Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Dairy Cows or Goats? A Frank Guide

I've done a similar blog many years ago . . .

but I felt it was time for a new overview:

Shorter, more concise. . .

What? I know. I do not do short and to the point well. 

I'll try.

I own both a herd of dairy goats and a dairy cow.

I like both, but they are quite different in most every possible way except they
both give milk. Cats also give milk. . .but they aren't in the running here.

You may think giving milk alone makes them remarkably similar.

No. No. No.

So you first need to decide what you are looking for:

How much space do you have?
How much grain do you want to feed?
How much milk do you need?
What products do you want to make?
Are you hoping to grass base?
Are you hoping to raise organically?
Do you want a herd or a single animal?
Do you want to invest in a milking machine?
Do you want to have daily management or mostly seasonal management? 
What are your plans for breeding the does or the cow?

Ok, see . . . this is already  becoming too long.

It's complicated.

Let's talk Cows.

Cows are kinda easy.

What, you say, big old cows, easy?

Yea. They can be. At least if you chose the right cow and are positive sure you want a dairy animal
and can make the commitment. 

The Pros:

They need a few hoof trims in a lifetime. They have a slightly longer productive life.
If you chose the RIGHT genetics, they produce on grass/hay only. They 
are much easier, with the right management, to raise organically than goats. They need far less
worming, respond better when wormed and have far fewer health issues in
general compared to goats. They are content as the only bovine, though companionship 
is desirable, they do thrive well as the only cow. They are usually easy to contain.
If you chose a miniature breed like a Miniature Jersey or Milking Dexter or 
a Mini breed crossed with a dual purpose short horn or reg. size Jersey,
you have a fairly easy to manage sized animal. You have one offspring yearly, usually, and you
have a better market for bull calves than buck kids. A single well bred heifer
calf from a Miniature cow is worth more than 4-6 nicely bred doe kids.
Cows easily give you butter without a cream separator. THAT alone wins them a million bonus points.

So I've built up the Cow side, eh? 

The Cons:

The down sides? Miniature cows and cows with grass only genetics
aren't easy to find or are very expensive. The initial investment in a cow
is 2-6 times HIGHER than a nice dairy goat. Most families will chose a Jersey
cow and many jerseys give 6 plus gallon of milk a day. Can you use it all or sell it?
If you can, this is a pro, but in many cases, this ends up a huge con. Most dairy cows need rebred yearly and will not do extended lactations well.
Those without grass fed genetics, they need a medium to a large amount of grain (5-20 lbs of grain a day).
They also eat a tremendous amount of hay and drink far more water than a small herd of goats.
They impact the land in a far more negative way, even when a mini breed. They
do not control brush or briers. Cows are finicky. They choose the people they like,
and you may find the cow you purchase hates you -that is  tough. Now you have her and 
must milk her. Most dairy cows MUST be milked, like it or not, twice a day even with a 
calf on her side. If you decide to hand milk, for a average producer, you may be milking 
30 minutes or more each session. You will end up wanting a machine. That is another
$1,000 investment. It is another learning curve, and there are pans to clean and lug around.
Milking is a mess sometimes. They kick and can break an arm. They sometimes Pee and poop while you're milking, and dumping out the hard earned milk sucks. My current cows doesn't do this. 
My previous cow did. Most do. 
When they get down and sick, you have seriously large problem, though. 

Did I mention if they don't want to, you can't make them?

Goats get a turn to defend themselves!

I love goats. Have I told you that? I'm known far and wide
as the Go to Goat Girl. 

The Pros:

Goats are charming, funny and loving. That may not seem to factor in on a farm
decision, but it does. They love people when raised right. They kiss you and snuggle
with you and follow you around screaming, "MAAAAAA!" When you're tired and sad, this means a lot.
They are like chips. You can't have just one and the more you have, the happier you feel. This is no
Joke. They are easy to handle when tame and disbudded. They happily jump on a milk stand
and after a time, are generally perfect to milk. No incidents. They never pee or poop while being milked.
It is much easier to get clean milk whether you hand or machine milk with goats. They eat the brush and weeds and thorny things you do not want growing on your land and save you the job of fighting it. Goat cheese is divine. Their milk makes the best cheese and generally is universally well tolerated. Hauling a doe to be bred is much easier than hauling a cow if AI isn't an option. Disbudding, Tattooing and vaccines are typically easier because you're talking about 150lb animal instead of a 1,000 lb animal. They are easy on the land. If you have steep, rocky land, they do not cause the erosion a cow will, even a herd is easier on the land than one large dairy cow. Goat poop is EASY to deal with!!!! Hand milking is fast and easy with most does. I can milk nearly a gallon out of one doe in 3 minutes. It takes me 10 minutes to milk a bit more than that from the cow. Most people prefer to hand milk goats unless they have a large herd of over 8 in milk. They can be kept on very small acreage with the right management. The right bloodlines can do extended 2-3 year lactations without rebreeding. 

Did I mention they are whimsical to the extreme and watching the babies play makes my heart sing?

