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 :)