Thekla McDaniels wrote:Thanks for this great thread.
I've been contemplating getting a small cow. I had heard of Dexters and did not know there were small Jerseys. I only have 2 acres, and possibly when I get the pasture developed, I will begin to look for a Dexter Jersey cross. Any recommendations where to look for her?
Karen and Adi VanGotherd (sp?) in Paonia have been crossing Dexters and Jerseys for a few years. I don't know the specifics of their operation, but they brought Dexters into Paonia and would be a good resource to talk to.
Kirk Schonfeldt wrote:I agree modern "mini-cows" (cuz they look cute) are gimmicky, pricey and not bred for production. However, you do (or CAN) get better feed-conversion with a smaller animal, more milk and meat for the same amount of forage. Mini (aka Island) Jersey cows are the original Jersey cows and though they produce less volume their milk is richer yet than modern American Jerseys. I've also read of a mini- or micro-cow developed in the last couple decades in Mexico and Latin America for home milk production (from zebu genetics). I think smaller livestock in general is a good direction to head for a post-industrial future, but getting quality, affordable genetics is a long way off and will require a concerted breeding effort of networked small producers. One day perhaps.
I agree completely Kirk. Huge potential, but not there yet. Great post.
The only way larger animals are superior is for efficiency of dairy management and beef slaughter. Simply fewer udders to milk and care for per hundred pounds of butter. Fewer carcasses for a ton of beef.
Other than that, smaller cows would be my ideal for permaculture cows.
Dexters are an awesome breed. 'Mini cows' on the other hand, are a gimmick.
I like Dexters a lot for homesteads, there is nothing bad you can say about the breed. If you plan to milk them, be sure to look for milking genetics, as a lot of Dexters have been used just for beef and have lost their dairy quality.
Mini cows are great for the breeder, who sells them for a small fortune. For the homesteader, I am skeptical that they have the constitution to be reliably productive permaculture cows. All the breeding programs I am aware of are raising mini cows under very un-permacultural systems. Making the transition from conventional management to pasture-based management is a big ask for any cow. It is a super big ask for a cow that has been bred so far from its original form. Don't believe the hype, the unrealistic 'efficiency' numbers, etc.
THANK YOU!!! Cassie and Paul! Tons of folks have purchased books this week, so glad to be doing this promotion.
And just a reminder that I am happy to offer free phone consultations to anyone who helps promote my book in any way, such as amazon reviews, facebook shares, etc. I'm serious, and a handful of folks have gotten personal phone calls to talk cows. If you're interested, just send me a PM.
There is a German saying, something along the lines of "half the milk comes from the brushing". I believe that lactation is a highly emotional process for cows, as it is for humans. Showing the cow some love during milking definitely increases their desire to give more milk to the farmer.
Cows are sacred beings, ask the hindus that have been around cows for millennia.
Yes, animals have feelings. Yes, treating them well has positive effects.
Clay is a challenge, for sure. From my experience, I would say that if you seal over the surface of the soil with the bricks, you will create a predominantly anaerobic soil environment, with disastrous consequences.
The biggest challenge with clay is maintaining the water/air balance in the soil. The rotting wood will help to create air space in the soil, but too much air is worse than too little, if you can believe that.
Maintaining healthy capillary channels in the soil is the most important task with clay soil. The soil needs to be able to breathe, literally.
Juniper Zen wrote:Adam, thanks for the details. What is the purpose of the egg soak?
The egg step is analogous to braining. Eggs are a perfectly comparable replacement to using animal brains in the tanning process. And they are much, much easier to obtain and cleaner to use. The fats from the brains/eggs are a key part in the brain tan method, making the hide supple.
Here is the basic steps I have used for tanning rabbit furs-
-use a fresh hide, not a dried hide. much easier and better end result.
-scrape the fat off the hide. no need to worry about the membrane just yet, only get the fat off. very minimal process in this step.
-salt the flesh side of the hide heavily. let rest overnight, but not dry out.
-scrape any remaining flesh off. the salt will contract this fleshy material and it will peel off quite easily. dont worry about the membrane yet.
-soak the hide in an alum (like you use for pickling) solution for a day or two. a few tablespoons of alum in a gallon of water, roughly. this locks in the hair so it doesnt slip and fall out later in the process.
