Cow report

  • Yesterday was an exciting one—the portable milker is back in operation! After less than a week of use, some sawdust bedding was accidentally sucked into the vacuum pump, which froze it up. Our friend Jimmy Ellis came by to help us disassemble it and clean it out, but once that was done we couldn’t get it back together properly. So I contacted Mike Perry, the fellow who sold us the milker, and asked him what he thought we should do. He told us to send it to him; even a reconditioned pump is expensive ($300) but as long as we hadn’t severely damaged ours he thought he could save us money by using salvage parts to fix it.

    I sent the pump off, didn’t hear from Mike, and then Tuesday the repaired pump showed up in the mail; no note or anything, just the pump. I had told Mike that the flexible driveshaft connecting the pump to the motor had also broken, but had forgotten to ship it with the pump. He sent a replacement shaft, but unfortunately it was an inch too short. I looked around on the internet, found a place that would sell us one of the right length, and ordered it. The shaft arrived yesterday, Chris reassembled the thing that afternoon, and they used it for the evening milking.

  • Do we like our milker? Yes. Do we think it is necessary? Maybe not necessary, but the benefits justify the cost, especially if you’re milking more than one cow, For one cow hand-milking takes about an hour, machine milking slightly less. But the second cow takes another hour by hand while with the machine it takes only twenty addtional minutes or so. The milk also stays cleaner when you milk by machine, but the kids have gotten very good at producing clean milk by hand.

  • The milk from Puzzle, our first cow to freshen, was much creamier than the Holstein milk we were buying, but we were drinking all of it and so never bother to skim any cream. When Dory freshened, not only did she give more milk than Puzzle but it was much creamier, so much so that Maggie was having a hard time drinking it. At that point we had so much milk that we started setting out Dory’s milk in a shallow bowl to let the cream rise. After about twelve hours, two gallons of her milk will yield a pint of cream that is as thick as pudding—and the remaining milk is still plenty creamy, maybe just slightly less so than Puzzle’s milk.

  • Maggie and Chris have been using the unusually cool weather this week as a chance to get the perimeter fencing done. They are maybe two-thirds of the way around at this point, and could come close to finishing if they get in a good day’s work today. Last night looks to have been the last cold night (39 degrees); tonight is predicted to be 46 degrees, and then into the 50s.

  • We arranged to share a beef cow with our neighbor, Leemon Goodin, 3/4 for us and 1/4 for him; we’ll eat that much beef before our own calfs are big enough to slaughter. The price was $1 per pound live weight. As I was writing the check for our share of the $1050, I was thinking that in the next year we would have three calves of our own about the same size, mostly for the cost of tending them as they steadily convert our pasture grass into beef. I don’t want to be in the cattle business, but I don’t mind the idea of selling surplus beef, and we’ll certainly be thinking about how many more cows we could keep on our pasture before the trouble of keeping them outweighs the benefits they would bring.


7 thoughts on “Cow report

  1. Hi Rick,

    I really enjoy the cow reports. Why don’t you want to be in the cattle business?

  2. Jo,

    I don’t want to be in any business at all, because there is too much temptation to maximize income and then use it to supply needs that I think would be better for us to meet directly; e.g. if you’re more gifted at raising cattle than vegetables, it’s tempting to focus on the cattle and neglect the vegetables, using money to make up the difference.

    Soon enough we’re thinking about buying eggs at the Wal-Mart and using the time we save for something “more important.” But I’m not persuaded that there is something more important than taking the time to raise the food you eat; your life is fuller when you do so.

    But I don’t think it’s unwise using surplus goods to meet needs that are hard or impossible to meet directly, or even to obtain luxuries. And I don’t think it’s unwise arranging things so that, God willing, there will be a surplus, e.g. running a few more cows than you can use with the intention of selling or trading them.

  3. Hi Rick,

    What an excellent response. Our modern society places a high value on the supposed efficiency that comes from being paid well to focus on doing what you’re good at and paying somebody else for the rest. There’s the unquestionable notion that you should operate in your area of “giftedness.”

    Sadly, most people are only good at things that don’t directly put food on the table. As a result of my agrarian-related readings, I no longer view the industrial model as one that promotes efficiency of labor, but rather as one that promotes deficiency of skills.

