Category Archives: cows

Nanodairy Gathering

At the end of last month I attended a Nanodairy Gathering at Monkton Wyld Court in Dorset. The gathering was an information sharing event for people who are interested in small scale milk production, mostly looking at raw milk from one to four cows.

The event was specifically for cows and not goats or milk sheep.

The event was spread over two days with the opportunity to look around the diary at Monkton Wyld, a whole afternoon  with a vet and Christine Page from Smiling Tree Farm who sells raw milk joined us for most of the second day.

Monkton Wyld Court has Jersey cows, there has been a ‘nanodairy’ of three to six cows since at least 1941 making it possible the oldest dairy of it’s size in the UK.

Christine Page runs Smiling Tree Farm which sells raw milk, again from Jerseys’ cows, to local customers and via mail order. Christine’s farm is completely pasture feed and there was some interesting discussion about the benefits of this. Christine milks her cows once a day, keeping the calves on their mothers until they are around six months old. Only milking once a day results in an approximant drop of a third in milk yield. Christine has not had any problems with milk fever is moving over to pasture feeding.

My notes from the event

Pasture management:

  • Meadow is mown and removed (by taking the crop away the fertility is also removed), pasture land is grazed (grazed land will slowly increase in fertility as a crop is not removed)
  • Grass growth goes up from March, peaks in July, falls in August, raises a little in September then falls off through the winter
  • Rye grass is liked by cows, grows fast and is high in sugar but has shallow root systems
  • June hay is higher in sugar, July and August hay is higher in minerals
  • Plantain is a natural warmer

Raw milk/milking:

  • Older cows have higher butter fats, younger cows have higher sugar content
  • Cream comes at the end of milking
  • ‘Let down’ happens for 4 – 5 minutes, after that milking is harder
  • Cows need a ‘dry’ period of six to eight weeks to allow the udder tissue to repair
  • Mastitis can be spread from hands, washing clothes, flies, etc.
  • Younger and healthier cows should always be milked first

Bringing home the milk

Our first house cows; Primrose (left) and Sunshine (right)

Our first house cows; Primrose (left) and Sunshine (right)

It has been a few years now since we lost our house cows as TB reactors and they have been sorely missed. We have not been completely without cattle in that time, but none of whom have worked out as a bomb-proof provider of the household milk that we need.

The plan has always been to get another cow and after several failed attempts we decided to go right back to the start and go through what it was we need from a cow: a small breed of cow that does well on rough grazing, something hardy that can live out all year and a young calf who could fit into the family and our set-up right from the start.

To begin with I was very set on a Jersey or Jersey-cross as that is what worked so well for us in the past. There is something special about Jerseys too; the shape, feel and sound of them somehow added to the ‘real cow’ feel to me. However they don’t really meet all the requirements we have as they are not the hardest of breeds and don’t do so well on poorer grazing. Also for me personally the milk from pure breed Jerseys is too rich and so I can only drink it once it has been skimmed or cooked.

Dexters seem like the obvious breed meeting our needs but having had three different heifers plus followers since we started keeping cattle in 2001 I have come to hate the breed; they have an un-tame streak in them that makes them difficult to manage and seem to escape from anywhere and everywhere whenever they see fit (three or four times a day at one point when we had our first mother and daughter team). Perhaps one hand reared from a calf would be different but I felt I wouldn’t have the same enthusiasm for a Dexter calf as other breeds.

After mother researched a few breeds (I was still set on a Jersey calf at this point) she came across shetlands; who fitted all our needs being small, hardy and ‘the original house cow’ although nowadays are mostly kept for meat. So I was convinced to go and see a herd who had some six month calves for sale.

Red Shetland herd - July 2013

Red Shetland herd – July 2013

Red Shetland herd - July 2013

Red Shetland herd – July 2013

When we came away we agreed that Shetlands seemed right, although the ones we had visited weren’t the right ones for us.

Shetlands were originally classed as a dairy breed grazing in the harsh environment of the Shetland Isles were they developed as a breed on the isolated islands to provide milk for the Crofters even from it’s poor grazing and pasture land.  Shetlands became a duel-purpose breed when breeders where encouraged to cross them with meater breeds, and after the second world war the Government denied subsidies to breeders unless they were crossed with bigger cattle which caused the breed to become classed as ‘critically endangered’ in 1981 by The Rare Breed Survival Trust when little more than 100 pure bred cows and bulls could be found. Shetland Cattle are now kept mostly on the mainland and have crept up the The Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s  watched list to ‘at risk’ meaning there are 450 – 750 pure breed cattle that are known about.

We wanted a young calf to bottle feed, ideally about six weeks old however possibly as old as three months if nothing younger was available. Although Shetlands are a duel-purpose breed many breeder keep them as a meat breed as the tie of milking is too much for many people, this is something we have found with other cattle breeds and goats too.

After some searching we were pointed towards Epicure’s Larder who have a small herd of Shetlands (or possibly not now as they were moving to New Zealand) for cheese making. After contacting the herd owner they seemed like the prefect place and so an order was put in for a calf if a suitable one came up this spring.

At the end of March I got an email saying that two heifers had been born, and so a day trip to Yorkshire was arranged for the end of April. When the day arrived we hired a van and set off early, the drive took a good while with lots of road works. When we got there we made the final choice between the two calves opting for the ‘friendly and milkier’ breeding of the two.

Bridie Moo ~ May 2014

Bridie Moo ~ May 2014

After a day settling in we taught Bridie about bottles, something she picked up very quickly although we did need to use a lamb bottle with a softer teat for the first few feeds until she’d got the idea. Then a few days later she learnt about leading reins and then being tethering on the green outside and being brushed.

