t any close by.

      This is my free advice, so take it with a grain of salt, if she were mine I wouldn’t breed her in April, for a winter calf. A good month on spring grass before birth is the best for the cow and the calf, and the best for you health wise with the grass fed milk and butter. I know cows can have calves any month of the year, but things go so much easier with a little chlorophyll added in… We breed in August for May calves out on pasture. Unless of course you live where the grass grows really well in January, then disregard this whole paragraph 🙂

  3. March 3, 2010 9:02 am

    Happy Birthday Della! Both my parents’ dairy farms focused on grass, since it was frugal 🙂 Neither is operating anymore: my dad’s family’s barn burned down in the 70’s and they had to put down the cows that survived and they moved on to make our farm what it has become now, more of an orchard. My mom’s family stopped selling milk but they still have cows and board horses (much more money in that around here). Anyway, I have dreams of having my own dairy cow someday.

    My aunt got an angry call from a neighbor after my uncle was out spreading manure in the hayfield near her house. Her complaint was that it smelled when she opened her windows. My aunt’s response: “This farm has been here 100 years. Close your windows!” Love my aunt 🙂

  4. March 3, 2010 9:04 am

    Oh, I’ve also heard that 7 is about a normal lifespan (maybe even long-lived) for dairy cows in industrial production nowadays. So sad!

    • March 3, 2010 5:52 pm

      Abbie, that must have been terrible on your dads family to see that all go up in smoke and then having to deal with the survivors. It sounds like it morphed into something great though with the orchard and fruit stand. Farmers are survivors anyway, as your family shows 🙂

      Love your Aunt too!

      Poor Lee, I really missed that cow, she was so sweet, but she taught me a lot. She was culled for conformation for showing, but it made no difference on her milking production, and especially not for a family cow.

  5. March 3, 2010 9:36 am

    The raw milk dairy we get our milk from raises their girls in a similar manner. The males are taken and bottle fed, but the girls are allowed to nurse with the mothers. They still get weaned relatively young, but are then weaned onto pasture and hay in the winter. They have the occasional grain, but it is a very small part of their diet. The cows are quite healthy and require very little in the way of intervention medically. I feel very lucky to be able to get my milk from them. The problem is that the farmer is older and although the sons participate on the farm, they don’t wish to continue on in his footsteps. I wish I was able to take over for him, but I think that would be a bit unrealistic.

    • March 3, 2010 6:01 pm

      The Mom, I am jealous, I would never not have my own cow, but I long for the dairy industry that used to be. In this area there are very few small dairies – when there used to be many. Every time more regulations are added on, and prices go lower or don’t rise, more dairies go by the wayside. I can’t blame the sons, with the current economic climate they probably can’t see much of a future in small dairy.

      Maybe you could help him a little and pick his brain – dairying can be a lonely business. You never know… 🙂

  6. March 3, 2010 10:02 am

    I humbly submit the suggestion that “real dairy people” are those who understand the needs of their charges well enough that their animals prosper. You seem plenty real to me.

    • March 3, 2010 6:05 pm

      Maggie, thanks for that – I guess I mean large mega dairies that are considered to be real dairies these days. It’s funny how a 100 cow dairy used to be considered large or good sized and adequate for a family to make a living. Now that size dairy is going by the wayside at a rapid rate, meanwhile milk is shipped in from China – how can that be better for anyone, I have no idea… .

  7. tcuppminiatures permalink
    March 3, 2010 10:14 am

    She is a pretty girl and a testament to your good care! I have a lovely 11 year old that will give birth in May! Good job on raising your girl right!


  8. peacefulacres permalink
    March 3, 2010 11:30 am

    Happy Birthday Della!!!

  9. March 3, 2010 3:02 pm

    Happy birthday to Della………We had one range cow that had her last calf at 21……..Old for a cow at any place. 14 is old for most on a ranch in these parts.

    • March 3, 2010 6:08 pm

      Linda, you got me beat, we had a 19 year old, she still was in good shape, but lost her last calves – twins. 15 is oldest I have got with a milk cow. I hope Della goes how I want to go – quick! I don’t want to agonize over what to do.

  10. March 3, 2010 3:49 pm

    Isn’t it funny how things just do better when we don’t interfere too much?

    Della looks great, for any age.

  11. March 3, 2010 4:05 pm

    I thought you woudl get a kick out of reading about this 28 year old cow giving birth. sounds like Della coudl pull that off some day….

