Monday, November 10, 2014

The story of our house cows - Part 2

In part 1 of the story of our house cows I explained how I didn't really want a house cow at first, but after meeting our lovely Bella, I was persuaded that it would be worth the effort. We brought home Bella and her little calf Molly and spent several months learning how to milk and how to make cheese.  I've included lots of links back to posts that get into more detail, so if you want to know more, follow the links.

Molly with baby Monty
Bella with her adopted baby Romeo
We didn’t tackle the problem of getting Bella in calf again until about six months after we brought her home, and we used the vet to do artificial insemination. This resulted in a successful pregnancy, but the much-anticipated calf died, we weren’t home, so we’ll never know what really happened. Fortunately Bella accepted a large Friesian foster calf after a week of him following her around the paddock and we were able to continue our milking routine.

Meanwhile we had weaned Molly at about 12 months old and by then we had also bought a small Dexter bull, because it can be difficult to AI a heifer. Donald took care of that, and Molly was in calf too. Molly had a quick and successful birth of a tiny bull calf, and was no trouble to milk except that she couldn’t always remember how to come into the milking bales (Molly is not as smart as her mother and often gets “stuck” on the wrong side of a fence when she forgets where the gate is).

Bella’s next calf was a lovely healthy girl, but Bella developed a serious case of mastitis, and had to have antibiotics this time, as the natural methods didn’t work quickly enough. The vet also suspected metritis, although this was never confirmed. 
Bella with baby Nancy
Molly with baby Ruby
Molly has turned out to be a huge milk producer and got very thin with her first calf, so we had to wean her calf early. This is when we learnt the challenges of drying off a high-producing cow. Bella was much easier to dry off as she never makes much milk towards the end of her lactation, but Molly was still making 10 L a day! No wonder she was skinny and the calf was very fat. Donald the bull did his job again and Molly’s second calf was a little girl.

Bella got mastitis again when we dried her off before her next calf, and had to have antibiotics again. This is really not how we hoped to manage our cows, but I think Bella had a rough start to life and doesn’t have the natural health that Molly enjoys. And then Bella’s next calf never appeared. We gave up waiting after a few months, realising that she had either miss-carried or had never been in calf. Around this time Donald died, we think from eating lantana, which can be very poisonous for cattle. Without our bull, we were back to AI to get the cows in calf, and we were having a tough time working out when they were on heat. Cows are very vocal when they are younger, we certainly know when the two heifer calves are on heat, but not their mothers.

Our little bull Donald

Molly was getting thin again, so we had to wean her calf and dry her off too, and then we had no milk! Two house cows and no milk is not a good management situation, but we are still learning.

Then we heard about another small bull for sale in the area, even though bulls can be very very annoying at times, we decided he would probably do a better job. When bully arrived he was very interested in Molly. Dammit. Looks like Donald didn’t get a chance to mate her before he died. It could be a while before we have a calf again! 

Bella is a special cow

Bella is looking very fat and healthy. We don’t know if she is in calf, or if the metritis has affected her fertility. Tough choices lie ahead, but honestly I can’t see us selling her or eating her. I know some small farmers keep their cows for a few years, then send her off the meat works and get a new one, but Bella is special. She is our first cow and we really have a bond with her. (I told you she was crafty!).  When a cow gives you her milk, its like you're one of her calves, and it really feels wrong to me not to look after that cow, even if you can't give you another calf.

In a few weeks we will get the vet to come and pregnancy test the cows so we know what to expect. Its kind of nice to have a break from all the milking and cheese-making, but I’m missing the raw milk. To be continued.... read Part 3 here.

Here's Molly again
I'd love to hear your house cow stories! Tell me all about your lovely cows :)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Milk cow kitchen - book review

I've said this before, I'll say it again, if you want to get a house cow, you need to read every book you can find on cows.  Even if you don't agree with everything in every book, the more you read, the more you will understand what your options are.  And some books cover different topics in more detail.

Mary Jane Butters very kindly sent me a copy of her beautiful book "Milk Cow Kitchen" for review.  Mary Jane also hosts the Heritage Jersey chatroom, which is a great forum to chat and learn about house cows.  Its free to join, so head over there and take a look (but don't forget to come back to read the rest of my review).

The thing that I like best about Milk Cow Kitchen is the photos.  Not just the beautiful cows (and cow girls) but also the detailed step-by-step shots.  Its one thing to read about how to hand milk or how to use a milking machine, but having photos of each step is a huge help.  A few other topics that Mary Jane covers in detail that I haven't seen discussed in other books includes:

  • pastuerisation and chilling the milk
  • santisation of the milking palour and the cow teats
  • transporting cows
  • putting down a cow :(
  • crochet with baling twine!
And I didn't even mention all the recipes yet.  Even if you don't have your own cow, if you have access to milk, you will want to use some of the recipes, including cheese and ice cream, all expertly photographed and looking delicious.