-wash thoroughly with soapy water to get rid of all alum residue.
-let hide dry out just enough that the surface of the hide feels dry, but there is still moisture deep in the skin.
-scrape aggressively with a rough pumice stone to remove the membrane. *this is the critical step*. with a dry skin surface and a pumice stone, the membrane will flake off quite easily, like exfoliating dead skin on your feet.
-whip a few eggs, and apply generously to the skin side of the hide. fold hide in half, skin to skin. wrap hide in warm moist towels. let sit for a day. apply more eggs if they are totally absorbed into the skin. stretch the hide a bit to encourage the eggs to absorb.
-freeze hide with egg mixture in a plastic bag in the freezer overnight.
-remove from freezer, and 'work' hide to soften as it thaws and dries out. *now is the time to really pay attention to the hide* as it dries a little, stretch the hide to keep the skin supple. this step is ongoing, where you will work the hide, then let it dry, then work some more as soon as the surface starts to feel dry to the touch. be firm but gentle, you dont want to tear the hide, it isnt a deerskin. alternating stretching in different directions with your hands, and stretching the hide over a blunt piece of wood works well. if you have to take a break, put the hide in a plastic bag in the fridge so it doesnt dry out without you working it. the key is breaking up the connective tissues as the hide dries out, so that it remains soft and smooth.
-keep working it until the skin side of the hide feels warm to the touch. if it feels cool, it still has moisture, and will become stiff if it dries without working it. as it dries completely, give it a last buffing with a pumice stone, preferably not too rough of a stone at this stage.
Hopefully that makes sense, the process has lots of little steps, but in total it isn't too much time or effort. The result is supple, warm, and beautiful. I think there would definitely be a market for value added mittens or slippers. My little one still snuggles with his 'fuzzy bunny' that I tanned him as a baby.
It's gonna be difficult to get good germination with thyme in a broadcast context. Really small seeds that need to be pushed into the soil surface and kept moist. Definitely better to germinate in flats.
Propagating by root divisions would nearly guarantee transplant success. But that is a lot of plants. Maybe start with a small area and gradually expand? That's what I would do.
But really, why replace one monoculture with another? Grass is the natural skin of the Earth. It gets a lot of unfair criticism. Maybe in a dry Mediterranean climate I could see the preference for thyme over grass, if water conservation is key. But in most climates, grass is going to grow far better than thyme. I am forever weeding grass out of my thyme patch!
Biodiversity for the win! Plant a lovely polyculture, just like nature does!
I own one, and it is fantastic in every way. I use it to grind cabbage for saurkraut, in addition to making apple, pear, and grape juice.
Only drawback is that they are so popular that you may have to wait a few months to get one. Nevertheless, great product.
After a decade building and running Bella Farm in Paonia, Co., life's events has me and the family moving to Ojai. I am very excited by the possibilities living and farming in a warm winter climate!
I am looking for a farm, new or established, that could benefit from my skills and knowledge. I have professional income, and so do not need to earn money from the farm. I would like to receive housing and farm food in exchange for my labor. I come as a family, with my partner and 3 kids. The kids are 7,9, and 10, were born and homeschooled on my farm, and can out work most adults. They are awesome.
My skills include everything I learned building an off-grid homestead, market garden, and micro raw dairy. With my wife, we converted an abandoned apple orchard into a diversified commercial farm. We raised a market garden and greenhouses, dairy cows, meat from pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys, and rabbits, a fruit orchard of apricot and peach, perennial medicinal herb gardens, and natural cultivation of shiitake mushrooms. I designed and built a complete farm water system, including pond, gravity pressurized sprinklers, storage cisterns, and treated drinking water. I designed and installed an off-grid solar system that powered my cabin and all farm operations. I built a cabin, two barns, two greenhouses, and an apartment on the farm. I love everything about homesteading and small farms.
I believe that me and my family would be a huge asset to the right land owner or small farmer. I will be visiting Ojai in mid-October, and would love to meet anybody interested in permaculture in the area.
I hear ya Kevin. I would say though that if you don't like what you're doing, then do it different!
