“Yes, with this approach to farming we make decisions and put our hands to some small manipulations but the very breadth of mixed crop and livestock systems often quickly leave us behind and spread out to do their own work of symbiotic osmosis and complementary relations.”
On a sunny early September day I met Doug Flack at his biodynamic and organic farm, just South of Enosburg Falls. Doug is an American Milking Devon breeder with some of the best uddered and well behaved animals I have seen in the breed. The animals are beautifully integrated into his small and diversified farm. His system of management seems to bring out the best in the animals and his enthusiasm for Devon cattle is contagious.
The Ayrshire Ambassadors Cooperative was founded in 2016 by a group of dairymen who want to be outspoken advocates of the Ayrshire breed. Ayrshires are one of the most cost-effective breeds for dairy farmers, as the breed is known for efficiently producing large quantities of high-quality milk, primarily on a forage diet. These vigorous and hardy cows can be found grazing in the sun, rain, and cold while other breeds often seek shelter.
Heart rate is one way to tell if the calf is in respiratory distress, since it drops as the body is deprived of oxygen. Normal heart rate in a newborn calf is 100 to 120 beats per minute. Place your hand over the lower left side of the ribcage, just behind and above the elbow of his front leg. If heart rate has dropped as low as 40, the calf ’s condition is critical; he needs to start breathing immediately.
If they understand what you want them to do, and you give them time to figure it out, cattle are very easy to herd. Pressuring and release of pressure at the proper times will encourage them to move (or halt) and to go the direction and speed you desire. The herd will also stay together, moving as a group if you herd them calmly and don’t get them upset and excited. Best results are had when you move them at a walk, controlling the speed and direction of the leaders.
Cattle are very intelligent, and are just as “trainable” as horses. Like horses, they “reason” differently than humans. Understanding the way cattle think and why they react to you the way they do can enable you handle them in ways that will help rather than hinder your purposes. If you can “think like a cow” you can more readily predict what cattle will do in various situations and be able to handle them with fewer problems.
We calve in January and February, and some years it can be very cold – and we calve the cows in a barn. Most of the older cows go into the barn readily because they’ve been there before. But the first-calf heifers are a different story. Many of them are hard to get into the barn. We solve this problem with a Judas cow – a gentle, older cow who leads the heifers into the barn. Even the wildest or most timid heifer will usually follow another cow. The old cow serves as security for the timid young heifer, and into the barn they go.
Establishing the age of farm animals through the appearance of the teeth is no new thing. The old saying, “Do not look a gift horse in the mouth,” is attributed to Saint Jerome, of the fifth century, who used this expression in one of his commentaries. Certainly for generations the appearance, development, and subsequent wear of the teeth has been recognized as a dependable means of judging approximately the age of animals.
We started hand-milking one cow. Now there are three. We are still milking by hand, and love the relationship with our cows, but will have to begin using the milking machine this spring as we add one more cow to the operation. We plan to milk a maximum of six cows. We purchased a 1940s Surge milking machine and assembled the entire unit from new and used parts we acquired from retired dairies in the area. The equipment we needed for the milk cooling room and the cheese room took an entire year to assemble because many of the things needed were just not readily available. With the help of some small dairy equipment dealers and by finding items on eBay, we managed to put it all together, under close scrutiny of the inspectors.
At the end of the day, what is a cow? Is she just so many pounds of animal flesh, a unit in a farm management scheme, a tool to be used and discarded as needed? Is she a mere producer of calves, of milk, of meat? Is she a member of the family, perhaps, or at least of the farm? Is she a pet? At the end of the day, is she still just a cow? These thoughts and more have been at the forefront of my mind these past few days as we deal — and, ultimately, dealt — with the decision of what to do with our beloved old boss cow Gail.
Not every farmer or dairyman can qualify as an expert judge of cows, but every herd owner can pick high and profitable producers by sticking to certain principles. It’s a matter of pedigree, production and type or form. But only an estimated one out of every 20 dairy cows is purebred and registered, with a pedigree. The number of cows on which there are production records is only slightly larger than that. Hence most dairymen and farmers choose a cow on looks alone, that is, on her type and form at certain key points of the body.
Cattle with lineback color patterns have occurred throughout the world in many breeds. In some cases this is a matter of random selection. In others, the markings are a distinct characteristic of the breed; while in some it is one of a number of patterns common to a local type. Considering that livestock of all classes have been imported to the United States, it is not surprising that we have our own Lineback breed.
When Dani was 5 years old she enjoyed “helping” grandma with the ranch chores every chance she got. Even though her mama and siblings still lived in town at that time, she wanted to come to the ranch and see the animals. She loved the cattle, but was a little afraid of the big ones. One spring day when she was tagging along with me to feed the horses and water the cows in the field above our house, she told me she wanted to pet a cow or calf.
When my husband Lynn and I were first married, in 1966, we had a dairy. Several of our Holsteins had twins that year and we had fun naming them. I particularly remember Vim and Vigor – fraternal twins, a bull calf and a heifer calf. The next year we moved to our present ranch to raise beef cattle, and even though we had a lot more cows, none of the beef cows ever had twins – until 1977, the spring that our kids (Michael and Andrea) turned 9 and 7.
