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Getting started with the home dairy - Rose Petal and Silver Oak

Over the past few weeks I've been interviewing bloggers who keep dairy cows or goats.  This week, I have an interview with Rose Petal and Silver Oak of the blog self-suffieincy Live Ready Now.   The family lives in a tiny house on a 20 acre off-grid homestead next to cattle ranches and orange groves, where they raise chickens, milk a few goats and a jersey cow, enjoy an Arabian mare and a mini horse, two cats, two dogs, a whole slew of rabbits, and three guinneas.  Over the years, the family has become increasingly interested in learning how to live sustainably.  Today they are going to share their experience with milking goats and cows.


Farmer Liz: Tell us about how you came to own a milking cow and/or goat.

Rose Petal: We purchased our first milk goat from Silver Oak's aunt about 15 years ago. She was an older, tri-colored, spotted Nubian named Spotty. Our oldest and only child was about three, and we had switched from drinking store-bought cows milk to local raw goat milk for health reasons. Our small rental property allowed farm animals so we decided to try our own dairy goat to save money and learn more country skills.

My parents had moved to the country and got a few dairy goats, something they had wanted to do when we children were growing up, but it hadn't worked out. With them and Silver Oak's aunt, we had good mentors to get us started.

Spotty was healthy, easy to milk, mild tempered, and a great problem-free goat to learn on. Over the years we've had goats from my parent's stock or from another family we knew well. We usually keep two or three lactating does at a time. Many of them were Nubian and Saanen crosses, mixing the richness of Nubian milk with the higher producing Saanen. Our current stock is mostly from two Nubian does and their kids which we purchased from a farm several hours away.


Almost two years ago we moved to our new off-grid homestead with the goal of becoming as sustainable as possible. We added a Jersey cow to our dairy animals so we could make butter and have a larger volume of milk for making cheeses, kefir, ice cream and other things. Goats are smaller and easier to care for than cows, are much less expensive to purchase and maintain, are smarter, don't attract flies like cows, and are not as smelly unless you have a buck nearby. But it is more difficult to separate cream in goat milk and we need lots of it to make everything needed for our family of eight.

So we added Buttercup to our homestead. She is also an older cow, easy to care for, purchased from friends who sold their small dairy. We purchased her at a discount because of a non-working injured teat, meaning she gave a little less milk. But three gallons a day was still a lot, and for several months we enjoyed an abundance of fresh dairy products. Pregnant when we got her (we thought), we soon dried her up, but the calf was never born! How disappointing. She either miscarried out the woods, or had a false pregnancy.

For over a year we fed a dry cow, while trying to get her bred again. Cows eat a lot! Much more than goats. But now we’re glad we patiently waited, because in August she delivered a beautiful little bull calf. Since freshening (producing milk again when she calved) her injured teat is working, and the creamy, buttery milk is flowing!


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

RP: We have never yet used a machine for milking, but do it the old-fashioned way, by hand. With a little practice you can milk a goat in less than five minutes by hand, so setting up and cleaning milking equipment hardly seems worthwhile if only milking two goats. It takes much longer to milk a cow, and we may consider a simple machine for her some day.

FL: What is your milking routine?

RP: We milk our goats twice a day, around 7:30 in the morning and 5:30 in the evening. The kids stay with their mamas so the first few weeks we get only what's left over. This yields much healthier kids than bottle feeding with milk replacer as we did at first. At four weeks we separate them nightly so we get all the morning milk, then the kids run with their mamas in the paddocks all day. If we are gone in the evening we don't worry about milking because the kids pretty much drink it all anyway.

When the kids are weaned at nine weeks we finally get all the milk, but keep the same daily schedule throughout the year until they are bred again. When they are about three months pregnant we dry them up so all their energy will go into producing healthy kids for the last two months. That means for two months we don't get any milk unless we stagger our does to kid at different times. Sometimes we time it so they are all dry when we want to go on vacation.

Keeping a fairly consistent daily routine year round as much as possible seems to help maintain milk supply and health. This fall we plan to try something new: a once-a-day milking schedule, as outlined by Fias Co Farms. Milking only in the morning we'll get a little less milk, but gain more flexible evenings and trip schedules.
FL: Do you use a bull or AI to get your cow/goat back in calf/kid?

RP: We use a buck or bull. My parents keep a buck, so when we don't have one we use theirs. We will eventually keep a buck in our front pasture away from our does most of the time, but the fencing is not secure enough yet. I dislike "buck" odors and don't want him near our house.

We bred Buttercup with our neighbor's bull this time in a barter agreement. Our goal has been to get the best possible stock but in simple and cost effective ways. Because of this AI has never been part of our program. Late in the summer we watch for does coming into heat and, five months from when we want them to kid, we put them with the buck for a week or two.


