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Adam Klaus @ PV1 - "Small Dairy Herds for Small Farms"

Posts: 3252
Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
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Me again!

So, are you sad that you didn't get to go to the Permaculture Voices conference? Did you go but you can't remember what was said? Well, I am an obsessive note taker (most of the time) and I took notes at most of the talks I attended.

I will share them here with you!

Please note that this is in no way a transcription. These are my notes, taken in real time, on the fly, whilst trying to look at the slides and follow along. I find that note taking helps me synthesize information. None of this should be construed as an accurate quotation, even when I put it in quotes. (For example, I'm pretty sure not a single speaker used the utterance "Yo.") Much of the time, I am trying to summarize and it's entirely possible that I've gotten some things wrong.

My next notes document is Adam Klaus. The topic this time was "Small Dairy Herds for Small Farms"


Adam Klaus

Small Dairy Herds for Small Farms

I didn’t grow up on a farm, and I see that as an asset. I travelled in India when I was 24 yrs old and it totally changed my perception of cattle. Cows are more important than cars. Pic of man feeding sliced cucumbers to two cows - who is happier?

I went to Cresset Biodynamic Farm in Colorado and that was my first experience of a holistically managed dairy. His cows don’t even need to be tied for milking.

We bought 12 acres in Paonia, Colorado of abandoned apple orchard and built our farm there from scratch.

We started with fruits and vegetables, but realized pretty fast that we were going to need more than this. I said “Somebody needs to start a dairy here (in our valley). I’m not the one.” Historically there were dozens of small dairies in the North Fork Valley. Every small farm in America had dairy on it. 100, 150 years ago we were the envy of the world with our small farms.

So, we started growing greenhouse tomatoes, saving all our income, drove to Montana to buy good cows. 15 hour trip.

I got Vivian and Arthur in 2007, my foundation Brown Swiss cow and bull. I’m now on the third generation.

So, the Bella Farm Raw Milk Dairy.

Benefits: we get 1000 gallons a milk per cow, per year, just from grazing pasture, with once a day milking. We average 4 gallons a day from each girl. Two months of hay feeding for us (that’s our biggest expense).

Raw milk provides excellent nutrition: our brains are made primarily of fat, and good fats are good brain food.
Healthy milk grows healthy little people. (pic: cutest kids evah!) My customers come to me about the amazing health benefits of my product. They don’t do that about my carrots!

I make a lot of yogurt, made with fresh warm raw milk directly inoculated with the yogurt mother.

My raw milk butter is so precious, I don’t sell it.

Butter for the farmer, skim milk for the farm. We can make mozzarella, we can feed it to our pigs and chickens. Raw milk was considered a natural dewormer for pigs. My chickens never have scour (chicken diarrhea). We also take raw skim milk, dilute it 10:1 and spray it on everything. We spray it on the pasture as we move the cows. I think it’s got many of the benefits of compost tea.

Cows bring fertility to the whole farm system. They are fertilizing the pasture as they graze. Our soil was lovely: 5% organic matter when we moved in. Now it is almost up to 8%.

The cow manure helps us make biodynamic compost in abundance. It’s not the “hottest” manure, but it is the richest in micro-organisms.

Cows and orchards. If you are trying to grow peaches to sell, keep your cows out of the orchard.

Market garden: we can grow great veggies without the need to purchase inputs. This cranks up the profitability of vegetable growing.

The cows are sacred on our farm. The encounters and experiences I have on a daily basis with my cows are spectacular.

The bull is a symbol of vigor. I love my bulls—they are my favorite animal on the farm. Just to hang out with my bull, to experience the raw power, the vigor.

Why do the cows work on our farm? Cows are perfect grazing animals. We have 12 acres and no tractor. The cows manage our land for us. Sheep and horses bite the grass. Cows wrap their tongue around a clump of grass and “rip it out.” (ed: apparently not out of the ground) This limits their ability to overgraze.

