Sweet Pea’s Twins

Sweet Pea had her kids today.   The darker one is male, the lighter is female…the opposite coloration Olive gave us.  No names until later.  Don’t want to become attached and get bad news.  You know, we have fought and fought to keep sick animals alive and it almost always ends in tears.  Last year it was a goat we named Shivers.  Poor Shivers.  I made her a sweater then buried her in it.  Nope.  No names yet.

I came home from work and my breathless son ran up to the house to tell me what was going on.  “Sweet Pea is having kids!  There’s a big problem!  The back feet are coming out first!”  Then he was off.

It was a problem.  She labored a long time with the darker one coming out breech.  Wife assisted with both as Sweet Pea was tuckered out when the second came around.

“Dad!  The second one came out!  There was a weird bag then the bag popped and we saw a head!”

What did your kids learn in school today?

Olive had Twins

We’ll be dairying again soon.  Thank goodness she waited for good weather this year.

Here’s the little female, still damp.  She appears to be polled (hornless) and has lovely goat jewelry.  And look at those ears!

Here’s the little male, still a bit messy.

We believe they got a good bite to eat but haven’t seen them nurse on their own.  We’ll hold off on naming them until we’re more certain they are nursing and healthy.

Here’s a quick video:

What’s going on?

One of our rabbits kindled yesterday.  We finally found the kittens in the barn…and my oldest son found out how protective mama cats can be.

The goats still haven’t kidded.  You have to be kidding!  We thought Sweet Pea was in labor on the 6th.  Nothing.  Nothing.  Just uncomfortable girls chewing cud.

Broilers are coming along nicely.  They are scheduled for freezer camp on the 26th but we plan to send some early.  Early birds shouldn’t be above 5 pounds and that would be good.  They’re pretty hard on the alfalfa that we just cut for hay.  If we could just get some rain…

The pigs are settling in well.  They still don’t like us but they know we bring food.  It’s a step.

That’s about it.  What’s going on at your place?

Getting to Know Your Dairyman

In nearly every posting I harp on the importance of verifying your farmer with your own eyes and nose.  Go visit your farmer.  If your farmer hasn’t invited you to his/her farm by the third conversation, find a new farmer.

We buy raw milk from Steve Mansfield of Roodhouse, IL.  I have inspected, and continue to inspect, his facilities, pastures and herd.  I trust that he is more concerned with my welfare than with his own wallet.  In fact, I am reasonably certain that he prioritizes his wallet somewhere behind God, family, community and the ecology…though that list may not be in sequence.  He is thoughtful, generous, educated, inquisitive and experienced…things you should look for when interviewing your prospective dairy farmer.  I believe raw milk is good but not all raw milk is equal.  You, the consumer, need to make sure your farmer has clean, slick, fat, healthy animals.  Make sure his dairy is nearly spotless because there is no inspection service here.  You are electing to be the inspector.  You need to be an educated inspector.  This PDF will give you a fair start.

Back to my farmer.  Steve has lived here his whole life.  He owns 140 acres across the road from his mother’s farm.  Steve keeps a full-time job in town and, as a consequence, farms at a much smaller scale than he would like to.  Steve keeps a beautiful herd of Jersey cows (mine are from his herd), raises a flock of layers (he bought from me), keeps a few pigs (he bought from Mike Butcher) and puts in a large garden in addition to his small orchard and keeps a collection of orchids in his solarium.  Yeah.  So where most “farmers” deal in commodities and buy food at the grocery store, Steve and his wife Cindy deal in finished product and shop down the hill from their house.  These are real farmers.

Steve has been dairying for 20 years, initially selling to the creamery in a nearby town, later scaling back and selling directly to consumers.  He currently milks 7 cows in a Grade-A milking parlor.

I asked him a few questions.  Well, I asked him a lot of questions while we were hauling pigs, hauling cows and holding his grandson Saturday morning.  I’m able to quote him most of the time but sometimes it’s just my memory of our conversation.

The Farm

Are you doing anything unusual…even among grazers?
Steve laughed when I asked this then offered a list.  I am under the impression that these are the main points, not an exhaustive list.  He “keeps the calves on the cows, milks once/day, gives no grain to his cows, the cows are on pasture for 20-22 hours each day and he doesn’t milk his cows out so there is plenty remaining for the calves.”  If you have been raised around dairy at all you know this is all just crazy talk.

