Saturday, July 20, 2013

Update from the Wife

We love our dairy cows and are trying to raise them in the most humane way possible.  The life of the average dairy cow is a hard one; separated from their babies, pumped full of corn and soy instead of a healthy pasture, being pregnant or nursing every year for the rest of their life, etc. When we talked about having dairy cows of our own, we said that we wanted to keep mama and baby together and do once-a-day milking (which is easier on our family.)  We also wanted our cows to be grass fed.  We would be giving these cows a pretty good life!

Well, I was totally unprepared for the bellowing.  Let me explain; to do once-a-day milking you lock up the calves at nighttime once they are several weeks old.  You milk in the morning and then open up the calf pen so the babies can be with their mamas all day.  At night, you lock the babies up in a pen where the mama can see and lick them, (but just not nurse them!), and repeat the next day.  You eventually have to seperate mama and baby cause the baby will start taking all the milk, and grow too fast too soon.  We could tell the babies were taking all the milk cause we were getting less and less each day.  (One night, Abigail was empty and Bonnie only gave a half gallon.) Someone asked me if I was ready to hear them bellow and I laughed; we were giving them a low stress environment after all! They would be fine!

Well, we got the calves in the dairy pen the first night and went home satisfied.  Then the bellowing started.  Mama's calling to their babies in distress, babies calling back to their mamas.  Jason and I were heartbroken.  Our poor cows!  We were trying to raise them in the most humane way possible and here they were totally stressed out and sad.  I was comforted by the thought that AT LEAST mama and baby could lick each other, smell each other and even sleep on the opposite side of the fence together.  When I night wean MY children, I am still close by touching and comforting them, I'm just telling them that we aren't going to nurse at this time anymore.  We went to bed hoping tomorrow would be easier.  When we woke in the morning to the cows still bellowing I practically pushed Jason out the door (the sun wasn't even up!) to milk the cows and let the calves out of their pens.  All during the day the cows were happy, but that night they bellowed again.  This was tough. Jason and I questioned what we were doing, but decided to stick it out. 

I need to note that it is said that the dairy cow bellows for three days when her calf is taken away from her a few days after birth.

Day Two we woke up to peaceful cows and calves.  It's like a light switch flipped on and the cows realized what was going on.  When we locked up the calves that night, the mamas left the barn to go out and graze almost like, "I'm going out, thanks for the babysitter! See you in the morning!"  Some nights the mamas stay out in the field all night and run up to the barn to meet their babies when we call them in the morning.  They almost seem to enjoy this break from their calves.

We have successfully transitioned to once a day milking now.  Studies show its 20% less milk, but 50% less labor.  I guess you have to put a value on time to see if 20% more milk is worth 50% more labor?  I'd rather just get another cow...

So, it ended well; but boy was it hard.  Everything good requires sacrifice.  To feed my children, many pigs, chickens, cows and deer must die.  These animals don't only keep my babies stomachs from growling but they provide them with nutrient dense food that my children NEED to grow up healthy and strong.  Dairy cows are no different.  The benefits of raw grass fed milk are amazing, but they do come at a sacrifice.  How about that for Cow Appreciation Day?

I'll end with some pics:

Here is our daughter practicing the milking motion with her hands.  She is very proud of being able to milk a cow (to get a few squirts in the bucket).

While I was helping Jason in the dairy barn I turned my back for ONE SECOND and found this little guy, happy as a clam.  Can you guess where he is?

He had climbed up onto the four wheeler all by himself! Our little guy loves the country life. What little boy wouldn't?

and because he's so cute, I'll add one last pic to leave you with...

Friday, July 5, 2013

Life is full (and Hard!)

Today I felt like a greedy little kid in our garden picking the vegetables for supper.  Kale, of course.  Tomatoes...sure!  Green squash, oh wow! I didn't know those were ready yet! I'll take all of them please.  I kept on thinking on the way home, "I can't believe the garden just GIVES you this stuff!"  Our garden is a little neglected right now (it has taken second place to our cows, and man have they been keeping us busy!), but even overrun with weeds, its still rockin.

It made me think about how I've been wanting to tell you about colostrum.  When a cow gives birth, her first milk is a thick yellow milk called colostrum.  It's heavier than milk, so its not as drinkable and as I was googling what to make with it, I was amazed.

Here is what I found by Sally Fallon over at the Weston A Price Foundation:

" Colostrum is the first milk of mammals. Like human colostrum, colostrum from cows is rich in immune factors, antimicrobial fatty acids, vitamins and minerals--all necessary to protect the calf from infection and insure adequate growth during infancy. Colostrum has a long history of use in the practice of medicine, especially in Ayurvedic medicine, and has been successfully used to treat a host of chronic diseases including allergies, autoimmune diseases, respiratory ailments, digestive disorders, diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, gout and depression. In fact, colostrum is said to be the perfect anti-aging food and has been used in expensive spas for years.

A friend of mine from Turkey recounts that her mother always obtained colostrum in the spring--often at great trouble and expense--from a farmer in the countryside. She then lined up all the children and gave them a cupful of this tonic to drink. The immediate result, says my friend, was that they all fell asleep. The colostrum was said to help keep them healthy throughout the year."

Isn't that amazing?  The cows just GIVE YOU THIS STUFF!

I have two gallons frozen for when the next family member gets sick.  I can tell you that I was suffering from some digestive issues that  no longer occur now that I've swallowed several cups of this stuff.  We feel like kings having so much of this substance just sitting around.

Now that Bonnie had her baby, we are getting between 3 and 4 gallons of milk a day.  (We are keeping the babies with their mamas, so that is why its not double that).  Here is a picture of the milking set up when Jason had to tie the babies close to their mamas, (so the mama's wouldn't get stressed out.)  The big silver thing holds up to seven gallons of milk and the filter sits right on top of it.  Jason milks for a while into the pail and then pours it into the filter which puts it into the "tank."

Farm chores start young around here! This is Peter, age 15 months, making sure the cows have enough water. Peter LOVES the cows: petting them, feeding them, kissing the calves and even licking their salt lick with them.  Now that the cows have had their babies they seem to be even more cautious around our little ones, almost like they understand now.

Baby Levi, our bull calf.

Aren't they just precious? He is really tame and Henry will go up to him and lay on top of him while he's sleeping.  Henry likes him cause he is a boy.

I mentioned earlier that our cows have been keeping us busy.  They have been being REALLY stubborn about coming into the barn at night.  They leave their babies in the pasture and then take their time coming up to get milked.  Poor Jason has been out in the rain for hours each night trying to bring them in, and then finding their calves so we can lock them up in the barn.  On nights when we can't find the calves, we can't lock them up, and then Jason has to spend an hour or so in the morning finding the cows and then bribing them up to the barn.  There have also been a lot of flash floods recently, so he has to make sure that the mama's bring their calves to the barn so they will be safe. They seem to be fine with our routine; they just like to take their sweet time. 

Jason's been exhausted, and I have had my hands full with the kids, but we both still love this.  The kids eyes glow as they count the jars of milk Papa gets at each milking, and I admire my husbands persistence and patience even more then before.  When a husband works from home, his wife and kids gets to see his work ethic, and I have never been more proud of my man.

Below is a pic of Jason holding Baby Levi (or "baby Evi" as Henry calls him), in the back of our big van as we carry him up to the barn.  These little calves are heavy!

Love, the farmer's wife