• Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

10 Dryland acres for a microdairy, need advice.

 
Tyler Smith
Posts: 6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Was thinking either Dexter or Jersey, am purchasing books to learn more - including Adam's.

The pasture is dry, there is a seasonal creek that runs through it, and I would want the 10 acres to provide enough pasture for the animal[s].

Questions are:

Breed and #? Looking for good feed conversion on dry pasture and also a reliable way to figure out carrying capacity for the pasture.

Does anyone have experience feeding cattle beans or pulses? Is this okay? Are there other droughty crops that are good for cattle that I should know about?

What do I need to do to become a producer and retailer of raw milk and raw milk products in California, or who would know?

If a cow has a calf, how does one milk it? What happens to the calf?
 
Adam Klaus
author
gardener
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
65
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Hi Tyler, good for you thinking about raw dairy!

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.

Hope that helps!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
pollinator
Pie
Posts: 1714
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands
316
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I suppose that how much dry pasture it would take to support a cow depends on the definition of dry... For me, with my definition of dry, a ten acre pasture would not support even one milk cow... It might support a couple of milk goats though. Goats are much better as utilizing droughty crops than cows are... Goats will eat plants that no self-respecting cow would even look at.

When I was growing up, we had a 1.5 acre generously irrigated pasture. We kept one milk cow on it and two horses. It provided all the forage they needed for the spring, summer, and fall. We fed them hay during the winter. The cow got a scoop of rolled grain twice a day at milking time.

Commercial dairy cows are often fed soybean meal. I'm not qualified to determine if it is okay, but I wouldn't do it with my cows because it messes with the omega 3/6 oil ratio. I wouldn't give her rolled grain today either. (My how times change.)

Determining the carrying capacity of a pasture is easy... Put an animal on it. Watch the pasture and the animal. If more feed is being grown than eaten, and if the animal looks healthy, then add another animal. If the plants get trampled so much that they can't grow take out animals until they grow well.

A retailer of raw milk? Why bother? There is a thriving black market for raw milk and raw milk products if you don't mind tapping into the market that way.

At my place, we put the calf in a separate pasture from it's mother. Then we hand fed the calf a bit of it's mother's milk.
 
Scott Strough
Posts: 299
Location: Oklahoma
21
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have to agree with Joseph, the definition of dryland pasture means no irrigation. But that means it varies widely according to the effective rainfall and humidity of the pasture, water holding capacity, water table, etc.... Back in Indiana we had 2-3 cows on 1 acre and they couldn't even keep up. We ended up adding geese, chickens, a goat, a pony, never over grazed the pasture.......but the water table was approximately 3-4 feet down. Most perennial pasture plants could easily reach the water table. So while technically "dryland" pasture, it was as productive as irrigated pasture. In an arid region even 1 cow on all 10 acres might be too much.

You might find better help by contacting your county extension agent and asking what the county average cow days per acre is for your location. Use that as a starting point. Then try Alan Savory's "Holistic Management".
 
Rose Pinder
Posts: 401
Location: Otago, New Zealand
3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I also live in a dry (and hot summer) climate and see what commercial dairying does to the land (it's not pretty). It should be technically possible using permaculture to farm small herds without damaging the land, depending on the land, but it does beg the question of why one would choose that over something that is more suitable to the land and climate. I think there may be animal welfare issues at stake as well, but I live in a country that treats dairy cows as stock units with little regard for their lived experience.
 
Tyler Smith
Posts: 6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Thanks for all the advice guys. I guess I should say a little more about the land, since I am absolutely interested in happy animals!

It's not irrigated, but has a seasonal creek that stays green with herbs like mugwort, himalayan blackberries and yarrow. It is also heavily shaded by a green canopy. There is also a black walnut orchard on the far side of the house, and a wide-open five acre pasture that I'll probably work with them to get dry-farmed with wine grapes, something I've become good at. Obviously they can't coexist, but hopefully a smaller breed of cow, like a Dexter, on that ten acres wouldn't be too much. The property is about 2200 feet up into the Sierra Nevada foothills, in a cooler, wetter area. If it rains anywhere this low, we get some. Supplementing with alfalfa would be okay, but I am interested in setting some pigeon pea and cowpea in a sequestered area for later grazing, and possibly haying half the property for the leaner summer months. Is that robbing peter to pay paul or would it work?