Reading through all your posts, it seems that you are frustrated with your present system, and looking for some modifications that would improve your quality of life as a farmer. That is commendable. I think though that you might need to be more open-minded to making changes to your system. It seems like you are not happy with the present situation, but are highly reluctant to make changes to it.
The answer is not easy, but it sounds like your situation is not sustainable on a personal level, working too much for too little pay. I feel you, believe me. I have no ego in this, but I honestly wrote the book I did to help people find a viable and sustainable way to manage dairy cows on small farms. Take it for what it's worth. I hope you find a way forward that works for you, your cows, your land, and most importantly your family.
John Saltveit wrote:I've done it once, and it helped. Here is what I did. 1/3 clay. 1/3 organic (biodynamic) cow manure. 1/3 mixture of coarse sand and diotomaceous earth. I added a little ag lime in it, because I had some extra around. Some people get into all kinds of extra things, but the 1/3,1/3,1/3 is the original Rudolf Steiner recipe, I have heard.
I also use compost tea, and that helps a lot as well.
I like this recipe a lot. Two things I would add are a unit of BD barrel compost, and to use fermented horsetail tea as the liquid to get your consistency right.
Compost tea works wonders on bark health, and the entire circulatory system of the tree as a result. Easily the best cost/benefit thing to do in the orchard.
Kevin MacBearach wrote:
I think what you're proposing is a way of keeping dairy cows that's only for family use. So apples and oranges.
I dont think that is at all a fair assessment of how Kelly manages his cows. There are a lot of ways to run a commercial (as in makes profit for owner) dairy. I operated a 100% grass fed micro dairy for a decade, making money the whole time.
It seems like you have a system that works for you, and that you are committed to. Thats great! But it is not the only way to run a commercial dairy, and I think that folks like Kelly sharing their experience should not be ridiculed.
There are a lot of ways to farm smart, and we should work together to learn from one another, rather than to argue our differences.
And again, I must restate, 100% grass fed micro dairy IS profitable!
Wes Hunter wrote:
They are perfectly happy without the oats, but I continue to use them because they pass through the gut whole (making me wonder if they're having much acidifying effect) and they encourage the chickens to scratch the patties apart, spreading them around and presumably reducing the fly population. They often defecate as they walk out of the barn after milking, and the hens are all over it as soon as it hits the ground. Maybe they'd still scratch and spread the manure around even without the oats; I haven't tried it long enough to see. In short, I consider the oats chicken feed more than cow feed; the cow is just the carrier. All said, I'd guess the cows get about half a cup of oats per milking. Regardless, I'm not opposed to eliminating them, so long as the chickens would continue their work on the cow patties.
I like your thinking Wes. At the incredibly small quantities you describe, I too question how much of an impact on rumen biology it would actually create. I would say it creates 'some' effect, not zero. Is that enough to 'matter', I don't know.
My experience with hens around the dairy barn is that they love scratching up cow manure regardless. I don't think they need to be incentivized too much.
I think it is important that we all keep experimenting and never become dogmatic. So I really like your line of thinking and experimentation. Nothing says good farming like happy productive cows, so good job!
Where does one go about finding dried nettle? Grow it yourself? Or is there a commercially-available source?
I wild harvest it if it is abundant, grow it on the farm as possible, and otherwise it can be purchased from Frontier Organics in bulk. Definitely more expensive pound-for-pound than alfalfa hay, but certainly worth a lot more.
Juliette de Bariclay-Levy (sp?) is a huge advocate of feeding dried nettles to livestock. Considering how much it benefits pregnant women, it must be good for dairy cows.
Kittum Daniel wrote:I do grass feed beef but I have no idea how well grass feed dairy would do. I would like to see you results because yo may be on to something.
Grass fed dairy works great! My girls, Brown Swiss, haven't had any grain in 8 years and are perfectly fertile, highly productive, and absolutely beautiful. You can check out my book for all the details, linked in my signature.
I like to wean at 3-4 months of age, so your 9 month old is good to go. My experience is that I have to keep the calves completely separated from their momma until the momma has a new calf. The urge to resume nursing is simply too strong. I think that at the age you are dealing with it has more to do with emotional needs than nutritional ones, but nevertheless, that calf is pretty likely to resume nursing if given a chance.
