Having a farm is a commitment, especially with livestock. The animals depend on you completely for their food, water, and safety. It is every day, every week, all year long. There are no days off. If you want a vacation, even a weekend getaway, you must find someone to take care of the animals while you are gone.
Having a dairy cow takes the livestock commitment to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL. First of all, as far as vacations and weekend getaways, it is easy enough to find someone who can feed and water all your animals. Throwing hay, pouring pellets, and filling waterers is a skill most people who like animals can accomplish without incident. Milking a cow, however, is not. So having a cow, for us, means that we can’t take vacations, or even ONE night away. Someone must be here EVERY morning to milk the cow. And the milking must be done within 30 minutes on either side of the same time every day. We milk at 6 am, so that means she must be milked between 5:30-6:30 every day or we could have a decline in milk production and more importantly the cow could get an infection. Now, having the calf-on does give us some more wiggle room in that area. If there was some reason we couldn’t be there for morning milking we would not close the calf off at night and I am assuming we wouldn’t have too much trouble with milk production nor infection because the calf would eat more and take care of our milking for us, but I don’t know for sure.
In addition, separate from the vacation thing, having a cow is still a BIG commitment. There is no sleeping in. There is no fudging a bit on what time you milk. With other livestock, if you decide to sleep in on Saturday for a couple of hours, they are not going to have any severe negative consequences from being fed a bit later or not let out of the barn. But with milking, it is a get-up-at-the-same-time-every-day-365 commitment.
We were totally aware of this when we bought her. We have worked our vacations around her dry periods. But even knowing it ahead of time hasn’t compared to actually living it. It doesn’t matter if we were up till 3am with a sick child, it doesn’t matter if we are horribly sick with a fever of 102F and chills and body aches, it doesn’t matter if there is 4 feet of snow on the ground, it doesn’t matter if it is -18F outside….the milking has to be done close to 6am.
Despite all the above facts, and despite the fact that knowing it is nothing like living it, I wouldn’t get rid of our milk cow.
The fresh, raw milk is amazing.
The interaction with the cow (and calf) is priceless.
And the commitment to milking builds character in ways that nothing else in my life has.
I think that building of character in the way of a commitment like this is massively overlooked today. Even by people raised back when building that type of character was the norm. When we bought the cow an “old timer” we know who used to raise dairy cows said “What are you doing that for? Don’t you know you can buy milk at the grocery store these days?” I’ve also had an older woman say to me “Why would you can your own vegetables these days? Just go buy them at the store!”
Why indeed? For us the answer has many parts. The main two parts are the quality of the food and the life experience.
The quality of food at the grocery store cannot compare to the freshness of what comes from our own farm. And we know how the animals were raised and kept and (for meat) killed.
The self-sufficient lifestyle fills me in a way nothing else ever has. There is nothing quite like the way I feel when I whip up a dinner of chicken soup where every single ingredient was produced in my own back yard. And how I feel when I make all our dairy products. It feels good to work hard and then reap what we have sown. Someone once said that the key to a happy life is to keep your hands busy. A farm will definitely keep your hands busy!
It also gives us something to work together on as a family. Accomplishing something together creates an amazing bond and unity as a family. We love that feeling.
We love the farming lifestyle. For us it is living our dream. And the cow commitment has simply enhanced that. It is hard work, and sometimes we don’t “feel like it,” but we wouldn’t trade it for the world.