The Cow Commitment

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.

10 thoughts on “The Cow Commitment

  1. Fantastic post. You’re about 100 times further along this path than I am with my little suburban garden, chickens and bees but what you write resonates with me. So many people don’t get it – why we put in the extra work and time for something that can be had so much more easily – I feel sorry for them because boy are they missing out!

    Lucky you, lucky cow, great lives.

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  2. I do agree with all that you said about this lifestyle. There are times when I think back to life without animals, and ponder its ease. I quickly remember amongst the difficulty is a wonderful way of life. I especially agree with your busy hands comment. I am happiest when I am hard at work!

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  3. I was just wondering if you have ever had to leave the calf on for a weekend and if so how it went? The reason I ask is I have heard of people using this method with goats and being able to be gone for the weekend if necessary. Thanks for sharing.

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    • We never have. However, when we evacuated for the flood we were milking about a gallon off her each morning, then suddenly she wasn’t milked anymore and just left with the calf for two months. She did fine with the transition (no mastitis). And now that she is back we got 1/2 gal from her this morn. So it did decrease her milk to do that, but we will likely be able to build it back up to at least 3/4 gal.

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      • You are welcome. And I wanted to add, now that we are a week out, that she is not increasing. We are having to work hard to just get the half gallon each morning. We have tried closing the calf off her earlier but so far no luck. It might also be a sign that her breeding did take because they decrease once bred. Either way, we will likely wean him soon so we can get our milk and because he is old enough. But we will still only milk her once a day since she is well into her milk cycle.

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      • Again, great info. I have committed to buying a sheep, although I don’t think I will milk her, but I love learning all I can about all types of livestock, especially if I have an interest in getting one someday.

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  4. tell me if you had a job outside of home 5 days a week, do u think u could still manage having a milk cow. im a mom of 4 and i work away from home mon-fri.. i grew up on raw milk and love it . my mom stayed at home and milked. i know its a huge commitment. my life is home and work.. thanks in advance for your thoughts
    thea

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    • One of the biggest things I have learned in the almost two years we have had the farm is that life is a huge balancing act. We (humans in general) have a limited amount of time and energy. Whenever we choose to do something we are choosing against something else because the thing we chose used up time and energy that then couldn’t go to the other thing. So we are constantly balancing and re-balancing trying to do as many of the things that we want to do while not going over our time/energy allotment. When we take on more than our time/energy allotment can do, we start decreasing how well we do the things we have chosen.
      All that to say, if it was me (I can’t really say for you because I don’t know much about you, but I can imagine my life with the few things you said to me) I don’t think I would be able to give 100% to a full time job, my family, and a milk cow and still enjoy it all. But I am also taking into account the many other small things that take our time and energy, like the kids’ 4H, our social life, my hobbies (knitting, spinning, scrapbooking, sewing, etc), family activities (hiking, swimming, etc).
      So I would say you need to assess all those things and see where you land and whether there is space.
      I can give you these facts to help you with your decision: The cow alone uses up about 60-75 minutes of every day here at the farm. And that time is spent in a very physical way (ie it is manual labor that is physically taxing). The milk is awesome and has made a huge difference for the health of my younger two kids who are allergic to store-bought milk.

      There will be a post coming soon on this very topic and some changes we have chosen to make on the farm this last month.

      I hope this was somewhat helpful, and that you can figure out what will work for you.

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