Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Milk flows when the Grass grows

Here's a little snipit of the day to day management of our pasture land, and how we have been trying to get by in the worst drought in sixty years. We have to adjust to whatever nature offers us and meet the need of the cows and our demand for grass-fed raw milk.

The milk flows when the grass grows, but the grass only the grows when the rains come down. The sky broke on this humid cloudy evening, and rain fell on the land. A couple of weeks ago we got a soaking of rain for four days, and it has been heavy with humidity and sun ever sense. We have been struggling with keeping our dairy herd on the pastures that halted all growth. There has been so little rain that our pastures were no longer lush and green, but instead browning and turning to straw. For this reason, our cows are producing less milk, and we have not been making nearly as much cheese.

Topher and Matthew made the decision a few weeks ago to graze the dairy herd on our 40 acre hay field. This meant sacrificing our third cutting of hay off of this land, but this meant that our dairy herd could continue grazing and we would not have to give them stored winter feed. In the winter, we feed our dairy herd, haylage, which means that the hay is wrapped immediately after they were bailed in the field. Haylage is fermented hay, which maintains a specific moisture content that is ideal for preserving the most nutrients - vitamins and minerals - in the grasses. In the winter, they also have access to dry hay and are fed a little bit of grain. However, winter is not here yet! We are hopeful and grateful for the rains coming our way that will continue to soak our pastures and sustain our animals here, which are sustaining us.

Now that the weeks pass, we took a break from grazing the 40 acre hay field and were feeding them winter feed for a week and a half, while the pastures recovered. And as of last night, the dairy girls are back on a new piece of fresh pasture after every evening milking. This means that they will come in to be milked from the pasture in the morning, hang out in the barn and in the brush and grasses behind the barn in the afternoon, and after they are milked in the evening, the herd will spend the rest of the evening out on a new piece of pasture munching on fresh lush grass. This will double our cycle of pasture rotation and for how long a piece of pasture rests for. I think that this is a good balance and practice for our current drought situation, which at the same time maintains our promise for proper animal husbandry and animal health and our commitment to maintaining adaptable and conscious practices towards the land.


I will milk the cows in the evening, and every time I step into the parlor something is different. Peach is in heat, and needs to be watched for breeding time. Starlight was dried off this morning, because she is due to calf in three months. Lady's wound on her right rear teat is healing nicely and her milk no longer needs to be withheld soon. The flied are bad today, so the cows need to be sprayed with the essential oil bug spray again. Patti can be bucketed for the heifer calves once Lady better. This is whats happening today. Tomorrow it will be different.

Life with the diary herd is in constant change and I am learning about all of the management for our herd of 33 cows. Which is more than I ever want on my own farm, but in terms of learning, it is easy to scale down from what you have experienced, but never easy to scale up. This is why we are here learning on a larger operation than we intend to have. And we are gaining a lot from it. 

My woahs and my worries are different here. I am very content with worrying about the cow's health and very content that I am disconnected to the rest of what society worries about. This is the sixth farm I have worked on now, and I feel like it is appropriate to say that I never seem myself being anything but an entrepreneur for starting my own farming business and my own cottage industry. And that living in the country on these country roads is the life for me.

And here we are, traveled across the country to live nestled in the Berkshires for a while, working seventy hours a week and exploring the life of a dairy farmer......

To our Volvo that got us here, thank you
To all that have supported us on our journey, thank you