If you haven’t been raised around modern dairy, watch the video below.  I could dedicate an entire series of posts to the video.  Instead, as you watch the video try to calculate how much fuel is used to feed the cows and handle their manure.  Just try.  Ask yourself if it is more sustainable to bring the feed to the cows or to take the cows to the feed.  Try not to think that their cows don’t get to lounge in the grass, how short their productive lives are or of the environmental impact of that slurry pond overflowing during a heavy rain.  In fact, you might feel better if you just skip the video.

How do you maintain your pastures?  
Steve says he renovates his pastures every 5-8 years to beat back the fescue.  Our fescue is infected with an endophyte and rather than bore you with details I’ll just say it lowers feed intake and milk production.  To fight this Steve tears up pasture and seeds a mix of either clover and perennial rye or alfalfa, timothy grass and orchard grass.

Give me a rundown of the typical day in the life of your cow.
“The cows walk to the barn from as far as 1/4 mile away.

“They then stand outside of the barn hollering for their calves until I get them into the barn to milk at 7:30.

“Then the cows rejoin their calves who enjoy breakfast and lick the udders clean.  This is a boost for udder health and prevents me from spending my morning doing calf chores.

“The calves are then separated into a pasture of their own where they spend the day grazing.

The cows head back to the pasture and get down to business mowing the grass.”

What do most dairies do with calves?
“Most dairy heifer calves in the US are taken from the cow, fed milk-replacer and are kept in calf huts individually.  Once weaned they will follow a grow-out program then will be added to the dry-cow herd, most likely in a free-stall barn so they have room to roam, lay down and eat at the trough.  The bull calves are treated similarly but are shipped as early as possible to be fattened for beef.”

Here’s an overview of the very efficient, possibly immoral process courtesy of the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension…Wisconsin tax dollars at work.

Raw Milk

The May 2012 issue of Graze published several articles emphasizing the need for producers to educate consumers about the risks involved with raw milk and the need for consumers to evaluate the farm that supplies your milk.  The risks vary from a number of possible diseases to our own weakened immune system and a need for our bodies to adjust before we can digest real, living milk.

Do you feel your average customer understands what raw milk is?
“Most of our customers find us through the Weston A. Price Foundation or through Real Milk.  As a result they are well informed before they find us.”

How are the risks of drinking raw milk different than the risks of consuming any other type of raw food?
“Well, there has been e coli found in Spinach so really it just comes down to evaluating the source of the food.”

…and later, “Johne’s Disease affects 70% of the dairy herd in the US.  Confinement dairies don’t notice it because they burn out their cows in 2-3 years and it affects older cows.  Pasturization doesn’t necessarily kill the organism that causes Johne’s disease and there have been links between Johne’s and Crohn’s in humans.”  Steve runs his cows for up to 14 years, a good indication that his cows are disease free.  He has tested in the past and it has always come back negative.  Don’t be afraid to ask your dairy farmer.  It’s pronounced “Yoh-knees”.

How do you help educate your customers?
“We just talk about food with them.  Most customers are well aware that this is a different liquid than the stuff at the store.  It’s just not a big deal.”

We are very happy with our dairy farmer.  I hope you can find a similar farmer to build a relationship with.  Steve isn’t just some guy I buy milk from.  I count on him to enhance my family’s health and pay him a premium price for that care.  Food isn’t just something you stuff in your face at intervals.  We need to learn to look at it as medicine.  Find a source of medicine you trust with your life.

Before you charge off to find a source of raw milk, take some time to educate yourself on the potential risks.  The organizations I listed above are a great place to jump in.  I also recommend this link.  There are numerous CDC and USDA reports that indicate that raw milk is anywhere from slightly to significanly more dangerous to your health than pasteurized milk.  I believe the real danger is not the lack of pasteurization, it’s the lack of farmer accountability.  Weather you are buying meat, milk or spinach, get to know your farmer.

My Friend Olive…the goat

In a few short days we’ll be enjoying fresh goat milk again.  I love goat milk.  It makes the best ice cream, the cream doesn’t separate and it is easily digestible.  I have heard a lot of people tell me that they think goat milk tastes bad but I think it depends mainly on the goat’s diet.  Our goat milk tastes great but our goats are offered a wide variety of forages.

Let me introduce you to our goat herd, headed up by Olive.  We bought Olive on Craig’s List some years back.  She came from a farm about an hour to the North.  I believe she is rounding out her sixth year.  She’s a gallon milker and is at least mostly nubian.  Isn’t she pretty?

Olive arrived with her twins (Sweet Pea and Popeye (Supper)) two summers ago then gave us quadruplets last year.  That’s a pretty strong mark against her as it is a trait we want to select against.  We were able to keep two of the four.  I made an attempt at a family photo but..well, goats are goats.  From the back left Olive, Sweet Pea, Pixie and Honey.  Honey wanted to eat my pant leg and refused to pose.

