Getting started with homestead dairy - an interview with myself

by Elizabeth Beavis
Over the past year I have run a couple of series of interviews with bloggers about getting started with various homestead or self-sufficiency activities. I started with growing veges, and then we talked about chickens, and now I think its time to talk about my other favourite homestead accessory, our house cows, Bella and Molly. I know this isn't so useful to the suburban homesteader, but I hope it will help people on small and large farms.  

I have a series of interviews organised with other bloggers who milk either house cows or milking goats (and one who has a milking sheep!), and one blogger who just makes lots of cheese. I hope you will join me in learning more about how to get started with the homestead dairy.  This first interview is with myself :)

Tell us about how you came to own a milking cow and/or goat.
We spent far too much time helping at a dairy near our previous property, it was our afternoon entertainment to go and help the farmers, and when we moved, we missed the cows so much we decided to get our own cow. We already had experience with raising steers for beef, so we didn’t even think of getting a goat. We bought our first cow (Bella) with her heifer calf (Molly) from a nearby dairy farm.

Do you use hand-milking of machine milking? Why?
We use a milking machine. Maybe because we started off in a dairy farm, that seemed the right way to milk, also because our cows have very small teats and hand milking is slow (also could be our inexperience). Anyway, the milking machine, though expensive, is very easy to use and clean. If we are ever short on electricity, we will have to learn to hand milk.

What is your milking routine?
For the first few weeks after calving we milk twice a day. We leave the calf with the cow, so the calf can take as much as it wants. When we are only getting about 2L in the afternoon milking we stop milking in the morning. When we are only getting 2L a day, we stop milking altogether and the calf gets all the milk. When we want some milk (usually once or twice a week) we separate the calf from the cow overnight and milk first thing in the morning.

the bull-dozer
Do you use a bull or artificial insemination (AI) to get your cow/goat back in calf/kid?
For our first time we used AI, but it was difficult to organise the vet to have the right semen and it was expensive. So we got ourselves a little Dexter bull, who has spent his time between matings trying to fight all the full-sized bulls on our neighbours’ properties. Males!

How much pasture land do you have for your cow and how much supplement feed does she need? 
We keep two cows, their calves and the occasional other steer on our eight acres and some of our neighbour’s eight acres. We feed our cows 2 scoops of grain (about 1 kg) at each milking, and when we’re not milking everyday they get 1 scoop per day. They also get hay after milking and as a treat, and if our pasture is starting to dry off we put out a round-bale for all the cattle.

What do you do with all the milk?
At first, when we get 10L per day I make lots and lots of cheese! I also skim the cream and make ice cream and butter.  But that only lasts for a few weeks and then we just get enough to make kefir, yoghurt and drinking milk through the week. Unfortunately we’re not allowed to sell or give away raw milk in Australia.

What do you enjoy most about having your own milking cow/goat?
I love having the raw milk and all the opportunities to start fermented foods using the milk. Everything else, the manure, the lawn mowing, the novelty of having a beautiful cow out in the paddock, is just extra fulfilment.

Bella with her new calf Nancy
What is currently your biggest milking cow/goat challenge?
After Bella’s first calf with us died shortly after birth, we are both pretty stressed out around birthing time now! Molly had her first calf successfully and as we wait for Bella’s next calf I think we will both be getting pretty worried until we see a healthy calf on the ground.  On the upside, we learnt that Bella is such a good mother, she will easily take a foster calf.

What is your advice to those considering getting a milking cow/goat?
Go and visit someone who milks either cows or goats, whichever you're interested in, or both if you're undecided, even if your only option is a commercial dairy, and learn about what they do and why.  Cows are tricky animals, they are very particular about routines and you need to learn a bit about how to handle them before you have one arrive at your property.  When you first get your cow, be prepared to spend a lot of time with her coaxing her into the milking bales and getting used to you.  Once you have a routine established, milking time will get quicker, but at first you have to be patient and let her do things in her own time.
I hope you enjoyed the first interview, we will be hearing from another blogger next week :)  Now, what is your advice to those considering getting a cow or goat?  And what are your questions about the homestead diary?

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