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

RP: Our feeding program is still a work in progress. In looking to become completely sustainable our back eight acres will be separated into rotating paddocks for parasite control and growing forage and grasses. They are partly wooded and we will add vines and legumes for the goats, since goats are foragers. The cleared areas will contain quality grasses and legumes for Buttercup since cows are grazers, with the option of putting her in the front pasture with the buck when needed. We're also starting drought resistant fodder crops and perennials for them to supplement their foraging and grazing.
 
In the meantime we supplement with non-GMO and non-grain feed in addition to what they find in the paddock areas. We have found a source of non-GMO alfalfa silage fermented with molasses made from non-GMO cane, adding awesome probiotics and minerals. This product called Chaffhaye is grown in an isolated GMO-free part of Texas. The price is competitive with regular feeds and comes in 50 lb sealed bags which store for one year outside or two years inside if unopened. We are so tickled to have found Chaffhaye, and in discussing it with the company owner feel really good about feeding it to our livestock.

Here in warm Florida parasites must be fought constantly, so we worm our animals regularly. We previously used chemical wormers every two months until this year, considering it a necessary evil. But last winter we switched completely to Diatomaceous Earth. We mix DE in their feed five days a week (1/4 cup per goat per day, and nearly a cup for Buttercup) and they're coming through this long hot summer so far looking great! DE not only kills parasites but adds minerals and silica to their diet. Additionally, one of the forages we hope to add to our paddocks is a parasite-killing legume called sericea lespedeza.

Other than forage and grazing, Chaffhaye, and DE, we give our animals free-choice minerals and chemical-free well water. Our lactating does eat roughly four lbs of Chaffhaye each morning and evening, depending on their size and what they are getting in the paddocks. When not lactating we cut back so they don't get overweight. Buttercup ate an additional eight lbs of Chaffhaye twice each day till she had her calf, and now it's more than doubled till we can provide better pasture for her.


FL: What do you do with all the milk?

RP: We drink it! But four gallons a day is obviously too much to drink. We generally use the goats' milk for drinking alone, making kefir, and using with cereal since it contains less lactose and we prefer the flavor. Buttercup's milk is refrigerated about 24 hours, then the cream is scooped off the top for making butter and whipped or sour cream and ice cream. The remaining skim milk is placed in a cool, dark cupboard for a few days to clabbor and make into cottage cheese or ricotta type cheeses. We use the whey and buttermilk for soup bases, in mashed potatoes, stews, baked goods, casseroles, brown rice, or supplement for our chickens. Our dogs and cats get supplemental milk, and we sell or give extra to friends and aquaintances. Nothing is wasted. <!--[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]-->
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FL: What do you enjoy most about having your own milking cow/goat?

RP: I love when our kiddos can drink all the sweet cold raw milk they want anytime, especially those adopted at older ages who suffered from malnutrition when younger. There is a secret to good-tasting goat milk, whether or not a buck is nearby, and when done correctly it is difficult to taste the difference between it and cows milk. A friend of ours who grew up on a dairy farm recently confirmed this when he tasted our goat milk. Our children love raw goat milk and dislike the flavor of store-bought cows milk if given occasion to drink it. 

I also love making our own butter. Nothing is more pleasing than sweet, creamy butter free from GMOs and all the other trash in store-bought butter. It is such a healthy fat, especially when coming from grass-fed dairy animals. And it's fun to watch the transformation from rich cream to a solid.

In Florida we lawfully sell raw milk as "pet food," so I like to sell several gallons a week to off-set the cost of feed. Since it is difficult to find raw milk free of GMOs, antibiotics, hormones and chemicals, it is gratifying to make it available to someone who really needs it but can't have their own dairy animals.

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

RP: The most difficult challenge is providing them with enough quality feed without breaking the bank while we work toward our goal of being completely sustainable in this area. Organic GMO feeds available through local coops are quite expensive, and we feel it is increasingly more difficult to trust the labels anyway. It takes time to clear, plant, and grow ample pasture and forage, especially on our sandy soil, so meanwhile we are forced to depend on supplemental feeds like Chaffhaye.

The second biggest challenge is being tied down to a consistent milking schedule when we’d like to venture out a bit more for ministry or education. But we're hoping to resolve this issue by moving to a single daily milking.


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

RP: I think it’s wise to start small and give yourself time to learn from experience and others. Do your research and ask lots of questions from a variety of sources. There are differing ideas about raising kids or calves, feeding lactating does or cows, and how to milk them. Expose yourself to various methods and find what’s best for your family.

Cleanliness and hygiene are crucial with raw milk, but not difficult. In our fifteen years milking dairy animals none of us or our customers have gotten sick from our raw milk. Rather, consuming raw milk has no doubt protected us from sickness by boosting our immune systems and health.

I wish you the best as you consider the possibility of your own dairy animal. A family goat or cow is a
big responsibility, but definitely an awesome blessing.

FL: Thanks Rose Petal for sharing your experience with goats and cows.  Great to hear that you've had success using DE to worm your animals, we do the same.  I'm very interested in the perennial crops you're considering for your property, that is a challenge for us too.  If you have any questions or comments for Rose Petal, please head over to her blog to join the discussion.

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

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