I know it may seem like there are a lot of books available on milking cows, but I do think that they are all different, and its worth reading widely to prepare for any situation.  I would certainly add this one to your reading list, as it covers a number of topics that don't appear in other books, as well as the wonderful photos. 

What other house cow books can you recommend?

Buy my ebook "Our Experience with House Cows" on ScribdLulu and Amazon, or email on eight.acres.liz at to arrange delivery.

Reviews of "Our Experience with House Cows"

Gavin from Little Green Cheese (and The Greening of Gavin)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The story of our house cows - Part 1

You’ll probably be surprised to know that it was Pete who really wanted to get a cow, and at first I didn’t think it was such a good idea. I thought it seemed so expensive, I thought we didn’t have enough land and I didn’t know what we would do with all the milk. Eventually we negotiated a solution. He agreed to sell his boat (which had been sitting in the car port unused for three years) so that we could pay for the cow and the milking machine. And somehow he persuaded me that we needed a cow. Or maybe it was when I first met Bella that I was persuaded, I can’t remember now.

Bella and Molly when they first arrived

Pete told our dairy-farmer friends that we were looking for a cow. I didn’t expect them to find us a cow for months, or maybe even a year, but only a few weeks later, they told us about Bella. She had been born at the dairy farm, but bottle-fed by a neighbour and raised as a tame cow, then returned to the farm when the neighbour moved. She was about to have her second calf. She didn’t fit in with other cows because she was so tame. When we first met her in the paddock, she stood still while we patted her, as all the other cows moved away from us. I felt sorry for her! Also one horn was growing in towards her head, poor thing. We couldn’t leave her at the dairy farm!

We went home to get organised. We converted a crush that we were making into a milking bale and chose a milking machine. We ordered stainless steel buckets and a cow brush. We bought milk jugs and cheese making supplies. Finally we were ready to collect Bella about six weeks after she had her calf, Molly. 
Bella with Molly

And so began our inauguration to the world of dairy cow drama. It seems that nothing is simple with house cows! Its not their fault really, they have been bred by humans to make so much milk, they are susceptible to problems with mastitis, milk fever, and they have to be fed properly with plenty of minerals. They do really required more care than beef cattle.

First Bella did not like where we set up the milking bales, so early on the first morning we had to pick them up and move them further from the house and closer to the paddock so we could guide her in there through the gate. We were lucky that she was so tame and would follow a bucket of grain. With two extension cords, we were still able to use the milking machine in that location. Bella has never been easy to milk, we call her “Mrs Kicky” (also “Mrs Picky” when she won’t eat her hay), and was certainly not an easy cow to learn to milk. She also got mastitis early on, which we managed to treat with natural methods. Meanwhile we tried to tame Molly, first by bottle feeding her (that idea lasted a week), and then just by spending time with her while she was eating a small amount of grain.

Molly getting tame (they always lick my boots!)
We didn’t know at first that we didn’t HAVE to separate Molly from Bella. For months we led Molly into a calf yard, and then we realised that they could stay together, which was better for both of them. The only advantage was that Molly did become very tame and also learnt to follow a bucket of grain into her yard.  We actually waited 12 months before we weaned Molly, because we took a while to get organised with getting Bella in calf.  But that is a story for next time... Read Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

I'd love to hear your house cow stories!  Tell me all about your lovely cows :)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Keeping a Family Cow - book review

Before getting a house cow, I recommend that you read every book you can find on the subject.  You should also visit people with house cows if you can, and spend some time with cows, so you know what to expect.  I am still reading books about house cows, and I was very excited to find Keeping a Family Cow: The Complete Guide for Home-Scale, Holistic Dairy Producers, by Joann S. Grohman in the Brisbane City Library.  You really never know what you're going to find there!  Joann has 60 years experience with dairy cows, so who better to get you started on your house cow journey?  Joann also has a website about Real-Food and started the popular Keeping a Family Cow forum, which I have found useful for cow advice from time to time.

This book includes the best ever explanation of house cow nutrition and digestion processes that I have ever read.  She writes that you can't buy poor hay and expect to make up for it by feeding more grain, your cow will just get fat.  She also explains hand milking and how to stop a cow from kicking.  The advantages of raw milk for humans are also explained and I really enjoyed the discussion on why commercial milk is pastuerised.  There is a huge amount of detail in nearly 300 pages.

I was surprised by how much space was devoted to milk fever.  Its good to know about it and be prepared to treat it if your cow suffers from milk fever after calving.  I really like the way Joann explains the biological processes that can cause problems with cows.

This book is written for the north eastern US climate, and as I always say about US books, there are a few things that are not relevant to Australian house cows because we don't have to deal with snow.  We have different pastures, different fencing techniques and different pests.  But in general, this is a great start for any cow owner.

Of course, I would recommend my house cow ebook as a supplementary guide for Australians.

