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Getting started with homestead dairy - Purple Pear Permaculture

Last week I began a series of interviews with bloggers who milk cows, goat (and sheep), and who make cheese, all about getting started with homestead dairy, by interviewing myself. This week I have an interview with Mark and Kate from Purple Pear Farm, which is a permaculture enterprise based near Maitland in NSW Australia.

Founded in 1998 by Kate Beveridge with the intention of developing a peri urban small farm that, one day, would also be a working, abundant permaculture system. Today, Purple Pear Farm is a flourishing, productive farm and eduction centre with mandala gardens, forest foods and established permaculture, biodynamic and organic farming practices (which I hope to visit at some stage).

The goal of Purple Pear Farm is to produce food in a peri urban environment, reduce food miles (food miles are the distance food travels from where it is grown to where it gets eaten), practice permaculture, organic farming and biodynamics. To create opportunities to share knowledge through teaching whoever wants to learn.  And as part of that system, they keep a couple of dairy cows.



Farmer Liz: Tell us about how you came to own a milking cow. 

Mark and Kate: Shirley was a Jersey cow and came to us many years ago, pregnant with Bella, from a small dairy in the upper Hunter in the middle of a drought. We were asked by friends of the owners if we would take the cow due to pasture shortage when we had spoken of getting a cow.

FL: Do you use hand-milking of machine milking? Why?

M&K: We have a small milking machine which I sometimes use when two cows are milking at the same time. My rhumy old hands get sore after a while but prefer to milk by hand and usually do. I love the contact with the cow and the relationship it engenders.

FL: What is your milking routine?

M&K: I milk in the mornings. The calf stays with the cow except for a stay in a pen overnight. The cow has contact with the calf and seems to like the security the pen gives the calf while she grazes. This allows us to be away sometimes by leaving the calf with the cow.

FL: Do you use a bull or AI to get your cow/goat back in calf/kid?

M&K: We always use a bull and the trips to the end of the road are looked forward to by the cows. We feel it is important for the health of the cow to be joined naturally.

FL: How much pasture land do you have for your cow and how much supplement feed does she need? 

M&K: Cow pasture is around ten acres and in good seasons this is adequate for two cows without supplementation other than usual mineral supplements.

FL: What do you do with all the milk?

M&K: The milk generally goes to making cheese and yoghurt and ice-cream.

FL: What do you enjoy most about having your own milking cow?

M&K: The total package from manure for the market garden to the cheese and yoghurt and including the presence of the cow with peace and contentment on the farm.

FL: What is currently you biggest milking cow/goat challenge?

M&K: The biggest challenge is to control the birthing of the cows so we get a consistent supply of milk. A couple of phantom pregnancies has disrupted supply, not to mention cows dying. Shirley died of a cancer we think when she went from prime condition to dead in a very short time. Her granddaughter had to be put down after not getting up recently.

FL: What is your advice to those considering getting a milking cow/goat?

M&K: Be prepared for the commitment. It is not possible to just go away when you wish without consideration for the cows' needs.

FL: How does your cow form part of your permaculture system?

M&K: The farm as an organism is as much a part of the biodynamics we practice as it is permaculture. Closing the loop in production relies on best use of resources. On farm animal manure as fine as cow gives us fantastic compost as well as recycling excess produce from the garden.

Thanks so much for the interview Mark and Kate.  If you have any comments and questions, please head over to Kate's blog.  Also check out all the permaculture info, we really want to go for a farm tour as soon as we get an opportunity to travel.


You might also be interested in my series on getting started with homestead dairy

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