Cows…it’s basically all about the cows around here. Well, we do try occasionally to have a life away from the cows, but most days they succeed in occupying the bulk of our time and energy. Their comfort and health is our top priority; they are our four-legged family. There are typically 125 of them here, of one age or another. They are either black and white (Holstein) or brown (Brown Swiss) or some combination of the two, which might range from nearly black to chocolate to orange.
We started farming in 2003 with a small group of Brown Swiss and purchased a group of Holsteins. We love the Swiss for their higher protein milk, great feet & legs, ruggedness, low somatic cell count (this means they produce higher quality milk), and docile personalities (generally speaking). Wanting a herd with more Brown Swiss, we’ve been crossbreeding our Holstein cows with Brown Swiss bulls, and continuing to breed these animals back to Brown Swiss. Today, only half of our herd is Holstein, and the other half is at least 50% Swiss, which is really exciting to us!
A Coverall (hoop) barn houses our cows and our milking parlor. It’s not your typical big red barn, but it has big advantages. Light shines through the fabric cover, so it’s very pleasant and we have little need for artificial lighting. We open the sides completely for at least 8 months of the year, which makes the “barn” more like a giant shade with fresh air moving through it all the time. The cows have custom-sized stalls bedded deep with sand and are free to roam around; to eat, drink, sleep and socialize as they choose. Our dry cows have a separate pen – they’re not thirsty cows, that is how we refer to cows when they’re on vacation from milking for the last two months of their pregnancy. The younger “teenage” animals who have not yet calved, or heifers, are housed in groups by size. Our animals eat pasture and feed that we purchase from other local farms, which means that we can spend our time focused on the cows themselves.
Last year, we adopted a new system for raising our baby calves. They are housed in groups and have milk available 24 hours a day, so they can eat whenever they are hungry. The calves are growing really well in this set-up and stay super healthy!
We use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary, which is rarely. We have a lot invested (emotionally & financially) in our cows, and we want to give them the best medical care available, if they need it. Balanced diets, vaccines, fresh air & water are our preventive health strategies. If a cow is treated with antibiotics, her milk is of course discarded until the antibiotics have cleared her system. Every tank of milk is tested for antibiotics before processing. We do not use rBST, although there really is no difference between the milk from cows that are supplemented and those that aren't. (That will be a topic for another day).
|Teenage heifers on spring pasture|