    • March 3, 2010 6:12 pm

      mims, I saw that, but I would have to wonder if the cow was really that old. But you never know – I won’t show this to Della, she would horn me for sure! Just kidding. She loves her calves until weaning time and then I have no idea what she tells them, but they get it. She gives me a little longer to milk after that, and then I get the message, time for a milkcation. 🙂

  12. March 3, 2010 6:52 pm

    Happy birthday to Della! Its nice to see a happy cow. One thing I’ve been wondering is how you do the calf/momma cow thing? You mentioned before not taking all the milk (I think), and I was just wondering how that works – do you just milk her less and she also nurses the calf? I’ve read that cows can produce way more milk than their calves need but I was just wondering about the logistics. If I’ve got it all wrong, then I apologize for not knowing what I’m talking about – its just so interesting! 🙂

    • March 3, 2010 9:02 pm

      Lina, she had a good day I guess…for a cow anyway.

      I share-milk with the calf. But I do it a little differently than most, because I separate the cow and calf, and the calf nurses at milking time. That way the calf is nursing and I can monitor the udder to make sure the cow gets milked out. While the calf is little, I take about 2/3 of the milk and calf gets the remaining 1/3. This gives me lots of milk to make butter with, while the fat globules are still quite large. That makes the butter come fast. As the calf gets larger, it can drink more milk, the fat globules are getting smaller to adjust to the calf’s changing digestive system and it is getting harder to churn the butter, at that time I have gotten enough butter for storage and can let the calf take more milk. In the meantime the calf has learned manners from being halter broke, it learns to be restrained, handled and tethered, and is totally sacked out. It has manners from daily handling but still retains a flight zone from being dam raised. Much safer for all, a calf that nurses from a bottle or bucket can be a handful. Not bad always, but nonetheless, a cow with a natural flight zone is much easier to handle than one that thinks you are it’s peer, they get big and pushy real fast.

      And what works the best for me is that by about the fourth month or so, I can let my calf be my relief milker if I want to take a milking off, and if I had to leave I could, because the calf could handle the milk if need be. Some people like to leave the cow and calf together, but that has never worked too well for me, without inviting mastitis. My method is not totally natural because the calf does only get to drink twice a day after the first week, but it works and Della is proof – she nursed her mom for 9 months twice a day, and she has done well. She leads, ties, and will come anytime I call her, but I can also drive her if need be. She learned most of what I expect of her in her first month of life. I like being hands on with the calves and I don’t want all the milk.

      • March 4, 2010 5:36 am

        Fascinating! Thanks so much for the detailed reply. We are hoping to get a cow in the next couple of years and its really helpful to hear how other folks do things. I appreciate it!

  13. March 3, 2010 11:00 pm

    I can attest to bottle fed calves getting too chummy and too big pretty quickly. I’ve got 3 holstein steers that are my best friend in their pasture. now that they’re pushing 800lbs each, well…

    Live and learn.

    • March 4, 2010 5:43 am

      Bruce, don’t feel bad about not seeing it coming – it happens. The worst predicaments with cattle I have gotten into have been with bottle raised calves. A good thunk on the nose or horns gets their attention.

  14. March 4, 2010 3:29 am

    She’s a beauty 🙂

  15. March 4, 2010 5:04 am

    One of my sidelines is doing a couple of hours worth of outside chores for the neighboring little dairy and in return we get bull calves and raise ’em on the bottle. Just like Cocker Spaniels, dairy cows have been bred for the traits the owners want, in the case of cows it’s lots of milk – way down the list somewhere is small calves that don’t kill momma.

    Just like Cockers, which once were hunting dogs but now have long pretty ears instead of hunting skill, much of the mother instinct has been bred out of modern dairy breeds, and many times it takes heroic measures just to get the babies to survive the first few days. So too, the ability to survive on grass is being bred out in favor of fast weight gain (or milk production) on concentrated feed.

    Miniature toy cows, like toy poodles are as much a mistake as the back and white Frankenstein milk machines now populating most dairies.

    It’s just my opinion but I think small time family farmers and hobby farmers should take it upon ourselves to preserve the old lines bred over hundreds of years for overall utility, whether it’s tomatoes, chickens or cows. We might need those genes one day.

    Wow! Quite the rant for this early!

    • March 4, 2010 8:29 am

      Mike, I agree we should save or bring back some of the old breeds and seeds, but some are gone for a reason. I’m on the fence with this one, I like hybrids and heirlooms in my vegetables and animals. It depends on the situation, but more and more the heirloom breeds and seeds are for the affluent. They are rare and they cost a lot. When it comes down to it at the end of the day, I want to know that my cow will give enough milk for me and her calf, and that my meat chicken will only cost me $3.00 a pound to raise not $6.00. Growing up frugally on a farm means I have to look at it in a practical way – that expensive mini Jersey or Dexter ( fill in the blank) is still only worth so much at the auction or in my freezer, otherwise it just an expensive hobby. Sometimes the math isn’t there, my friend who bought a mini despite my advice, thinking the cow would eat less than my cow, now wants more milk. She is thinking of a second cow. She will then have two cows and the same amount of milk I get with one. I’m betting that two cows will eat more than my one and it will take her longer to milk two compared to one. Doesn’t pencil out.

