Thursday, 4 November 2010
House Cow FAQs
It's been over a year since we first got a house cow, and we've learned a lot along the way. Here are some of the most common questions people ask us, and our replies. We are rather unconventional in the way we manage our home dairy, and I encourage cow owners to seek out information most suitable to their animal before following our example.
How do you tame a cow from a commercial dairy?
This was harder than I expected. Lucy was very frightened and stressed about being away from her herd. At first we had to use fences and ropes to get her to co-operate because it was important that a) we fully milked her at least once a day and b) the calf we also brought home (not hers) got milk. After the initial rough days, Lucy would lead on a halter (the show type with a small chain under the chin). From there we brushed her, spoke kindly to her and got her used to a routine - dry food with minerals and molasses, same time of day, same people around, same calls and commands... Within months Lucy would come when called and take herself into the milking shed at least some of the time. She didn't kick or otherwise carry on for us.
Where do you get the foster calves from?
Our foster calves are calves from a nearby dairy which are excess to their needs. In commercial dairies, male calves are often killed at birth, or they are raised to sell for veal. Some female calves are not kept as replacement heifers because they might be the wrong bloodline or colour, or they aren't a strong animal. If a dairy runs about 200 cows who each 'work' for several years, and each cow has a calf per annum (the usual way in commercial dairying), and half these calves are female - the dairy can't use 100 replacement heifers each year. And so there are often perfectly lovely little heifer calves available for a low cost in dairying regions. And that is how we got Honey and Poppy! We use the term 'foster calf' to describe a calf raised on its own mother for a couple of weeks, who then comes to our farm to drink milk from Lucy until weaning age.
Do you really milk by hand?
Yes! I got a quick lesson from a friend who hand-milks, and a few tips from others who have milked by hand in the past, and within a couple of days had mastered the art! I find milking by hand is relaxing for the cow and I, and it ensures that no damage is done to the udder or teats during milking. Also, milking machinery isn't cheap!
Does owning a cow take a lot of time?
When I'm milking, or monitoring foster calves closely, the cows take me about an hour to an hour and a half each day. That is to feed, water, clean, milk, check the animals over, move them to other paddocks, and so on. To some, that may seem like a lot of time, but it is my exercise and 'hobby', and provides our family with milk. When I am not milking or required for so much hands-on work, I only need to check the cattle and their water once each day.
What do you do with the excess milk?
Excess milk has usually gone to foster calves at our place - I only milked out what we could use, and trusted the calves to take care of the rest! Currently, we don't have any calves on Lucy so with excess milk I make yoghurt, kefir, custard, soft cheese and so on. I also give milk to our animals sometimes, who seem to like it and digest it well.
Doesn't milk have to be pastuerised to make it safe?
After reading information from the Weston Price Foundation and Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions, we decided that the benefits of raw milk outweigh any small risk of contamination, for us. Also, because we control the health and hygiene of our cow and home-dairy facilities, we are confident that the raw milk we're drinking is a quality product.
How do you treat health problems in your herd?
We have been blessed to not have many health problems to date in our herd. We follow the advice of Pat Coleby who has excellent resources for farmers regarding minerals and nutritional supplements. We believe that this prevention is worth the investment of time and money. For buffalo fly, worms and ticks, all common pests in our area, we have tried Neem oil, and a specific mix of essential oils as well as supplementing their diet with specific minerals including diatomaceous earth. For behavioural issues we have used homeopathy and herbal treatments. We are not totally against conventional treatments and will use them if the health or comfort of our animals are at stake.
I hope this interests those of you curious about having a house, or looking into having your own cow. I highly recommend the following resources:
Weston A Price
Sally Fallon- Nourishing Traditions
Keeping a Family Cow Forums
Natural Cattle Care by Pat Coleby
The Healthy House Cow by Patricia van den Berg
The Home Creamery by Kathy Farrell-Kingsly