For your milking ration, why not stop feeding grain entirely? Even the small amount of grain is having an acidifying effect on the rumen, which changes the gut bacteria in a negative way for the cow's systemic health. If you need something in the milk stanchion, I would recommend a mix of Alfalfa Pellets (50%), Redmond Real Salt (20%), Dried Kelp (20%), and Dried Nettle (10%). These are all super mineral rich supplements for your cow. She will expect her grain at first, but will quickly adjust to the new mix. It is much healthier for the cow than feeding grain of any type.
Kelly Smith wrote:
one small piece of advice i can give is - not try to start the perfect system from the get go.
get animals and start doing what you think is right - observe and adjust.
i have learned that a lot of the suggestions from a lot of the big name grazers do not work in my area - so i have had to modify their ideas and mine to make things fit.
This is the nugget of gold right here. Don't intellectualize farming, please! It is an art and a craft, and is best leaned by trying earnestly and observing critically.
Farming is the greatest adventure on Earth! Enjoy every moment of it!
Micheal, I would say that if you just take the existing cows off of grain and onto 100% grassfed, about half of the animals will adapt to the change, and the other half will be culls due to loss of fertility. You can purchase grassfed animals and get a much higher rate of success, but you have to compare the cost/benefit of the two scenarios.
You are right that the pastures will rebound quickly with good management. Read Quality Pasture by Alan Nation and Management Intensive Grazing by Jim Gerrish, both will answer all of your questions and more.
The best way to address mineral deficiency issues is to take a soil sample to know what is lacking, and then give your cows access to a free choice mineral feeder. It is much easier and cheaper to give the minerals to the cows, and let them spread it onto the pastures through their manure, than to try to mineralize the pastures directly and hope that the cows get enough.
You are right that the marketing will be easy. Good grassed beef sells itself. Just be sure to produce good beef, which requires adapted genetics and top quality pasture. You might want to raise stockers for a couple years just to improve your pastures to beef finishing quality. The above books will talk in detail about the specific pasture requirements for finishing quality beef.
good luck, you are about to embark on a wonderful adventure-
I agree with Joseph's thoughts on this, well said.
The only thing I will add is that if that is the condition of the pasture now, it will be a long road of pasture building to be able to support a Jersey cow someday.
The best approach is to work up through less nutrient-demanding classes of livestock, starting with goats, then sheep, then beef cattle. Once a given class of livestock is thriving, then next year, move on to the next. Dairy cows have unbelievable nutritional needs, and trying to raise them on anything less than excellent quality pasture usually ends in fertility and health problems. Slow and steady wins the race!
Here's my thoughts on your questions-
1) Dual purpose breeds are much more resilient. Avoid Jerseys and Holsteins, they are too frail for permacultural pastured dairy.
It is really hard to know how many animals without knowing your pasture productivity. On my farm, I can comfortably graze one cow per acre on excellent quality irrigated pasture. On non-irrigated pasture on my farm, I could not support even one cow that is being milked.
2) I recommend 100% pasture feeding. Hay is fine too. No grains, ever. It messes with the pH of the cow's rumen, decreasing milk quality and causing acidosis of the blood which makes the cow susceptible to many ailments. Grass fed for the win, every time. Cows are ruminant grazers, meant to eat plants not seeds.
3) California is a fascist state with its food policy. Selling raw milk legally is a challenge, though I do not personally know the details. Look up the Campaign for Real Milk by the Weston A Price Foundation on their website realmilk.com That should get you the info you need. As always, it is easier to operate under the table if you are truly micro in scale.
4) I leave cow and calf together 24 hours a day for the first week. Then I separate the pair in the evening, milk the following morning, and reunite the pair after milking is over. After 3 months, I wean completely. Works great.
Kelly Smith wrote:if we ever had a cow that could not keep condition on pasture alone, she wouldnt live on our farm for long. i also believe once a day milking is less stressful on our cows, and helps them maintain condition without excess grain.
This is the gold right here. Cows are grazers, and don't need feed rations in a natural farming system. Once a day milking is so important for balancing the nutritional needs with the production requirements, in a way that both benefits the cow and the farmer.