    Most grownups can only do one thing well, and are wholly dependent on others for everything else. I see this helpless dependency as a bad thing. It seems like many moderns would starve if there was a major economic upheaval.

    I’m wondering how much surplus we would need if we had no mortgage to pay, and a small food bill. I can think of a fairly long list of things that I can’t completely provide for myself.

    Emergency healthcare
    Auto and some other forms of Insurance
    Chocolate or other luxury/non-local food items
    Wire for fences
    Various “dry goods” like fabric
    Manufactured goods–Cars, tractors, computers

    Do you ever think you’ll be at the point in your journey of self-sufficiency where you won’t need your bookstore biz to pay for your “extras”?

  4. Jo,

    Do you ever think you’ll be at the point in your journey of self-sufficiency where you won’t need your bookstore biz to pay for your “extras”?

    Well, yes, but more from necessity than from choice. Our bookstore critically depends on modern-day ultra-cheap shipping, where publishers ship their books to one of Ingram’s five warehouses, then one of those warehouses ships the books we order to us, and finally we ship the books to individuals as they order them. As cheap oil evaporates, either the cost of shipping those books around will become too high, or the entire shipping infrastructure will just plain collapse.

    There is a slim possibility that we could devolve into a more old-fashioned mail order business. Major book printers are mostly located in Nashville, where Ingram is also located, so perhaps some shipping could be elimiinated by printing and wholesaling all books from there. Nashville is also a two-hour drive away, so we might be able to afford to get books from there (although not in the frequent dribs and drabs we order them in right now). And if the Post Office stays afloat, we could still get stuff to customers if Media Mail remains affordable. But you’d probably be mail ordering out of a catalog, since I don’t expect the internet to survive as it exists today.

  5. The transportation system is not going to collapse anytime soon. You’re getting a bit carried away with doom and gloom about the whole “Peak Oil” theory. All of these same fears were around in the 1970s, remember the gas lines then?

    A fully loaded tractor trailer gets about 6 MPG. The distance from Los Angeles to New York City is 2833 miles, or about 472 gallons of fuel. At $3.10 a gallon, that’s about $1464, which is a lot of money. However, the truck is carrying 40,000 pounds of freight – do the math – it’s less than 4 cents to transport a pound of freight all the way across the country. A 50 pound box of books – $2 of fuel – think about it.

    Now if you go to the Post Office, or UPS, they’re going to charge a LOT more than $2 to ship 50 pounds across the country. The fuel cost is just a small fraction of the counter price. If the price of fuel doubled, yes, shipping costs would go up, but they would not double.

    And all the trucking companies are not going to suddenly give up – that doesn’t make any sense. They will just continue to gradually raise their rates to cover all their costs. If fuel prices were to go way up – the trucking companies would get government subsidies to cover it. They’ll figure something out – but they will NOT give up and go out of business. That’s just absurd.

  6. Arthur,

    The modern-day shipping infrastructure is not critically dependent on cheap oil—it is critically dependent on the modern-day consumer economy, which is critically dependent on cheap oil. The shipping infrastructure won’t collapse because gas became too expensive, it will collapse because people won’t be buying enough stuff to justify its existence.

    Here’s one scenario that does a good job of showing some of the many interconnections that will be severed once oil is hard to come by. (It may actually be too optimistic, since it projects gas hitting $4 a gallon sometime between 2010 and 2015.) Long-distance transport doesn’t go away, but the infrastructure that currently brings boxes of books to my rural door, and then small packages of them to yours, does go away.

  7. Arthur,

    I certainly hope that whatever happens as cheap oil becomes a thing of the past, and consumption continues to increase, and reserves begin to possibly dwindle, that we don’t turn to the government for more handouts in the forms of subsidies. Government intervention is part of our nation’s problem already. That’s not government’s role anyway. Why should the government take our money and underwrite corporate businesses? They’re not going to underwrite my business when I fall on hard times. (I’m self-employed)

    Whatever does happen, if we are depleting our reserves worldwide, will effect everyone and will alter much of the way we all live. To trust in the good ‘ole American ingenuity to always work our way out of any problem is to trust in something that cannot provide any of us with any lasting confidence, though we may have done so in the past. I’m sure Rome thought they were invincible too.

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