I am committed to sustainable farming and happy animals. It would be cool to have a dairy, but the Dexter is a dual-purpose breed, and can be slaughtered if the game doesn't play out. It would also be possible to move the cow to another pasture, though I would need to fence it. Anyone have any experience with cattle and electric fencing?

Thank you all for your insights and advice. This is proving to be a most useful community!

Tyler
 
Joseph Lofthouse
pollinator
Pie
Posts: 1714
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands
316
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Tyler Smith wrote:Supplementing with alfalfa would be okay, but I am interested in setting some pigeon pea and cowpea in a sequestered area for later grazing, and possibly haying half the property for the leaner summer months. Is that robbing peter to pay paul or would it work?


Alfalfa is a long-lived perennial. Alfalfa fields can pretty much out-compete most species of weeds for up to decades. Many pasture grasses can also out-compete weeds. There is a field at my farm that was planted into grass about 4 decades ago when I was a teenager. It is still essentially a monoculture.

Pigeon peas and cowpeas are hot weather crops... Pigeon peas might be short-lived perennials, or annuals. cowpeas are annuals. Would you grow them together as annuals? You ever noticed how weedy annual fields can become? You got a strategy in mind for dealing with the weeds? If you live in a climate that is warm enough for cool weather weeds to grow, but too cold for the warm-loving legumes, then that might be a recipe for continued anxiety.

In my climate it is common to let a pasture mature, and then cut and bale it to feed during times when the pasture is non-productive. Then run animals on it after harvest. In either case, the manure for the entire growing season goes back onto the pasture.

I guess I am saying that I think long-lived perennials make better forage, pasture, or hay than annuals or short-lived perennials.
 
Thekla McDaniels
gardener
Posts: 1525
Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
76
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
You fooled me at first , calling it "dry land", but it is. I was going to suggest a place called Great Basin Seed, where they sell forage seed adapted to alkaline conditions of the Great Basin, and less than 8 inches annual precipitation.

It sounds like -- Sierra foothills -- you have good soil, and an entirely different situation.

I think electric fencing holds cows well enough that you could move them around on your pasture, and build up the pasture, allowing for an increased carrying capacity on that pasture. You might also want to consider multiple species grazing to get better utilization of your pasture, and concurrently build up your pasture. That's the ideal isn't it? The soil gets better every year you farm it?

Thekla
 
Isaac Bickford
Posts: 101
Location: Okanogan County, WA
2
bike chicken rabbit
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Get in touch with the folks from Natural Resources Conservation Service at your closest USDA service center. They'll be able to give you a good starting point of forage produced in good or bad years for your soil type. If you're good with computers, you can find that information yourself on the Web Soil Survey.
 
Kelly Smith
Posts: 699
Location: In a rain shadow - Fremont County, Southern CO
18
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Tyler Smith wrote: possibly haying half the property for the leaner summer months. Is that robbing peter to pay paul or would it work?


^^^^ this is what we do.
we rotate our animals through 1/2 the pasture and hay the other 1/2.
this allows us to graze the animals as well as put up all the forage we need for the non-grazing winter months.


Tyler Smith wrote: Anyone have any experience with cattle and electric fencing?

Tyler


we have successfully rotated cows through our pastures with a single polywire electric fence and a 6 joule charger.
our original 2 joule wasnt enough in our dry climate. our larger cow would look at me as she walked over the line . . . . til the day i installed the new charger.
 
neil mock
Posts: 67
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

we run 2 cows (full grown)/acre. but we are in a much different climate. no seasons. rain 10 months/year @ 8000+ feet.

 
Tyler Smith
Posts: 6
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Okay. This is great information. I will have make about a quarter acre pen for the calf[s] to keep off of mom while I dairy her. Any other infrastructure that I could need besides maybe a stanchion and a robust fence?

