The Family Cow, by Faith S.
How can a family cow be an ideal addition to your food storage and survival plan? We started our self-reliance plan with gardening. Then we planted a few fruits and added chickens. One day we realized that if we had a cow, we could truly be self-sufficient with our food supply. We now raise family sized milk cows with grazing genetics in Virginia. This article should persuade SurvivalBlog readers who own two or more acres, of the wisdom of owning a family cow. It should also answer questions we frequently hear.
Why a Cow?
Owning a cow produces milk, cream (butter, crème fraiche, sour cream, cream cheese), hundreds of cheeses, buttermilk, yogurt (which you can keep going for years), ice cream, meat (the bull calves), and manure for the garden and fields. Raw grass-fed milk is 500% higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is has health benefits for the heart, joints, and a myriad of other things. Raw milk has natural probiotics and enzymes to help you digest all the goodness in the milk. In fact, we learned that 90% of people who think they are dairy intolerant, are just reacting to the processing. We used to think that three in our family were allergic to milk but found out that they can all drink raw milk and have no reactions whatsoever.
Raw milk is probably one of the most nutritious foods on the planet and has all the amino acids. According to history, the famous Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan would ride a mare and take a mare into the rugged winter mountains and live on raw mare’s milk for weeks at a time during his battle forays. One could survive quite a long time on raw milk. I know people who have done raw milk fasts for weeks at a time and their health thrived.
How to Purchase a Family Milk Cow?
One can choose to purchase a calf or a mature cow. There are advantages to both and some of it may come down to personal preference and/or budget.
It will be less expensive to start with a weanling. If one starts with a calf that has been “bottle” fed (as long as the calf has been fed with the bottle in a bottle holder the calf should not become too pushy. Otherwise, they tend to butt you as they would their mom. That is not “cute” when they get bigger. Make sure the calf has been raised on real milk for four months. This insures that the rumen will properly develop so they can digest forages as an adult and not need to have much grain, especially if you get what we call grazing genetics, which I will explain later. It also sets the cow up for a healthier immune system for life.
If you purchase a weanling, we suggest halter breaking and leading it while young. Also, touch her all over. Touch her on her belly, legs, udder, etc. Make her move her leg back like you would if you were going to sit down and milk her. Give her a voice command. I say, “Move your leg back”. Once your calf has bonded to you, it takes much less time to maintain that familiarity. If your calf gets too pushy, correct them as mama would. A smack to the nose, which is tender, and a sharp, “no!” usually works. Eventually they learn what “no” means.
You could also purchase a mature cow but be forewarned that unless they are hand-milking already, you may need lots of determination and patience to train them. Mentoring would be useful too. Sometimes a cow takes to milking almost right away once they get over their fear of people but it can take a good bit of patience if they were not what we call “gentled” as a calf. The obvious advantage of an adult is that you can enjoy your milk and other dairy products right away. Usually a neighbor or friend will donate money toward the care and upkeep of the cow to help pay for her, and take the extra milk if you have extra.
If the SHTF you can always breed her to a bull of any kind in the neighborhood but a cow will also keep lactating for years. You just will not get the peak production that a freshening brings on. However, you can live pretty well on 2 gallons a day, which is what the average Jersey should maintain with decent grazing and no grain. Especially after the second and even third lactation which get subsequently more productive.
Size is one thing to consider. You could purchase a miniature cow such as Dexter. I personally have not been impressed with them but do your own research. If you purchase a Dexter, make sure they come from milking breeding lines, as many Dexter’s are not milked and being bred for production. You could purchase a mini Hereford that will not give as much milk but as any beef breed, can be milked. Our favorite cow is the Jersey whether mini or full-sized. The minis as a rule do not give as much milk and to be honest, there is always some way to use extra milk. I will cover that later. However, mini’s work well for some situations such as smaller acreage, family size, and are sometimes not as intimidating to new hobby farmers. Minis will cost more as a rule. All Jerseys whether mini or standard have wonderful cream so we skim off ½ of the cream to use for our ice cream and butter and we still have great tasting milk. To me the most important factor to consider as far as intimidation goes is whether the cow was gentled (not spoiled) as a calf and whether it trusts and is bonded to people.