Buy my ebook "Our Experience with House Cows" on Scribd, Lulu and Amazon, or email on eight.acres.liz at to arrange delivery.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

House cow ebook now available on

I have published "Our Experience with House Cows" on in ebook format.  Personally I think it looks better in .pdf (buy from scribd), but if you prefer ebook format, you can buy it here instead.  If you just want me to email it to you, send me a message on eight.acres.liz at

If that is too confusing, just look at this photo of lovely Molly, now don't you want to know how to get a house cow of your own?

Monday, July 28, 2014

House cow milking schedule

Unless you really need every drop of milk from your cow, you can make life a lot easier for yourself by using the calf as a share-milker. Here is how it works.

Molly cow with her calf Ruby

A cow makes the most milk after she first calves and then her production gradually decreases. The amount of milk she makes will depend on her genetics, her health and the quality of her feed. We notice a huge difference in milk production if we have lush green grass in summer compared to dry grass in winter.

For the first few weeks after the calf is born, you leave the calf with the cow and milk the cow twice a day. The cow will gradually produce less milk and as the calf grows, it will drink more milk, so the amount you get at each milking will decrease. When you’re only getting 2 L at a time for a few days, you can cut back to milking once a day, either morning or afternoon, and the calf gets the rest. When you’re only getting 2 L a day, you can stop milking altogether. Now if you want milk, you separate the calf from the cow, usually overnight, and milk your cow in the morning. This provides plenty of milk for us for one week, so we milk once a week and calf gets the rest. This means we can go away for the weekend if we want to. It also means that we have 10 L of milk per day for only the first few weeks, and then gradually less until we only milk when we want to, so we’re not constantly trying to use up all that milk, but we can make cheese for a few weeks with the excess.

The easiest way to separate the cow and calf is to lead them both into a small pen where the calf will spend the night. You then lead the cow back out of the pen, she is usually tamer and quicker to follow a bucket of grain or hay than the calf. You give the calf some grain and hay and a bucket of water for the night. Don’t set up this pen too close to the house, because you will have to listen to them both crying all night! Gradually the calf will get used to having its grain too, and will follow you into the pen by itself. Make sure that there is no way that the calf could manage to get a sneaky drink through the fence, or you will be disappointed in the morning when your cow still has no milk!

Any questions about house cow milking schedules?  How do you manage your milking schedule?

Monday, June 30, 2014

How to buy the house cow ebook

My house cow eBook "Our Experience with House Cows" is available for purchase on Scribd.  Its only US$4.99, and it includes lots of information about keeping a house cow in Australia. 

If you don't want to go through all the Scribd/paypal effort, just send me an email on eight.acres.liz at and I can arrange to email it to you instead, with either a bank transfer or I can send a paypal invoice.

If you would like  see it on another site, just let me know where you like to download ebooks and I'll investigate.

photo shoot with Molly cow

this is how you buy from Scribd

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How to tell if your house cow is on heat

If you want your cow to continue producing milk, at some stage she’s going to need to have another calf.  Essentially you have two options, either artificial insemination (AI) or a bull. We have tried both. If you’re going to use artificial insemination, talk to your vet a few weeks in advance and arrange with them to have the appropriate semen ready. You will need to call them again on the day your cow is in “standing heat” (explained below) and arrange for a house call. In total this only cost us $100, but we are only 10 km from town, a vet may charge considerably more if they have to travel further. There is no guarantee that artificial insemination will work the first time and you may need several visits to get the timing perfect. When the vet came, he just asked us to lead Bella to her bales, he didn’t need to restrain her any more than we do for milking. I was surprised how good Bella was, considering how much she kicks us when we are trying to milk her, she didn't seem to mind having the vet's hand up her rear end at all!  Read the rest of this article here on Eight Acres - the blog.

You might also be interested in:

Here's the full story about Bella and AI.

And keeping a bull on a small farm.

If you want to find out more about keep a house cow in Australian conditions, buy my house cow eBook here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Our Experience with House Cows is now available

Our Experience With House Cows, by Elizabeth Beavis
Available from Scribd here for only $4.99 in .pdf format.

Have you ever thought about owning a house cow but don’t know where to start?  Do you dream of unlimited raw milk, manure and beef to complement your small farm activities?  “Our experience with House Cows” is an eBook written by a house cow owner to help other small farmers get started with a cow of their own.  The eBook is written for Australian conditions, particularly sub-tropical Queensland, but much of the information is applicable to cows and cow owners all over the world.  This eBook covers the basics of getting a cow, getting her in calf, milking her and caring for her calf, all using natural methods.  The final sections explain how to use all that milk to create delicious dairy products!  The eBook references several other cow, cattle and dairy books which are useful to the new cow owner and explain some aspects in more detail.  Go ahead, learn how to realise your house cow dream today!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

House cow ebook - Our experience with house cows

I'm very nearly finished working on my house cow ebook and very soon it will be available to purchase on scribd with details coming soon!

In the meantime, check out my blog Eight Acres for lots of house cow information.