Any ideas on combating star thistle? it's not a huge part of the pasture, but it appears to be making inroads. I've pulled out what I could find, and I don't want it to be overrun next year. Discing comes to mind, followed by seeding desired forages.

Any preferences here, besides alfalfa? The plan now is to grow that in some of my garden beds and hay it. I have tons of two-row barley too that I could 'fukuoka' on the meadow below my house. It's not fenced so it would have to be hayed as well.

You have all been extremely helpful.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
pollinator
Pie
Posts: 1714
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands
316
bee chicken food preservation fungi greening the desert
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

A shed to put the stanchion in is really nice... Might be multi-purpose such as keeping the cows out of the weather, and as a place to store odds and ends like a shit-shovel, a wash-rag, bag-balm, oats, molasses, the milking machine, a stool, etc...

We carried hot water in the milk-bucket to wash the cow before milking.

Star thistle is an annual, so keeping it from flowering will greatly reduce the seed load in following years. Mowing seems sufficient. I think disking would make it worse.

What species/methods are your dairy farmer neighbors using to store forage for lean times?
 
Thekla McDaniels
gardener
Posts: 1525
Location: Grand Valley of Colorado's Western Slope
76
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I'm with Joseph, weeding, absolutely preventing seed formation for star thistle. Are your neighbors going to provide continual supplies of seeds? That can be difficult. Plant a buffer zone of some tall thicket.

Warm, disturbed soil is what star thistle needs for germination. If you can establish a continuous mat of vegetation on the soil in early spring while it is still cool, the star thistle won't have a chance to germinate. This will be a challenge without irrigation, for sure. But consider what grows early in the spring, the first things you see. Or I think buckwheat or a fall planted grass and pasture mix, so they can germinate when star thistle can't. Evne a mustard type plant is preferable to star thistle.

Are you aware what the seedling looks like? It bears no resemblance to the plant in flower. There are grey green broad leaves, kind of a furry surface, the edges of the leaves are jagged, maybe like a dandelion leaf when the plant is young. Anyway, they are not smooth shiny leaves. They grow flat and close to the ground at first. Lots of seedlings in dry situations have this adaptation. They grow flat against the ground and as wide as they can, it prevents something else from germinating right next to them, that might out compete them later. It also shades the soil and prevents moisture loss. I just googled for images of yellow star thistle seedling, and there are some good pictures there. Take a look if you don't already know what they look like.

So, start with eradication early in the season with the seedlings. Once you mow, then they will flower again, and will try to grow low against the ground again so that you can't mow them, and they'll flower down at the level below the mower blade.

If they do begin to flower, then they will right away begin to form seeds. Once the plant is cut, or pulled, there is usually enough moisture for the seeds to mature, so mowing is not enough, if they are in flower. You have to collect the plants with the flowers on them, and burn them, once burning season arrives again.

Hand weeding is the only way I have ever succeeded with eradicating star thistle.

I think they cannot regrow from roots, so I used to cut the top of the plant off below the crown. Even if you miss a single cell of maristem and the plant grows back, it will have a long ways to go to get a chance at seeds again, but it is worth it to cut the plant below the crown if you can.

Also, don't get discouraged if you are sure no seed arrived from the neighbor and none were allowed to mature on your property, there are viable seeds in the soil for several years.

I don't envy you the star thistle project.

I was a kid when star thistle arrived in the Los Altos Hills, (late 50s) and in my life the plant worked its way down to San Luis Obispo county where I was born and grew up. It is terrible stuff, ruins a field for hay, or grazing!

I had an acre pasture in Atascadero, in the early 2000s, with star thistle when I moved in and when I moved away I had eradicated it. I used mulch to prevent any growth in areas I could not get weeded. It was a real project. When I moved out, the next renter brought horses, and they beat the ground to death, and the star thistle came right back. The only thing that is left of what I did is a Matilija poppy there by el camino, getting bigger every year.

Thekla
 
I agree. Here's the link: https://richsoil.com/wood-heat.jsp
  • Post Reply
  • Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic