Last year we decided to breed our cows in August so they would freshen in May. One reason was that we thought it would be kinder to the calf to be born in late spring. Another was that by milking the cows mid-May through mid-March we hoped to avoid the dreaded taint of spring onions in the milk. It also means that any steer we can feed a steer for one winter and then take him to the slaughterhouse the next fall at sixteen months old, a good size.
One of our cows, Dory, had her calf Thursday evening. Maggie proved herself to be a true cowgirl that afternoon when she told us that she thought the calf would come that evening, and then after supper went out to the field with a lawn chair to watch it happen. It did, about 8pm, and the birth was uneventful. The calf is a girl, and since her mom is half Jersey and her dad full Jersey, she has that Jersey look about her. Since we’re hoping to raise up our girls to be family cows for other families, the Jersey look is a real advantage, because that tends to be what folks want in their family cow.
Last year we kept the calves with their mothers, and the calves took way more milk than we liked. This year we will try separating them after three days. Chris and Maggie fenced off two small adjoining sections of the pasture, and in each they placed a simple calf hutch that Chris had built from plywood and metal roofing. The moms will be able to come over and nuzzle the calves whenever they like, but the calves won’t be able to nurse; instead, they’ll be fed part of the milking from a bottle.
This afternoon the new calf (still unnamed) went into her pen, and by evening was hungry enough to take some milk from the bottle. Dory seems puzzled about why the calf won’t come to nurse, but doesn’t seem especially upset.
Dory is giving a bit more than two gallons at each milking; that’ll be scary if it keeps up, since last time around we weren’t even getting that much from both cows together, and it was still too much milk for us. For the first three days we’ve discarded her milk, but beginning tomorrow we’ll be saving it. After three months without milk, we are definitely looking forward to those first glasses.
The strip grazing is going well. We aren’t grazing the pasture as intensely as Joel Salatin would, but it is much better than simply letting them range over the entire pasture all the time. We have way more pasture than necessary for our cows, so we are able to experiment and learn without the risk of doing much damage when we mess up. I don’t think we’re ready to try raising and cutting our own hay, but we will probably do a bit of stockpiling, namely setting off sections of pasture to grow up and be available for the cows to eat during the winter.
We will probably be getting our bull back from Jimmy Ellis soon. Jimmy says he has filled out well, but also gotten ornery. We have a section of pasture fenced off just for him, and we will turn the cows in there in August when they need to be bred. Then we will probably sell the bull; Jimmy thinks we should get what we paid for him, maybe a bit more since he has grown. And then next summer I guess we’ll go in search of another young bull.