I didn't catch how long it has been since they had their babies, but as long as it has been 2-3 months, then I would say you are good to go to stop cold turkey and milk once a day. If after 3-4 days, one of the girls has a really engorged udder, then milk her our part way, just to relieve the pressure. Should be good to go.
I know that herbs like sage (not sagebrush) are known to help dry up a milker. I have never used this, and doubt you would either, but thought I would mention it.
The mommas will balance out their milk production with how much milk is being taken. They may be engorged for a couple days, but it will sort itself out. It's a lot scarier than the reality!
Sue Miller wrote:
Are details like this explained in more depth in your book or the others you mentioned?
Yes, grazing is more of an art than a science. Like the pros say, you have to train your 'grazer's eye'
Sue Miller wrote:If executed perfectly will the grass in all sections mainly be in the boot phase for the second pass?
Probably not, nothing is perfect, aiming for the boot stage is too precise, the window is too short. Just focus on fast rotations that don't graze the pasture down more than a third.
Sue Miller wrote:It's sheep and kunekune pigs (grazers not rooters) that I am raising if that makes any difference. The pastures I am using are new to me and in terrible shape. Thin grass and thinner soil. I'm hoping to improve them through proper grazing.
Yes!!! Sheep graze down much tighter to the ground, so the dangers of overgrazing are much, much greater than with cows. All the more reason to keep the animals moving.
In the spring, for example, when you need to do an 18 day rotation, divide your entire pasture area into 18 areas, and give the sheep 24 hours per area, then move them on. As you get later into the season, your rotation will increase in days to say 30 days, which then makes for 30 paddocks on a 24 hour rotation. You can see how portable electric fence is essential to good grazing management!
Sue Miller wrote:I very much appreciate you taking the time to set me on a path that is understandable. I do know some people deep in the holistic management field locally but for some reason they won't come right out and make recommendations that are simple and useable.
I've been watching Greg Judy videos but I suppose he is different enough from Savory that there would be disagreement?
Clear and simple advice is only possible through deep and thorough understanding. Lots of people are into things, but few really understand them well.
Greg Judy is great, so is Savory. They both work in different contexts with different objectives, so their methods and philosophy varies. Not to say that one is better than the other, just that they have different emphasis.
Sue Miller wrote:Thanks for the book recommendations. I will check them out. The concept I can't figure out is this: One begins grazing in the spring when the grass is in the boot stage, correct? Then as you move day by day across a large area, the sections in your future are maturing beyond boot and into seed heads. The sections behind the animals are in recovery. None of it is optimal anymore. Second pass of the season x weeks later when section one recovers and is in the boot stage again, same thing repeats. What am I missing?
I would start grazing much earlier, and make faster moves through larger paddocks. Let the cows just keep skimming the tops off of the pasture. Start early enough with your rotation so that the grass is in the boot stage when you get to your last paddock, not your first.
In the spring, you will need to move fast enough that the whole farm gets grazed every 12 days. By fall, your rotation might be up to 60 days. The rate you move the cows is matched with the rate of pasture growth. The, consider that faster moves means larger paddocks (thus no simple 'rotational grazing', which Alan Savory opposes vehemently).
Sue Miller wrote:Thanks for the reply, Adam. What is the optimal grazing stage for the grass plant? Do you practice holistic grazing ala Allan Savory?
The optimal stage is juste before the grass starts to flower. Big leaves of grass. Once you see seed heads, you missed it. Just learn from your grazing mistakes, everybody makes many.
Yes, I love Alan Savory's work, and follow his philosophy.
My favorite book on grazing is Management Intensive Grazing by Jim Gerish. I also like Quality Pasture by Alan Nation. And of course, I really like what I have to say about grazing management in my book, "Dairy Farming: The Beautiful Way" (:
You need to change the rate of pasture moves to be in line with the optimal grazing timing. The two illustrations at the top of this thread are great, you want to be grazing your pastures when they are at highest energy, which corresponds with maximum growth rate. This means that the window for perfect grazing is very narrow. The faster the pasture is growing, the faster your rotations should be.
The rate of moves must change through the year. 6-8 weeks rest between grazings is great in September, but it needs to be more like 3 weeks in May. This is why Alan Savory is so opposed to mechanical rotation grazing, it simple does not work harmoniously with a dynamic natural system. Our grazing management needs to adjust to the natural cycles that exist and vary with the seasons.
