I have wavered back and forth for years about milk producing animals. I like the idea of keeping enough that I can do my own breeding, but that means a lot of land dedicated to them. My two basic animals of choice are goats or cattle. Goats are smaller, so would need less land and produce less quantity as individuals (an important consideration I will get into later), but can be a real handful and have the issue of potential mineral deficiencies. There's also the issue that not everyone cares for the taste of goat milk.
So then there are cattle. Just one cow can produce a ton of milk. Enough of a herd to do my own breeding (not to mention dealing with a full sized bull) could be a ton of work unto itself. I considered miniature cattle, but am led to understand that most of them have problems such as difficulty birthing. If I end up with pigs, I can probably get rid of excess milk that isn't drank, made into cheese or butter. Without pigs, I'm not sure what could be done with a lot of milk if I can't make good use of it with the time I have.
With these thoughts in mind, I've considered trying to determine the best two or three breeds of cattle for lower milk production, good foraging skills (to cut down on work load and costs of a larger herd), limited size and gentle demeanor (again making working with them easier).
Does anyone have experience with breeds that fit this bill. I'd love it if there were a breed like the miniature highlands that didn't suffer from the typical miniaturized issues? Given these limitations, should I just focus on goats and work around the known issues with those?
Well, I would say that too much milk is never a bad problem to have (:
To me, goats vs cows is not about size, but about ecological fit. Cows are fundamentally grazers, goats are fundamentally browsers. Both do both, but each has their distinct identity.
Dual-purpose cows are great, in that you get beef as your surplus. Breeds like Devons and Milking Shorthorns, though rare, are perfect. I feel like everyone knows where I stand on this one, but Brown Swiss are great in this regard too. If you could find an animal with the right temperament, there is nothing prohibiting milking an Angus. Gene Logsdon talks about this in 'The Contrarian Farmer'. Trouble is that most beef cows aren't exactly tame, so that is a big issue.
As for the challenges of keeping a bull, it is a serious consideration. In the end, keeping a bull is a lot less work and expense than the irregular breeding results of AI. I love my bull, he is my favorite animal in the herd. I treat him with serious concern, as he is a lethal animal. But I still get a lot out of having him on the farm, on a personal level.
I hope those thoughts help, if you have any more questions don't hesitate to ask!
Look for short but not miniature cattle--short legged stocky animals do better on pasture regardless of breed.
Highlands are great milkers, as long as you watch out for the horns. Highlands don't give as much milk, but the butterfat content is insane. Highlands also naturally time their cycle so we can leave the bull in the herd and calf seasonally. The beef is superb. They finish out a little slower and smaller--but that is a good thing if you are putting it in your freezer. A whole angus is too much meat at one time for most families.
I have a highland bull for my jersey and brown swiss milkers. The next generation of half-highlands are just coming of age (we had ALL heifers from the crosses last year!). The first few have been awesome, good producers and great butterfat content and taste. And no medications or inputs or mastitis or calving problems.
I have a half holstein (from a bred swiss jersey cross we had bought) that is also awesome, she thrives on marginal pasture that would kill most holsteins (individual matters more than breed). Her milk tastes holstein but there is enough of it to supplement 4-6 calves so we get more of the good milk Problem is she keeps growing taller--I don't know if my bull is tall enough to connect anymore. Your bull needs to be tall enough to perform on your milkers.
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