Cows that milk largely and test richly are always susceptible to milk fever, and the more fleshy, vigorous, and strong the condition in which they freshen, the more liable they are to be attacked with milk fever, which usually makes its appearance at some time during the first 48 hours after calving. Where this disease was formerly greatly to be dreaded in that 98 per cent of the cows which were attacked by it died, little is thought of it nowadays, so seldom does a cow die because of it.
Our farm, here in the center of New York State, consists of 101 acres, about 90 in grass, the rest some woods and swamp. It is inhabited by forty-six jersey cows, twelve breeding ace heifers, one bull, and because it is calving season — an increasing number of calves. Also, four Belgian mares and a couple of buggy horses. Last, and possibly least — the farmer, farmer’s wife, and five grown children.
Some of the cattle we raise become such characters that we consider them part of the family. Norman was definitely in that category. She had a rough start in life but quickly became a sassy, independent critter that really didn’t consider herself a bovine.
“Caaaty, come get your feeed. Caty! Caaty!” I rattle the milk pail. At last I spy her on the far side of the field with a sigh of relief. At least she is still in the field this time. With only three strands of barb-less wire to keep her in, she doesn’t hesitate to take off on a jaunt through the woods when the electricity is not pulsating through it.
The Brown Swiss cow has always been a triple purpose animal. Meat, milk and draft power are all capabilities of this breed. Colors range from a light silver to gray to brown with various coloration along the back, legs and head. Black hooves are the rule, and for good reason, as the Swiss is known for her hard, sturdy, and long lasting feet. Large ears, a thick hide and big eyes all contribute to her ability to withstand heat/cold, and in her characteristic strong herd instinct.
Truth be told, we were all anxious to milk our new cow for the first time and thought we’d give it a try. We brought out our pail and a bucket of feed and shooed our cow confidently into the barn. Unfortunately, we’d forgotten two very important auxiliaries: a stout rope and a stick! With the aid of these tools, and lots of patience, we managed to coax a pint of milk into the pail.
There are 6 stanchions: first Juliette, named for the great grandma of all modern herbalists, Juliette de Bairacli Levy. Number Two cow is Masha, our best milker, best disposition, glorious teats and not an ungraceful line on her entire being. All the animals here were born on the farm with the exception of Nell, the next cow on the stanchion floor. She is Juliette’s mother. Hazel is in the other big stall across from the heifer stall. She’s dry now and 7 months pregnant, and I’m keeping her apart because she will eat too much if she is in with the milkers.
I know what it’s like to be trying to find one’s way learning skills without a much needed teacher or experienced advisor. I made a lot of cheese for the pigs and chickens in the beginning and shed many a tear. I want you to know that the skills you will need are within your reach, and that I will spell it all out for you as best I can. I hope it’s the next best thing to welcoming you personally at my kitchen door and actually getting to work together.
Good cheese comes from happy milk and happy milk comes from contented cows. So for goodness sake, for the sake of goodness in our farming ways we need to keep contentment, happiness and harmony as primary principles of animal husbandry. The practical manifestations of our love and appreciation are what make a small farm. Above and beyond the significant requirements of housing, feed and water is the care of your cow’s emotional life, provide for her own fulfillment. Let her raise her calf!
Camembert is wonderful to make, even easy to make once the meaning of the steps is known and the rhythm established. Your exceptionally well fed, housed and loved home cow will make just the best and cleanest milk for this method. A perfect camembert is a marvelous marriage of flavor and texture. The ripening process is only a matter of a few weeks and when they’re ripe they’re ripe and do not keep long.
Yogurt making is the perfect introduction into the world of cultured dairy products and cheese-making. You are handling milk properly, becoming proficient at sanitizing pots and utensils, and learning the principles of culturing milk. Doing these things regularly, perfecting your methods, sets you up for cheese-making very well. Cheese-making involves the addition of a few more steps beyond the culturing.
So let’s just say this is your first experience with cows, you’ve gone to your local dairy farm, purchased a beautiful bred heifer who is very skittish, has never had a rope on her, or been handled or led, and you’re making arrangements to bring her home. It ought to be dawning on you at this point that you need to safely and securely convey this heifer to your farm and then you need to keep her confined until she begins to calm down enough that she knows she’s home, and she knows where she gets fed.
Swaledale is one of the lost British cheeses, nearly extinct, along with other more obscure farmstead cheeses which were dropped because they were not suited for mechanical cutting – too crumbly. Too much loss. I dug the basic method out of Patrick Rance’s wonderful book of British cheeses and I’ve made it for years. I love it, everybody loves it, it’s a perfect cheese for rich Jersey milk, it takes very little time and trouble to make, it’s easy to age, delicious at one month, or a year.
Like all ancient British cheeses, Wensleydale, a Yorkshire dales cheese was originally a sheep milk cheese. It’s been made for centuries in Yorkshire, shifting from sheep milk to cow milk as cows became more prevalent and more productive, into the 19th century. It is in a circular form, more or less cubic in proportion. Wensleydale is a very classy, delicious vibrant creation when all goes well on cheese making day.
Warm barns make for cheery farmers but they are not so good for the animals. Furry farm creatures, especially ruminants, are suited by their natures for temperatures far lower than man finds comfortable. As has been observed widely, farm animals, given the choice, will often spend their time out of doors even at very low temperatures in winter. Animal shelters need only prevent the occupants from being exposed to draft and humidity, for it is these and not the cold, that lead to winter diseases in bird and beast.