What we like best about the goats is they aren’t much of a threat to our children’s safety.  They may love you to death but that’s the worst they’ll do. Billy goats are a little different story…

Olive and Sweet Pea are days away from freshening…from kidding…from having babies.  We’ll keep a close eye on them as we believe Olive was bred on Dec. 10th and Sweet Pea was bred a few days later.  When Olive was carrying quads last year she developed a limp…you would too.  So far she’s getting around normally but you can tell she isn’t comfortable laying down.

This will be Sweet Pea’s first freshening.  She’s developing an udder and you can tell she’s not comfortable with any part of this arrangement.  She’ll be a handful on the milking stand.  Should make for good times though.

Anyone have any tips on breaking a goat to milk?

Talking to Your Cows

How do cows talk?  With their mouths….and with their manure.  Their manure says it has been raining a lot recently so let’s stick to the front end for today.

Talk to your cows.  They don’t mind.  But to hear them you have to listen with your eyes.  For example, here the cows told me they don’t care for fescue:

They couldn’t wait to leave the fescue behind.  They were placed on this patch at around 9:30 this morning while the day was still cool and the sun was hidden.  Just before the monsoon du jour hit we put them back in the barn and moved them to the next spot in the early afternoon:

This spot is right next to the spot they ignored, it’s just colonized by different plants, it’s a different time of day and the monsoon passed…for now.  If you look closely you’ll see white clover, dandelion, plantain, chickweed, pineapple weed, violets and a variety of grasses I’m not so good with…but little fescue.  They ate it right down to the ground.

Now, I’m not as good at speaking cow as I am with chicken or pig but I think this means they liked this spot better.  Or it may mean that early morning, pre-rainstorm fescue isn’t very tasty.  Or that they were really hungry when I let them out of the barn.  I don’t know.


If any of you speak cow…specifically the Jersey dialect, please comment and let me know.

Full disclosure: I broke down and mowed behind the cows the other day.  There were tall clumps of fescue that I just couldn’t ignore.  I can only tolerate so much as I look out my window.  Bear with me.  I’m not there yet.

Patience and Kindness

These aren’t my kids.  These aren’t my cows.  This isn’t my farm.  I don’t even know these people…but I would like to meet them.  This isn’t an average dairy.  Nothing about these videos is typical…but it should be.

These kids do a great job of walking you through their tiny dairy and their herd, though they filmed these in shake-o-vision…lol.

Patience and Kindness.

We found these videos when we were reviewing milkers.  We’re going to milk two goats and a cow this year, four goats and two cows next year.  That’s a lot of work for my poor wife’s hands so we’re going to upgrade.  They use two of the milkers we were looking at.

Embedding is turned off for part 1 so you’ll have to follow the link.

Here’s part 2.  Look out for the cow rear and also notice the milker that is like those used 90 years ago.  Nothing like a lasting quality product.

There are lots of things I would do differently but we learned a lot watching their videos.  Again, I don’t know who these people are but I’m going to try to meet them.  Shoot, they only live 12 hours away.  They haven’t just taught their kids to work, they have taught their kids working is fun and that the animals are to be respected and loved.  They are inspiring greatness in their children.  Well done.

Patience and Kindness.

Mowing the grass part 2

The cows, as you know, get fresh grass daily.  Recently I made their pen smaller and I’m just giving them 144 sq. ft. at a time, moving them 5 or 6 times daily.  This results in excellent trampling and manuring as the grass is sheared off evenly and the weeds are either eaten or trampled.  The picture below shows a line I missed when I moved the pen a bit too far, then shows the progress beyond.  At the end of the day I’m putting something on the order of 90,000 pounds per acre across my lawn.  I could go heavier if I had more forage but since the grass is still short I have to move them frequently.

The stem in the center of this picture was a weed I watched Mable take a bite of then spit out.  I guess once they finished eating their ice cream they went back for their veggies.

Now, I want to be clear that I’m not starving my cows into eating the weeds.  They just like to eat.  Check the rumen on this beauty.  The indentation between the last rib and the pelvis sucks in when the rumen is empty.  Flo is looking full.

So what are they eating?  Well, they’re on the old driveway and it’s a weedy mess.

Here is another shot showing the line between what they finished grazing and what they are just starting.

Now, there really is a bit more to it than just moving a panel and waiting for them to eat.  You have to read their manure to see if they are getting enough protein.  This looks pretty good.  A little dry but not bad.