Cows convert grass into milk. Grass is what the planet wants to grow, and milk is so valuable.

Cows give us new calves every single year. They are beyond sustainable, they are regenerative.

Cows help us create a healthy farm ecology. If not grazed, the grass grows waist high and dies in the dry season (see: Alan Savory)

We have forest that we use as shelter in extreme warmth and extreme cold. Cows can deal with 20 below temps, with just a wind break.

The oak forest is a source of diversity. We’re not going to allow them in there all the time, but if we let them in briefly, from time to time, they will manage that land for us. Most importantly, it allows them to self medicate. I don’t have a veterinarian, I am not a veterinarian. I feel strongly that letting the cows have access to deciduous woods is good for their health.

Multispecies didn’t work for me. I didn’t need to clear out brush, I had really nice grass and leguminous pasture. The sheep just weren’t helping us. They needed different fencing, were too much work. We raised sheep for a few years and got out of that business.

Cows are an asset. If you are pinched, you can sell a cow in February and bring in thousands of dollars.

Even in winter, the cows are productive on the farm. They graze in the snow, they eat dry oak leaves, they pull buds off shrubs. Cows are the optimal utilizers of mountainous land. We can make use of land that’s not good for vegetable growing or row cropping.

How do we manage our cows?

We need permaculture cow genetics. We need to look at the daily milking routine. We need to come up with a holistic plan for management.

Pic: ideal cow “Bootsie” Check out that compact udder. and yet, she gave us 7 1/2 gallons of milk in one day. Slick shiny hair coat. She’s got a wide muzzle—she takes a big bite of food. She’s got nicely sprung ribs—lots of room inside for food. She’s carrying more muscle (condition). Jersey cows and Holsteins are much more delicate - they need some grain to get by. We need a cow that has a bit more meat on her bones, so she can deal with temporary shortages of pasture food.

Milking shorthorns, Dexters, dual purpose breeds are all good

Hair patterns tell you a lot about what’s inside of cows. For example, we like a nice spiral on this cowlick in the middle of the forehead. Cows with a broken pattern, maybe an S shape, that cow will have more erratic behavior.

Once a day milking. You’ve got to be consistent. Last year, we did the milking at 4:30pm, that worked well.

We work with the cow before milking. We brush her all over from head to toe (they give more milk when you do this!) We massage the udder (it’s a vigorous massage) We clean the udder very well (we use a dry brush - never water - and then a commercial teat wipe which is kind of like a baby wipe, but with lanolin in there.

Pic: Solar Powered Dairy Barn

We started out pretty humble. I had a single burner propane stove to heat water to sanitize equipment and I milked by hand the first year. I always have my customers come out and see what I do. I have a raw milk share agreement. It sets out what my production guidelines are and we all agree that as long as I’m following those, the customer is not going to sue me.

Nobody has ever gotten sick from my milk. Every so often somebody thinks they got sick from my milk, but it turns out it was something else (17 other people got milk on that day and nobody else got sick)

Dairy equipment. We have a top of the line bulk tank. It cools the milk down quickly, which improves the taste. We have an on-demand water heater—so fabulous. We have a big south facing window where we wash everything.

We feed our cows pasture, plus ancient salt from Utah and kelp.

Don’t get the dairy cows until you have excellent pasture. Grass alone will not support a productive dairy cow. You need legumes. I love red clover. Start out with beef cows, sheep are a great way to improve pastures. We have lots of different support species. I love plantain. People ask “is the milk grass fed?” I say “No, it’s clover and plantain fed”

I use all temporary fencing. I can set up the fence the way I like. I use a lot of pigtail posts. Cows aren’t much for testing fence. After a couple of strong experiences with electric fence, they respect it. A lot of the time, our fences aren’t even hot.

We do seasonal calving. As the forage decreases, the milk production comes down. When we wean the calves we move them onto exceptionally high quality pasture, in July.

