The Adventure Begins

IMG_0163Several times people have asked me why I went and bought a dairy cow instead of pursuing a career or college. It’s quite simple really. About 6 years ago I found I’m lactose intolerant. And after two years buying Coconut Milk, Soy milk, Rice milk and Lactaid, my family and I decided to go Raw.

It all started in April 2010. At the time, none of us knew that when we had hopped in the car to drive out to a local farm to buy some fresh milk that that was the beginning…the transformation of our lives as simple country bumpkins to serious homesteaders. And the Adventure is still rolling.

That warm April morning, the sunshine bright as daffodils, still remains etched in my memory. The view from the hill, looking down at the village sprawled like a dolls-house; the trees feathered in young green; the old-fashioned glass milk jars wrapped in their towels; the milk-house smell clinging to my clothes and hair. Oh it was good to be alive!

Soon after that fateful morning when we had our first taste of milk fresh from the cow, we began seriously considering raising our own dairy animal, be it 2 goats or a small cow. For years we had discussed raising our own source of milk but that’s as far as it ever went. Perhaps one reason is because there wasn’t enough time to devote in caring for a high-maintenance animal when you’re homeschooling 4 kids, ages 17-4. So we dreamed…and dreamed some more…never thinking that even the wildest dreams have a canny way of coming true.IMG_0169

In April 2010 things finally started happening. Dreams were put on paper. Ideas descended into words. A plan was forming. Yes we still talked about it but that was the first step in the next phase of our journey. And as a neighbor so aptly put it when we mentioned it to him: “You will never know unless you try.”

It wouldn’t be all that bad either, we reasoned. Even if we bought goats or a Dexter and found that the work was too hard we could always sell. But for myself I knew that I really wanted to give this raising-a-dairy-animal project a go. Raw milk is healthier; and not only that, it immensely improved my allergies and asthma for the short time we were buying it. Besides, as I had graduated in 2008 and had no interest in college, raising a dairy animal would be a great learning experience opportunity.

That decided, the next major decision lay with the milk. Which do we like best? Goat’s milk? Or cow’s milk? Hmm.

The verdict was unanimous: cow. Growing up on cow’s milk, watered down though it is in the grocery stores, it was difficult to get used to the strong “goaty” flavor characteristic of goat’s milk. However we really did try to give the goats a chance, because they are small; and for our small property (3.5 acres) they were an ideal choice, both in size and milk production. For the entire month of May we visited goat farms and sampled goat’s milk but there was just something about goats in general that didn’t click. Another negative factor was that every goat farm we visited was trashy and infested with disease, and one farm had over 100 goats in one enclosed area! Perhaps if we had found one farm at least that was decent, (and I know there are goat farms out there who are like that) we would have pursued the goats farther. But we were so discouraged that we dropped it and turned over a new leaf.

Cows.

IMG_1318Mom’s first choice was a Dexter. Originally from Ireland the Dexter is a small tri-purpose breed ideal for the small family cow owner. They range in height from 39-42 inches and weigh up to 600 pounds. Trouble is, no one around our area had heard of Dexters/sold them. And since they are so rare, they were pretty pricy. We did end up visiting a herd of Dexters but after seeing them a few of us at least weren’t as keen on the idea anymore.

What about minis? Mini Jersey in particular. After researching, going mini was out of the question: $3,000 and up for a mini Jersey heifer, not to mention a milker, which is what we really wanted.

And then on a whim we went to look at a cow. Mom had been on Craigslist searching for cows one day when she hollered out of the office:

“Hey Audrey, she’s probably too much – $1000 – but there’s a Milking Jersey for sale. Pictures too if you want to see.”

Sure I wanted to see! She was pretty. Classic dark Jersey face with the white ring around the nose. Horns – o.k. they scared me a little. Good tight udder. Nice form. The person had nice pictures too because they had frontal, rear and side views with close-ups.

“Are you sure she’s too much?” I asked. “It doesn’t hurt to ask does it?”

I called the number the ad listed and ended up talking to the guy twice. IMG_1314Everything sounded just perfect; and to put a clincher on it, the Jersey was only 48 inches tall, weighed 697 pounds AND she was a low-producer, giving only 3 gallons at her peak. So the following week my Dad, my sister and I made the hour long drive to look at this pretty little Jersey for $1000. Call it crazy, but we did.

‘Twas love at first sight.

She was just standing there in the barn, whisking pesky flies away with her long black tail. Her color was alot darker than in the pictures, a very rich reddish brown, with dark stripes going down her delicate front legs.

When I walked up to her she just stared at me with those liquid brown eyes of hers, her jaw moving methodically back and forth as she chewed cud. It was just a look. Nothing else. Yet that look was the defining moment of my life.

Total greenhorn that I was I bought that little Jersey.

No buts. No doubts. No second thoughts.

(Come to find out that two sets of my great-great-grandparents had small Jersey farms – one here in NY and the other in Texas! Skipped a few generations but maybe it runs in my blood.)

I did talk the guy down to $900 though. Not much but at least I saved a few hundred bucks!

Daisy Mae came home June 7, 2010.

And she’s been here ever since. Her color changed over the past two IMG_0175years to what’s known as Mulberry – dark on both ends and red in the middle. It’s rare as far as I know. And she’s the prettiest little cow you ever saw – or at least I think so! Since the day she walked off the trailer and I lead her up the slope to the barn, we’ve learned alot together. It’s been a learning curve for both of us – Daisy as she had never been milked in her life and myself learning how to milk and how to properly care for a dairy cow. Along the way we’ve had our little fights, our hilarious moments (yes cows have personalities too!) and our little accidents – i.e. horned, stepped on, etc. But overall  I’m glad I decided to try my hand at being a dairy maid. There’s nothing I enjoy more than working with my cows. Sure I knew it would be work. Alot of work. Dedicated work. In fact the work never truly ends as there is always something that needs doing or fixing. Yet in the end – when my blistered hands are killing me from putting up fence; or when cramped muscles scream in protest at the abuse they received in mucking out the cow pen; or when I’m getting frustrated trying to shove garlic cloves down a stubborn cow’s throat so she’ll get over a sinus infection – all this is worth raising my own milk cow, who generously and unscrupulously provides me and my family with healthy whole milk every day.

From learning how to milk, basic care and feeding, to birthing a calf and making cheese, it’s been an amazing adventure. And I don’t regret any of it. No I didn’t get a bachelor’s degree in something academic. I chose this instead. It’s a different kind of career and one that I wouldn’t trade.

2 thoughts on “The Adventure Begins

  1. I feel the same way about my Jersey cows. Just love them along with my Dexters. I’m currently milking one Jersey and she gives me about 1.5 gallons a day milksharing with her calf. I’m going to try making cheese out of her milk. Hope all goes well.

    • 1.5 gallons a day while milk-sharing – that’s good! Jerseys seem to do better milk-sharing, at least that’s what I noticed. Had two Dexters (both are gone now) and when I milk-shared my Dexter cows would give me 1/2 -1 gallon. What kind of cheese are you going to try making? I never had success with cheddar, feta or cottage cheese. They all smelled so awful I wasn’t about to eat it! Now mozzarella? I could make that. 🙂 And loved making it! So excited for June when my Jersey heifer calves. ❤ Good luck with your own adventure and cheese making!

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