We've been building a new cow house for our milk cows. I took some pictures so you could see how nice our new set up is going to be.
Here she is! Let me take you on a personal tour!
Walking in the front door, we would enter the storage room. Imagine this room without the building supplies and ladders. It will have shelves on the walls for our vet supplies (housed right now in the blue topped cooler), grain storage (we have one barrel in the left corner of the picture now, but we need more), various bits a pieces like halters and lead ropes, eventually a milking machine, maybe a small refrigerator and whatever else we decide we need in storage for the animals.
Walking out the door to the left, we enter the hay storage area.
Walk out of the hay storage area and to the left and you have the spot where our milking stanchion will be built. It's in a very nice spot with wind and rain protection on all sides so we can milk in comfort. Awesome!
Looking straight out with the milking stanchion to your back, the big double gates keep the cows out unless we want to let them in. Here they are waiting to be milked in the evening yesterday.
It's still a little breezy, but the view is nice. It's summer, so this won't be a bother until we can get the roof on.
The girls have their own private field all to themselves. Trees for shade and pasture to nibble on, plenty of room to amble about and be happy.
And now that our tour is complete, I'll answer some of your questions.
"How much milk do you get in a day?"Right now we are getting about 6 1/2 gallons a day between the two cows. Lily was awfully sick right after she calved, so she isn't at peak production yet and Petunia is in her 10th month of lactation, so she's on the downhill side. She isn't bred back yet either, and that makes a difference in milk production.
"What can you possibly do with all that milk?!?!?"
Well, the calf is drinking between 2 and 2 1/2 gallons a day. That leaves about 4 gallons of milk a day. The kids drink AT LEAST 1 gallon of milk/day and that doesn't include Kevin, who often drinks a gallon himself in a day. With our other milk we make yogurt (1 gallon lasts us about 4 days), cheese (it takes 2 gallons to make 1 batch of mozzarella. It takes about 2 batches to make pizza for the 6 of us), puddings, hot cocoa, ice cream, butter (we may be getting all that milk, but a portion of it is cream that we skim off), whipped cream for desserts, bread puddings, pepper gravies for biscuits, potato or other milk based soups. Do we ever have milk go bad? Yes, sometimes. Doesn't the milk in your fridge go bad sometimes? It happens to everyone.
"I bet you drink it raw, don't you?"
Yes, we drink our milk raw. For a while we pasteurized it, but we decided that for OUR family, with these particular cows, in our particular circumstances, raw milk was best for us. I'm not going to go into a raw milk debate, or tell you that you should be drinking it too, because that is a choice for YOU to make about YOUR family, not me to tell you. What I can tell you is that after a lifetime of being lactose intolerant I am now enjoying milk and milk products with no side effects. That alone is worth it to me to have cows and to milk them, no matter how inconvenient it may sometimes be.
"What do you do with the little babies"
The cold, hard facts are that these animals are stock. They aren't pets and they aren't people. We try to give them the best life possible, let them enjoy their days and then they will be going in the freezer. Part of the benefit of having a milk cow is that she has to keep having calves to stay in milk for us. Those calves become very cheap freezer filler if you let them be milk and grass fed. There is no market here AT ALL for a dairy steer, so while you keep breeding your cow in hopes of getting a heifer for replacement someday, you have to do something with the bulls that you get. So, we eat them. And I don't feel one bit bad about it.
"Doesn't having a cow keep you tied down?"
Yes and no. Yes, it does because you have to have a schedule. You have to milk that cow at least 1 time a day, usually twice a day. It's a commitment and it's not always convenient, BUT it's worth it to us. You can train someone to be a relief milker for you and trade them milking out your cows for the milk, or you can sometimes let the calf back in with mom to keep her milked out, but usually you are responsible for this animal. It's no different than having a dog or a cat, you have to be committed to taking care of them and making sure their needs are met. It's not for everyone, but we are more than happy with the situation.
So far, those are the questions I've been asked about the milk cows. We're still fairly new to all of this, but we enjoy it and we would someday like to have a small (very, very small) dairy herd of our own. We're trying to decide what type of artisan or specialized product we want to sell someday and are trying to study up on all the different options for us. It's going to be some day in the future, but we've fallen in love with the dairy cow.
She is a beautiful creature capable of so much. They aren't for everyone, but they are sure for us. I can't imagine not having a milk cow now that I have one.