It would be more soupy if the fast-growing green was all they were getting or if I had more clover mixed in my pasture (yard).  I don’t have much clover yet, there is a fair amount of old growth still standing here and they get half a bale of hay every night just to keep things regulated.

Beyond manure I smell them.  Yeah.  Smell their breath.  That tells me a lot about the condition of their rumen.  It should smell sweet.

There are more things I could check if I was more paranoid but if they are laying down, chewing their cud, their manure is pumpkin pie-ish, their breath is sweet, and their coats are shiny they are OK.  The real point is…look at that lawn!  They mowed it, set the weeds back and fertilized it all on solar power.

I think that’s pretty cool.

Mowing the grass

Ah, it’s that time of year again.  The birds are chirping, the toads are calling and you can’t hear any of it because the lawn mowers are running.

We opt out.  I’m not even sure where my lawn mower is.  I think it’s in the shed.  Maybe.  We used it on the 4th of July last year but not since.  I don’t mind people mowing, it’s just not for me.  It’s too noisy and I have better things to do.  Further, it all seems Rube Goldberg to me; pump oil from Ottawa, haul it to Texas, refine it, haul it to St. Louis, put it in a machine from China, cut the grass off and watch it grow back again.  No thanks.

Cows kinda like mowing grass.  Take this model here:

This model (a 2011) was originally made on a channel island called Jersey but this specific one was built just up the road.  There’s no patent protection preventing you from making your own, you just need seed stock.  Not only does it cut the grass, it fertilizes for you, tromps weeds down, aerates the soil, produces milk (unheard of in a lawn mower) and can reproduce itself.  That’s right, it’s a walking lawn mower factory!  Further it requires zero gas, just water.  Now, it doesn’t come with a manual but there are some things you should know.

1.  It MUST mow or it will die and death is an unrecoverable condition for this type of machine.  That said, death is not always an unwelcome condition for a mower.  This is a good time to note that this type of mower tastes better than others.

2.  It is better if you set things up so you only request that it mow as much grass as it can in a day and that you allow it to mow a new place every day, not returning to the first location for 90-100 days.  This not only keeps the machine busy but keeps it in good working order.  Further, you will have more and thicker grass than you have ever had before, far thicker than that of your neighbors.

3.  If managed correctly, you will lessen the need to store up grass for it to mow during the winter months.  In the picture above, the nearer model is eating fescue that has been standing since August.

4.  If you have a large amount of grass to mow each year you may need more than one mower.  This is a favorable condition.

5.  If you have a small amount of grass you may want to consider sharing mowers between neighbors.  It may also be a good idea to split the milk it will produce.  Alternatively, you may consider a smaller mower called a “sheep”.  These also reproduce, make milk and fertilize, though in far smaller quantities.

NOTE:  Please don’t confuse a goat with a lawn mower.  The goat is more like a weed eater.

Clabbered Milk

We buy full cream, raw pastured cow milk from a friend nearby.  In our opinion, he does everything right.  The Jerseys are on fresh grass daily, their coats are slick, the cows are fat and the milk is yummy.  Do yourself a favor, find a farmer who will sell you raw milk, watch him work and beg to be allowed to buy his milk.  Best thing you can do.

Anyway, we had a rare cold a week ago and didn’t get through all of our milk.  Now, you need to realize that each jar of milk is alive.  You could see each jar as a city, alive with a variety of living, breathing, eating things.  This is why you need to personally inspect your personal dairy farmer to verify that he keeps the bad stuff out of the city.  After 7 days in the fridge the milk sours.  I mean sours.  I think it’s great but the wife won’t touch it.

One jar was in the fridge for 9 days, 3″ of cream on the top.  The wife set it on the counter.  I took off the lid and replaced it with a cloth knowing the magic was about to happen.  The magic happened on the counter top overnight.  The milk started to curdle and change into clabber, it rose up out of the jar pushing the cloth up in a bubble.  This morning I spooned out the cream portion to feed to the pigs.  Here is what’s left in the jar.  It’s like cottage cheese.  Not much else to say.

If your food doesn’t rot, decay, age or spoil you shouldn’t be eating it.  It can’t be good for you to eat something that no other organism wants to eat.  What is Cool Whip anyway?  In many places, Coca-Cola is legal while raw milk is not.  Draw your own conclusions.

Store-bought milk is only mostly dead…and mostly dead is partly alive.  But what does pasteurized, homogenized, irradiated skim milk turn into?  Is it still useful after it changes?  Can you really digest it anyway?  Find yourself a farmer.