      And I have to say – I don’t blame the animals no matter what their breed (I have met many Holsteins and Cornish X that are pretty nice) I blame the humans.

      Rant on your rant – sorry.

  16. March 4, 2010 7:15 am

    Della is such a pretty girl! Loved the discussion, too – so much uncommonly “common” sense here.

    Maybe someday. Your comment about being able to take breaks after 4 months really caught my attention. It’s one thing to be (ahem) hands-on daily or 2X daily for 4-6 months, and quite another to be there all of the time, all year. It’s something I’m taking my time with, learning my own level of willingness to be here all of the time.

    • March 4, 2010 7:41 am

      Hayden, I still have to be there to make sure the cow is milked out properly but sometimes just not doing a simple chore one day can be a great stress reliever! This last lactation has been a test for me – her calves were born dead, and I had to milk her for the first time the entire lactation twice a day. She was very sad, and we were sad, not realizing how much the yearly milk cow’s calf really brought into our lives. It’s hard to explain, but it becomes a triad comprised of the cow, calf and milker. I feel like a motherly aunt, the calf knows I bring feed to it and its mother or that I will take it to new grass each day. Almost all encounters are friendly, positive and very rewarding for the human. A calf kiss is the sweetest thing. I like it when my cows talk to me, it makes me feel special 🙂

  17. Jessika permalink
    March 4, 2010 9:13 am

    Della is looking good. I have much the same ideals for my cattle. Only I’ve still got the first generation cows I got from the dairy, but slowly- the heifers are coming along. I see fascinating changes like for instance, my cows need to walk a couple miles to from the pature to get milked everyday and they actually have beefier, muscled hindquarters than their mothers because they are adapting. I used a live bull out of a NZ sire on all the cows this year too. The calves definitely have a different look to them.
    How sad that your good source for heifers is gone.

  18. Blair permalink
    March 4, 2010 10:44 am

    I think that what are saying is pretty much right-on. My parents have a dairy and they have had similar issues if they buy cattle about keeping weight on them and re-breeding. That’s why they started cross-breeding to different diary and beef breeds to get a good mix. They aren’t as worried with the production if the cows are doing well and breed back fine.

  19. March 4, 2010 1:44 pm

    We are starting to see some ‘alarming’ changes over here. Only three dairies left in our area, but they are huge 800-1000 cows. There are a few people who milk for themselves and a few ‘friends” but most people are horrified at raw milk. Geez.

    Another weird fact is we are seeing bulls left in with the cows during birth month and right after. No more waiting for a recovery month or two. We strive for two.

    I am saddened and sickened by our world’s need to push production.

    I’m glad there are people like you (and us and a few others out there) who get to have and raise animals in a humane way.


    • March 4, 2010 2:15 pm

      Linda, same here, no dairies in this county, and are a few cows here and there but not too many. Leave the bull in, call the vet to abort the heifers and start over. Makes me sad.

      • March 4, 2010 2:17 pm

        Is that seriously what they do? Abort?

        • March 4, 2010 2:24 pm

          Maggie, yeah that “happened” to a fella down the road – he didn’t know that the bull would breed the calves… Live and learn.

  20. March 4, 2010 6:16 pm

    I really love our Guernsey (Josey, short for Josephine). She was 9 when we bought her three years ago — my first cow. When I brought her into the barn for the first time, I wondered what I had done because she was so huge compared to my goats. I’ve learned a lot from her, and I really like cows. She has done well on the grass and hay I give her — nothing special. She never would wean her calf, though — she let him nurse until he became beef.

    In her previous life, she was a show cow. They sold her because she has a “bad bag.” She was halter broke, which was definitely nice. She loves to give me kisses with her big, rough tongue, and there have been times she would not lead until I gave her a big hug around her neck.

    I thought I was going to lose her last year, though. Because of my lack of knowledge and a vets incompetence (he told me the wrong thing and prescribed the wrong meds), she had mastitis really bad in one quarter. I couldn’t clear it up until finally someone gave me the right stuff (I don’t use meds if I can at all help it) many months later. It had gotten so bad that the quarter ruptured and looked terrible, but it healed. She’s blind in that quarter, but would still give 4 gallons a day just on grass. She’s a keeper, and I hope she has a heifer this time to keep.

    BTW, I’m giving away some homemade maple syrup on my blog. Just thought you might be interested.

  21. March 5, 2010 5:24 pm

    Happy birthday, beautiful Della 🙂

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