Graze the top third of the plants, then move the cows. Don't let a calendar dictate your moves, let the pasture dictate. It takes a few years to get good at predicting the future growth and grazing needs of your pastures, but just start paying careful attention. Remember that too long a rest is just as bad as too short, and that too heavy an overgrazing is the cardinal sin of pasture management.
Back when I was establishing my herd, I searched for Guernseys in or near Colorado. No luck whatsoever. Guernseys are considered a rare breed at this point, so there are a lot fewer animals to choose from. Tragically, as your post alludes to, there are even fewer quality Guernseys that have been bred and selected for production traits and ruggedness. Most of the breeders are focused on breed standards, which is really shorthand for show cows.
If I had found good Guernseys, I would have happily bought them. I ended up with Brown Swiss, a much more common breed that is used much more for production than show, and couldn't be happier.
I am excited and honored to be participating in a edible and medicinal plant workshop at Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch in Boulder Utah, June 5-7 with the amazing Katrina Blair.
The ranch is perfectly located just outside Escalante National Monument, and enjoys access to over wilderness habitat ranging from 4000 to 10,000 feet in elevation, resulting in an tremendous wealth of species diversity for our foraging walks. Katrina is a long-time champion of wild foods, and will be teaching in a hands-on manner how to eat off of the land. I will be highlighting my favorite medicinal plants and demonstrating harvest techniques. At the end of the day, we will come back to the lodge to make food and medicine from the days harvest.
Bill Bradbury wrote:
Does your expertise extend to converting larger dairy operations to smaller more sustainable grass fed dairy?
Thanks for the kind words Bill. In short, my advice to your friend is to sell it all, and start over. Literally everything about his operation would be wrong for a holistically managed dairy. The cow genetics, the pasture composition, the equipment, the marketing, etc, etc. would all need to be scrapped.
It's tough, but sometimes when a system is so far gone, the costs of repairing it are greater than the costs of starting over. I wish I had the magic potion, because I am sure that like 99% of farmers, his heart is in the right place, and he feels totally trapped by the economics of his situation.
The launch of my book, Dairy Farming: The Beautiful Way has been great. Thanks to everyone here at permies for their support. Being a first-time, self-published author is not the easiest thing I have done; but I have always loved a challenge.
I am now offering folks what I hope is a super awesome deal, to help promote my book and build relationships with my readers-
If you buy a copy of my book, and write up a review on Amazon.com, I will give you a FREE twenty minute telephone consultation. We can talk about cows, permaculture, homesteading, or whatever tickles your fancy. I am here to help my readers, in a personal, one-on-one way.
The best place to buy my book is direct from my publisher, where I get the best commission. https://www.createspace.com/5016201 You can also purchase through Amazon.com, but they take a larger share of the purchase price.
Once you have read the book, and posted a review, shoot me a PM here and I will setup a phone call at your convenience.
This offer is open to everyone, including the early birds who already bought a copy of my book. Share with your friends, as I hope the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience on a personal level will be an exciting opportunity for those looking to learn.
Good article Paul, being realistic and honest with young folks rather than selling the usual kook-aid that so many in the movement want to push. Land is expensive, good land especially so, and there is no way around that brutal reality.
I would say though that I manage to raise a herd of dairy cows on 12 acres. They get 80% of their annual feed off the land, so there is some purchased hay. I am able to raise 4 milk cows, a breeding bull, several yearling bulls for beef, and a couple of heifers on that acreage. This is fertile ground with ample irrigation, which highlights the reality that quality is way more important than quantity when it comes to farm land.
So the situation isn't 'quite' as hopeless as it may seem. But young folks do need to think realistically, and always value quality over quantity when establishing a homestead.
When I built my hugelbeds, I sprinkled heavily myceliated biodynamic compost onto the logs before burying. I did this to help improve the wood breakdown and resulting nutrient availability. My biodynamic compost piles have a lot of wood chips or sawdust in them, BD preps (which are innocents themselves), and then I sprinkled mushroom slurry from any native mushrooms I find growing on the farm throughout the year. The result has been excellent mycelial networks running through the soil of my hugelbeds. I believe this must be great for nutrient availability and soil fertility.