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How small of a dairy herd makes sense?

 
laurie branson
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Congratulations Adam on the publication of your book! I heard you speak at PV1 and still refer to my notes from your talk.
If one were to entertain the idea of adding a very small dairy operation to a [planned] market garden, pastured pork and poultry operation on 24 acres (13 acres are wooded) - what is the smallest sized herd that would make economical sense? We have been considering sheep or goats for dairy because they are smaller, but cows are certainly not out of the equation yet.
 
Adam Klaus
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laurie branson wrote:Congratulations Adam on the publication of your book! I heard you speak at PV1 and still refer to my notes from your talk.
If one were to entertain the idea of adding a very small dairy operation to a [planned] market garden, pastured pork and poultry operation on 24 acres (13 acres are wooded) - what is the smallest sized herd that would make economical sense? We have been considering sheep or goats for dairy because they are smaller, but cows are certainly not out of the equation yet.


Great question Laurie. And glad you enjoyed my talk at PV1. I'll be back again and even better for PV2, so hope to meet you there.

I think that you can go as small as three cows and a bull. Really. The biggest hurdle at that herd size is justifying the cost of keeping a bull for breeding only three cows, but if you can make optimal use of your baby bull beef, then the numbers will balance out.

For me, four or five cows is as much as a family will want to manage in the context of a broader diversified farm. With four or five milkers, you will still have time to manage your other animals and vegetables. More cows than that, and you will either need to specialize in dairy, or look to hire workers, which is very challenging with an enterprise as highly skilled as running a pasture dairy.

Hope that helps!
 
Vida Norris
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Adam, on a similar note, what would you suggest as the minimum amount of land you would need to have a small dairy herd like the one you've described to Laurie?
 
Adam Klaus
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Vida Norris wrote:Adam, on a similar note, what would you suggest as the minimum amount of land you would need to have a small dairy herd like the one you've described to Laurie?


There is a huge amount of variability to the carrying capacity of a given acre of land, so giving a simple answer to this question is impossible. I would say that if you have 'excellent quality pasture' as defined by the pros like Jim Gerish or Allan Nation, then five acres is the minimum amount of land that would make sense. Of course, five acres of excellent quality pasture is worth far more than forty acres of scrub pasture, so that is why there is no set answer to stocking rates.

Hope that helps!
 
Justin Koenig
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Mr. Klaus,
I want to ask a follow up question to managing baby beef to justify having a bull, because like you I think ecologically a bull needs to be in the pasture, so are you selling them as pasture beef, or eating them yourself to offset costs?
 
Adam Klaus
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Justin Koenig wrote:Mr. Klaus,
I want to ask a follow up question to managing baby beef to justify having a bull, because like you I think ecologically a bull needs to be in the pasture, so are you selling them as pasture beef, or eating them yourself to offset costs?


I eat them, because to me, food is worth more than money. But if I had a surplus, I would sell the beef. Its a win either way!
 
William Bronson
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What does having a bull on the pasture contribute to the ecology that cows and calves do not?
 
Adam Klaus
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William Bronson wrote:What does having a bull on the pasture contribute to the ecology that cows and calves do not?


Breeding sustainability. No bull = no calves. Bulls are essential to the circle of life.
 
laurie branson
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Thanks Adam - that was very helpful as were the follow up questions! Best of luck with the book sales. I hope you are also considering a book on your chicken operation. Your posts/comments here on permies.com has been super helpful.
 
Vida Norris
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Adam Klaus wrote:
Vida Norris wrote:Adam, on a similar note, what would you suggest as the minimum amount of land you would need to have a small dairy herd like the one you've described to Laurie?


There is a huge amount of variability to the carrying capacity of a given acre of land, so giving a simple answer to this question is impossible. I would say that if you have 'excellent quality pasture' as defined by the pros like Jim Gerish or Allan Nation, then five acres is the minimum amount of land that would make sense. Of course, five acres of excellent quality pasture is worth far more than forty acres of scrub pasture, so that is why there is no set answer to stocking rates.

Hope that helps!


Thanks Adam! Certainly does. That makes a whole lot of sense. I'm only on about 2 acres so will have to wait to have cows in my life then! I'll have to be content with chickens for now Thanks for the answer!
 
Laura Sweany
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Hi, Adam - In reading most of your threads in the past few days, I can see that you are not a big fan of Dexters or mini Jerseys or smaller cows in general, since you remind us that it takes the same amount of time to milk a small animal as it does a large one, but the yield of a larger cow is so much greater.

If I can only afford an acre or two of high-quality pasture, then wouldn't it be worth it to have 1-3 small-frame cows, instead of NO larger cows?

Thanks in advance for your thoughtful reply. I'm learning so much reading your threads, and the book is next!
 
Adam Klaus
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Laura Sweany wrote:
If I can only afford an acre or two of high-quality pasture, then wouldn't it be worth it to have 1-3 small-frame cows, instead of NO larger cows?


Yes! Of Course, Laura. Dexters make sense if the land base won't support full-sized cows. I like Dexters actually. They are great animals. I just think that they are a very specialized tool for a specialized situation. I am not sure that they would make sense on only an acre of land, but you get my idea here, I hope.

good luck!
 
Justin Koenig
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I vote for a dairy animal when your land can support it. Here's a little graphic I drew up to explain. (For fun) I know everyone here probably is aware of these features already but I thought of the chicken sketch used in the designer's manual and thought I'd make a cow one. I don't have the means currently to trick this sketch out on the computer so some scrap paper and a scanner at work and walah! The cow is what comfrey is to plants in the multiple functions category, in my humble opinion, but a pig comes in pretty damn close as well. (truth be told, I'm more of pig kind of guy). Please add more to the list that I missed. Hope you can read it.
guernsey cow.jpg
[Thumbnail for guernsey cow.jpg]
 
laurie branson
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Great sketch Justin - thanks for sharing. Very helpful. Any chance you also did one for a pig you'd be willing to share? While we are still considering which dairy animals to have on our farm, we know for sure we want to raise pigs.
 
Justin Koenig
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Laurie, I don't have one yet, but I will be happy to make one.
 
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