The Cons:

Goats have a steep learning curve. They have a plethora of illnesses, many related to mismanagement, that follow them. They are very difficult to raise organically. They have difficulty with parasites and typically require hard core chemical worming and religious upkeep if one attempts to avoid much use of chemical wormers. There is a high rate of parasite resistance in goats. . .so you may have to resort to multiple wormings to get the parasites under control. The goat kids typically need a prevention program to avoid Coccidiosis. They have high copper and selenium needs, and they usually have to have copper boluses and BO-SE twice a year depending on where you live in the USA. They require a fully stocked goat medicine cabinet. They will require a high quality grain when in milk and usually alfalfa hay or access to unlimited high quality forage when turned out plus grass hay. They require frequent hoof trimming - some monthly, some quarterly, but it is, at any rate, far, far more than cattle. Containing goats can sometimes feel like keeping water behind a fence. Forget having lovely flowers, berries bushes and trees - if they get out - those are the first things they destroy. If you need more than a gallon a day, you will need 2-4 does in milk. Does will give, in general,  4-12 pounds of milk depending on age, breed, quality of care and bloodlines. They cannot be kept alone. Kidding issues are more common than calving issues, though management plays a big role here. . .when a beginner, you're liked to do a lot wrong - goats are not very forgiving of mistakes. Goat's milk is fragile and picks up odd flavors if even slightly mishandled easily. Goat's milk will also taste off when the goat has a heavy worm load or mineral imbalance and that can happen often in folks that aren't experienced or trying to raise organically. 

Overall, there is no one size fits all dairy animal 

Once you choose a cow or goat, you then have to tackle breed choice,
and that is another blog on its own!

Be like me, I guess, start with one. . .add the other, and your barn yard can look like this menagerie 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Sometimes, when I'm feeling grouchy

Sometimes when I'm tired or grouchy or feeling spry and wanting to dash off on a trip or broke and feed costs seem high. . .or sick. . .or sad

I wonder how in the world I became trapped in this world of dairy goats and cows. . .

Milking. . .and milking. . .and cleaning buckets and strainers and udders. . .and bottles

And straining milk, pouring it into bottles for goats, pans for chickens and dogs and cats and kids. . .(ok. . .I do not pour it into pans for kids, you get the picture). . .

and then sometimes when I'm tired, grouchy or sick or anything else. . .

I go milk my goats and cow and plop my head over on the cow and listen to the milk in the pail and remember this is how I know where our food comes from, how I control ONE major area in our lives. . .how I GET BUTTER, and I recall my last name is "Creamer". . .after all

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Big Dark Myth of Dairy

Having spent a year of my life as a vegan, having spent 16 years as a vegetarian and still existing now as an occasional fish eater only. . . I've been where the animal rights folks are. I know the off-kilter thinking that leads people that way. The road to many a silly or bad thing is paved with good intentions, they say. 

I've been a farmer type for over 5 years now. I've struggled with it. . .had times I couldn't resign the animal activist in me to the farm life. . .

Careful, long consideration put me where I am now: A strong believer in a circle of life that works with nature, that is sustainable and gives a kind life while one does live, whether it be for a long or short time. One that knows there is hierarchy in place in the natural kingdom that makes sense if we will be still and just watch and learn.

I digress. This isn't a vegan or an omnivore debate. That isn't where this posts goes, so do not make the mistake and take it there -

This is about animal rights activists posting things they know nothing about, misleading people. . .at no point does helping others need to cross into making up fiction. I know. I do rescue. Real rescue. The truth is enough, folks.

I just read this little snipped on a share post with a photo of a calf an animal rights organization says they lost.

It talks about how all dairy calves (ALL) are considered waste by farmers and how they are all thrown away and shipped to slaughter within days of being born. That all cows go to the milk parlor broken and defeated. It painted the milking process as painful, really. That all the milk is stolen from these cows that should have went to the calves. . .they picture an older, healthy looking calf that they say they lost because he didn't get colostrum. Hmmm.

It ends with some line about how milk shouldn't be stolen from cows for people.

This is factually untrue on many levels. These folks have no idea what they are speaking about. They spin the story however they like and those with no idea about the food process believe it and chime in with support.

Why? Why do Americans have no more an idea of what it takes to create food than this?

Even in basic factory farm conditions, these things aren't likely to take place. I'm as opposed to factory farms as anyone that ever lived, but many dairies that sell to major milk buyers, like Kraft, are tiny little Mom and Pop operations that run nothing like this. Many. Even on the worst of dairy farms, where many atrocious things do happen, the idea that a cow giving 20 gallons of milk a day, 19 gallons more than the calf can use, is having her milk stolen, that a machine milking her is abuse (which most cows prefer as it is gentler than hand milking) or that all calves are considered waste isn't true.

These people do not even have enough sense to know you cannot NOT milk a Holstein cow. They do not know enough about a dairy cow to realize the cow would die in short order if left on the cow and no human intervened at all.

Further, on most farms, not even a word of what they write is true.

Many bull calves are sold to be bottle raised for family beef. I know a tremendous number of people who buy and humanely raise these calves for 18-24 months on local farms every single year - the steers enjoy many days of grass and sunshine. Not waste, not mistreated. . .functional, sustainable and living the good life for a time. . .

All I could think was . . . maybe if this activist group had enough sense to call a "wicked" dairy farmer, they could have given them the frozen colostrum, if they REALLY needed it, as we have enough sense to keep it, and maybe then they could have saved the calf they "rescued." But no one cared to call a farmer. . . just like no one cared to ask if their rhetoric was true. We might also have told them the calf pictured was no where near newborn age. . .and that something else was wrong.

What happens on factory farms is bad enough - there is no reason to lump all farms together or make up nonsense.




Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds. For riches are not for ever: and doth the crown endure to every generation? The hay appeareth, and the tender grass sheweth itself, and herbs of the mountains are gathered. The lambs are for thy clothing, and the goats are the price of the field. And thou shalt have goats' milk enough for thy food, for the food of thy household, and for the maintenance for thy maidens

- Proverbs 27:23-27

"I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman's cares."

- George Washington