Saturday, May 3, 2014

Raising Cows in the City...What We've Learned
I remember the night Mabel was born so clearly. It was peaceful and sweet. I remember sitting in the barn amongst hay and our two girls, thinking "Wow! We just had a baby calf born in the city, unassisted and we're in for a ride!" I knew that this was going to be a learning experience for everyone and so it was. We've been learning a lot about feed, milk supply and demand with cows, nutrition for calves, scheduling, milking cleanliness and the list goes on. So, I thought I'd share some of the things we've learned thus far, some of our down falls and how we'll do things differently next time.

Molly (mama) - As far as feed goes, we have Molly on Hiland Naturals GMO-free, soy-free dairy feed. We joined a co-op and have felt good that although we YEARN for more grass (one of the down falls of owning a dairy animal in the city...and chickens too for that matter), at least she's on good grain (aka: "cow crack"), we graze her out front when we can (good halter training practice also) and she gets a flake of alfalfa at milking as a treat (high in protein) and a basic coastal hay (from our new hometown) throughout the day. She'll easily eat 4-5 flakes a day. I'm looking forward to purchasing hay (or bartering) in the country as it's much cheaper. She also has a salt lick block as well as a mineral block. I'm looking into getting some better minerals, but for now, she's okay with the block. She also receives 1/2 cup of dry kelp in her feed as well as 1 Tbsp. of Diotemaceous Earth. She loves Spanish Nettle (a common weed here in Florida which is extremely nutritious and tastes great...yes, I've tried it, supposed to help with colds/flu when steeped into a tea or even in your salad).
(Spanish Nettle - Google)
I know that it's going to take time building up a pasture from scratch at our property and although I'm nervous about getting it right, I'm excited to accept the challenge.
Mabel (aka: baby) - Mabel started out being with mom around the clock. I wanted her to be with Molly to get the best possible nutrition and as much as she needed. I've heard stories of calves not being healthy and dying due to poor nutrition and since we're rookies over here, I didn't want to loose this little girl due to my lack of knowledge, thus we left mama and baby together for the first month to bond and give nutrition to baby. We also wanted Mabel to be nursed by mom so that we could go away on a vacation and leave mom and baby together, leaving our wonderful neighbor with feeding/watering responsibilities only. Mabel also eats hay now alongside mom and does eat some grain (same as mom). I see her nursing throughout the day, but there's no special milk measuring marker on Molly's udders that tells me how much Mabel has had in a day, so I'm clueless.
Which now leads me to milk supply and scheduling...
We started milking about a month ago (using the Surge milker we bought off of Ebay) where we would separate mom and baby at night, milking in the early morning and leaving mom and baby together during the day. Things were going swimmingly. We were getting a gallon a day and milk was coming quicker than it was going. So, we decided to sleep in one morning (ahhhh...zzzzz) and just left Mabel with mama at night thinking it would keep up milk supply. Then it turned into another morning, which turned into another morning (you get the picture) and whammo. That was all it took. We were caught up on our need for milk (we were down to a half gallon in the fridge) thus we started milking again in the morning. We hooked Molly up to the machine and nothin'. Tried again the next morning. Nothin'. And the pattern continued. After about 6 days of this, we took a break thinking she was holding her milk back for Mabel. I think at that point Rob called Molly a "jerk" one morning and threw his hat. I milked her out by hand and there were maybe 10 squirts and that was it. Her milk supply had gone down. So, it wasn't her fault after all.
I think that next time, we may try pulling calf from mom right away, getting calf on a bottle (1/2 a gallon in the morning and 1/2 a gallon in the evening is standard calf feeding) and mom on a milking schedule right away. If I'm being completely honest, I always thought that that was a little mean, but now I see why farmers do this. If you want a good, dependable milking schedule, it's what you need to do. Mabel will not take a bottle now that she is trained to nurse on mom so there's no switching this late in the game. Not quite sure what we're going to do to be honest. I wish I knew how much Mabel is getting, because that would determine what we could try to do now.  
Needless to say, Mabel is a healthy, happy girl and loves her mama. I'm thankful that Molly has a buddy now. Cows are naturally herding animals. I can't wait to get them to their 5 acres. {grin} I could be negative about the whole situation and frustrated that we aren't getting any milk out of this, however, I'm looking at this as an investment. Mabel is a girl who will someday give us milk and we want her as healthy as possible to get her to that point. At 15/16 months, she'll be bred
 (AI - artificially inseminated, unless we've bought a bull or know someone who has minis in our new town), and 9 months from then, she'll have her own little calf and be milked by us. At that point, we'll have two cows in milk and no doubt I'll be making lots of dairy products and giving away our liquid gold to neighbors, I'm sure.

{Two peas in a pod}
Mabel has been working well with us in halter training. She's not a fan on being on a lead or being told where to go, but she'll learn who's boss eventually. It's funny to take the girls out front, grazing and watch the cars that come by. They are driving, then they slow down, then they back up and roll down the window asking, "Are those cows?" We nod and smile and then usually comes the whipping out of cell phones or cameras. Some will even get out of their vehicles to pet the girls or get their picture taken with them as if Molly or Mabel is a celebrity of some sort. Like the neighborhood mascot. {smile} The kids do know quite a bit about cows and are accustomed to answering onlooker's questions efficiently.

I've been studying up the chapter on grazing and pasture building in The Encyclopedia of Country Living as well as subscribing to Graze and The Stockman Grassfarmer magazines. We have lots more trees to cut down (future firewood, fencing and furniture projects...I'm giddy with delight) and then comes stump grinding and the actual pasture building itself. The art of studying grasses is overwhelming, but exciting all at the same time. I have a feeling we'll be knocking on neighbors' doors, begging for advice on how they keep their grass so green, lush and efficient for grazing. Since we're on just 5 acres, we're planning on rotational grazing for the girls.
Being a grass farmer (or you could take it a step further and become a microbe farmer, because we all know you need good soil to have good, nutritious grass) is the most efficient, natural, cost-effective, healthy way of raising animals, but it takes work and knowledge. I can't wait to get all of our animals on GRASS. They're just healthier and happier, not to mention, CHEAPER. {big grin}

I just love watching them as I grab for their leads. They pace at the gate, excited, knowing that they'll get their greens within minutes. They plow away. Now that we're getting more rain and our rainy season is quickly approaching, we should be able to let them graze every few days just fine. Our barley fodder system was a failure due to pesky mice. We'd have to enclose the tray system altogether if we wanted to keep that going. Pricey too for the grain.

Sometimes, there's an obstacle to explore...

...or a baby to greet, but they sure do love the little bit of grass they get.
Farming in the city. I think that'll be a post in the near future. I want to remember what life was like before our move so that I'll always be thankful for the blessings we were given for more land.
Here are some of my favorite dairy posts/sites:
Keeping the Family Cow (I can't tell you how many times I've used this site)
(You're welcome to join me on Pinterest HERE for lots more.)

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