If you are going to do seasonal calving, you need a breeding bull. Nobody can determine when a cow is ready to be bred like a bull. I have no wiggle room in terms of breeding times. If a cow doesn’t get pregnant from the first breeding, she’s a cull.

Our calves are raised by their mommas. They learn how to graze from their moms. Ideally even after they are weaned, they can still see their mom (in the distance). We put a yearling heifer in with the calves when we wean them out into their own pasture. We bring the heifers into the barn so they can watch the cows being milked. They see how happy the cows are after they’ve been milked. (The cow feels much better after you’ve removed 5 gallons of milk.)

Having a dairy herd is nurturing life.

Masanobu Fukuoka: (missed the quote, I think it was the same from Adam's previous talk)

Go meet some (small) dairy farmers. It’s amazing what I’ve learned from these magnificent and gentle creatures. The best reason to be a dairy farmer is for what’s it’s going to do for you as a person. The opportunity to work with dairy cattle is a beautiful way to live.

3-5 animals is a fine size for a small herd. I milk on average 4 cows a year.

Dairy farming is the hub of our farm. It has brought us prosperity that I never could have imagined, just looking at it on paper.

I’m working on a book on small dairy farming called “Dairy Farming the Beautiful Way”
Posts: 4665
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Thanks again Julia!

Adam, you said "Cows and orchards. If you are trying to grow peaches to sell, keep your cows out of the orchard. "

Could you explain that more?
Because they damage the trees?
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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Miles Flansburg wrote:
Adam, you said "Cows and orchards. If you are trying to grow peaches to sell, keep your cows out of the orchard. "
Could you explain that more?
Because they damage the trees?

Cows will destroy the trees with their rubbing and scratching. Peach trees would never grow large enough to overcome this problem. Running electronetting between the trees is more hassle and cost than it is worth for the small amount of grazing available in a peach orchard planted on 14 foot centers.

Calves wouldnt kill mature (10 year old) peach trees, but what they would do, is nibble off every bud growing below browse height. This would cause the canopy to be higher, necessitating ladders for picking. It would be much better to keep your peaches low growing, to enable hand harvesting without ladders, and graze your calves elsewhere.

There is a fantasy ideal out there of cows in fruit orchards. IME, the only situation where it would make sense is in a mature cider apple orchard, where you shake the trees to harvest. Of course, some orchardists would cringe at the idea of shaking the trees to harvest, but it seems okay to me.

My overall opinion is that orchards are best with poultry and supporting understory crops. The amount of grazing is pretty small, and not worth compromising your fruit trees for a little bit of extra pasture.

hope that helps!
Posts: 188
Location: Outside Detroit, MI
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or running pigs through on very short term basis'. Probably just at time after harvest when there is left over/ spoiled fruit drop. They can clean it up. But not be around long enough to root up and damage things.
Posts: 18
Location: Western Oregon
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I believe your a seasonal dairy correct? How many months a year are your cows dry for?

How did you go about selling this to your customers?

We currently offer a year round raw milk share, but I think it would make the most sense to do a seasonal share instead. I just find it hard to believe that we won't loose quite a few of our customers as there are other producers nearby offering year round raw milk.
Adam Klaus
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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Rj Ewing wrote:
I believe your a seasonal dairy correct? How many months a year are your cows dry for?
How did you go about selling this to your customers?

We currently offer a year round raw milk share, but I think it would make the most sense to do a seasonal share instead.

Yes we are seasonal, providing milk to our customers May through November. So the cows are dry Dec-April, 4-5 months each year.

We had our concerns about losing customers, but it really isnt an issue. We maybe lose a couple each year, but probably no more than typical annual turnover. Operating seasonally allows much better margins because we farm in harmony with nature rather than operating like an industrial factory. Seasonal milking is much healthier for the cows, as all hooved mammals lactate seasonally. And critically, milking seasonally is sane and sustainable for the farmer.

good luck!
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