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Free Range Jane

August 2, 2012

Logistics 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.

This grass around the gardens and greenhouses has been grazed twice by Jane and Willy and clipped once by me.  It’s ready to be grazed again after 30 days rest.

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 🙂

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Rita permalink
    August 2, 2012 3:29 pm

    Could Blake be a milk cow for one of your many readers? Seems that you’ve already given her the early training.

    • August 2, 2012 5:44 pm

      Rita, I don’t think she will give enough milk for people and a calf – maybe if a person just wanted a smidge of cream for their coffee;

      • Rita permalink
        August 2, 2012 8:35 pm

        Is this because of her paternal breed? You provide so much helpful info on the blog, I bet someone would love to get one of your well behaved calves to raise for a family milk cow.

        • August 2, 2012 9:19 pm

          Yep, she’s half Hereford, a beef breed, and they don’t give as much milk.

  2. August 3, 2012 7:15 am

    Do you feed your root crops with their greens. Do you process them at all or do you feed them whole? I have two Dexters that I milk 1x a day and we’ve managed to produce just enough on grass alone plus a supplement of alfalfa pellets.

    • August 3, 2012 8:35 am

      EWF, I don’t usually feed the greens because the roots are for when I have no grass, so the tops are usually frozen off or rotted by rain at that time. But the greens are fine to feed. I’m doing roots and or grain for carbs, so I don’t really use alfalfa much since it is more of a protein feed.

  3. August 3, 2012 7:22 am

    I was curious about your 14/10 milking. My schedule is changing in September and I’ll need to tweak my milking schedule. Does 14/10 mean you milk 14 hours apart one day, and 10 the next? Or something entirely different? When I first started milking I thought milking at 12 hours apart was written in stone. I’ve learned that my cows can be pretty flexible to a certain degree. Just wondering. I love reading your blog- it’s the first thing I check each morning when I pour my coffee.

    • August 3, 2012 8:42 am

      Linda, no, it means I milk at 14 hours then again in 10 hours. For me 6:30 am and 4:30 pm works pretty good. I like to garden (or do other things) in the evenings, milking in the middle of that really makes me very non-productive. If I’m done with my milking chores by 5:00 then I can work on something until dark or do nothing… 😉

      I started milking like that when I worked full-time off the farm. You just have to fit it in somewhere, and I see why dairies do the 12/12 but as long as the cow can tolerate the larger amount of milk, it’s never been a problem for me. It’s makes it easier to have the calf be a relief milker too, since the afternoon milking is not quite as large.

      Thanks for reading 🙂

  4. August 3, 2012 8:18 am

    Learning from making mistakes. Yup. Well, I make mistakes anyway. We’ll see if I get any better.

  5. August 3, 2012 8:25 am

    What is a 14/10 milking schedule?

  6. August 3, 2012 10:21 am

    I’m just curious about why you think east OR hay is “hotter” than west side hay and how you would expect that to affect the performance or health of your animals? Living on the east side of the mountains, that kind of hay is what we make and what is available for local purchase. Is it the differences in water during grass growth? Mineralization? weed/forb species in the hay? And are you speaking of the products of large-scale haying operations who aren’t necessarily haying for quality but for volume instead, or just the general classification of dry(ish)-land hay? Would it be different for a partially-irrigated haying operation? I would imagine there are plenty of microclimates even on the east side that would yield some pretty nice hay with good management/care… Thanks!

    • August 3, 2012 10:42 am

      KF, I think the east side hay that is available here is all the large-scale stuff, alfalfa and orchard grass mostly. The minerals are higher since the environment is brittle with little or no leaching due to rain, and I am sure there is some really great hay made there. It’s just expensive to purchase on this side, and I have found that my milk cows don’t really like it as well as our good hay. I have two bales ($18.00 ea) of 3rd cutting alfalfa here that Jane doesn’t really care for, she instead eats our grass hay if she wants hay. But I have purchased some good dairy hay, from a dairy on the east side that was inhaled here. Sadly, it was a one time deal and not available again. For us, we’ve decided to focus on growing better quality hay here that we have more control over, than to try to locate the needle in the haystack on the east side.

      If you read any older dairy stuff or even cattle husbandry books – pre-1950’s, it’s common to see non-irrigated, therefore deep rooted, 2nd cutting alfalfa being the best feed for high producing dairy cows. Several fellows have tried growing alfalfa here, but it quickly ran out due to bad management, and it was very expensive to plant in the first place 😦

      Hay is a pretty subjective thing, almost as bad as picking a breed of cow. Everyone has their favorite!

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