Bridie is very good about everything and takes everything in her stride, just what we’d wanted!

Bridie Moo; one of her first times out on a tether ~ May 2014

Bridie Moo; one of her first times out on a tether ~ May 2014

Bridie Moo; one of her first times out on a tether ~ May 2014

Bridie Moo; one of her first times out on a tether ~ May 2014

Bridie Moo; bottle time with my niece ~ June 2014

Bridie Moo; bottle time with my niece ~ June 2014

October; another one done and dusked

Well October is over and November is here and with it winter. No chance of an Indian summer now I guess but crisp, bright morning are just as good for being outdoors.

October was a bit of a sad month; somewhere near the start I got a text from mother to let me know that Knightshade had slipped a disc in his back, most likely playing ‘silly buggers’ with one of the girls coming into season. I didn’t like having to be away for the rest of the week and not being about to see him myself, it’s one thing being away for births and getting a happy text saying how many and if it’s a girl or a boy but not being there when someone isn’t well is completely different.

He was ok and when I got home to see him he was just his normal self apart from not being able to stand; he wasn’t too bothered so long as he got lots of visitors and we set the house up so the girls could go and share his extra thick bed of straw and watch grey days go by, he got lots of human visitors who would bring him treats, push and pull him about the house and every few days stick a needle in him and he just seemed a bit mystified as to why standing up didn’t happen as it use to.  

The vet had said nothing would really happen for the first seven to ten days and at the end of this time I got a chiropractor to pay a visit; it was like watching magic and by half way through her visit he had regained movement in not just one but both of his back legs. The chiropractor left being very positive but explaining that he may take a while to be up again but she didn’t see a reason why he wouldn’t make a full recovery. Things carried on in this way for another week or so and then he stopped eating and just wasn’t himself. It seemed most likely that where he hadn’t been moving around his rumen had stopped working; we tempted him with treats and gave him a drench to start his system working again but he didn’t pull through.

It’s a very sad loss and has possibly changed the way we are going to keep goats; this year we are going to try artificial insemination instead of getting another male goat. There are lots of reasons why this might be better; I already have two (three including Delta who is for sale) of Knightshade’s daughters Bella and Briony and so Knightshade wasn’t the best male for them to be put in kid to although it didn’t really matter as it just meant their kids had a ‘double-dose’ of Knightshade’s breeding but keeping any of their kids and him would be out of the question. Keeping our own male means that we can put ‘people’ into kid when we want to but really as we have always kept our boys and girls together it meant we did end up with mishaps and kidding being spread out over months, not a problem really but it would be much easier to have all the babies almost the same age so as there is less bullying at feed time or first babies living on their own for weeks (they don’t live on their own, they live in the kitchen and are carried around wherever we go). With AI we can have kids from different males for different goats and it will work out no more costly, possibly even cheaper than keeping our own male and lastly it will leave more room and time for our girls, walking them as we did when I was younger will become much easier, the branches and other greens we collect will go much further with fewer goats and even growing some of their feed becomes more possible and keeping on top of cleaning out will be easier too.

It also leaves more time for raising a calf which is something me and mother would like to do again this time in the way we know works and with a breed we know we get on with resulting in a bomb proof beauty like Primrose again.

Aside from the goats I’ve been getting on well with the garden like I’d planned; onion sets are in and I have bought some more too. Most of the leafy greens are in and, touch wood, have so far escaped any attention from the dreaded slug plague of this year. Leaves have been collected for leaf mould and are waiting in sacks for me to find a more suitable place to keep them over winter. I finished filling the first bed this week and have bought my amazing amount of crocus bulbs which are waiting for the next flower planting day I have off in a few weeks. I haven’t got round to buying garlic sets and I’m not sure that there is time to now either, the first light frosts are here now and I’m not sure how long it will be until my ice pocket is frozen over for the majority of the time.

I house-sat whilst mother went to visit her mum for a few days and spent some time working the veg garden at home and that has helped consolidate my ideas for my garden and be able to see all the small bits I have been struggling to bring together as a much bigger picture.

Hopefully I will have time to put them down on paper ready for sharing and can sort through the photos I have collected on a few different cameras to post on here in the next couple of weeks.

Bye-bye moos

Well, after many false starts we have sold the cows and they were collected last weekend.

The Dexters – Pumkin and Pippin – have gone to join a small ‘hobby’ herd not to far away.

Dexters; Pumkin & Pippin - July 2012

Dexters; Pumkin & Pippin – July 2012

Dexters; Pumkin & Pippin - July 2012

Dexters; Pumkin & Pippin – July 2012

And Chloe, who has turned out to be a freemartin has gone to the butchers. It is a shame as she would have made the prefect house cow for us but we took the risk of her being one when we took her on  

Chloe - July 2012

Chloe – July 2012

Chloe - July 2012

Chloe – July 2012

A big girl now

At the end of last month Chloe moved out from her shed by the goat pen and in with the rest of the cows. We were surprised at how big she has got, now being not that much smaller than the adult Dexters.

When she first arrive in the field she thought the baby, Pippin, was amazing and chased her all over the field which didn’t please Pumpkin but other than that has fitted right in. 

Chloe, Pumpkin and Pippin, later in the day that Chloe moved in - 23rd May 2010

 It is lovely watching them all together in the sunshine.

A short catch up

Well, I have now finished my course and handed in my final essay and am just awaiting the results before I decide what to do next. Fingers crossed they will be good, I got 72% on my first one so am holding out hope that they will be. 

Whilst I’ve been busy with my course lots of little things have happened that I have wanted to blog about but not had time to, things like our TB tests went clear about six weeks ago which was a big relief after our last test. Chloe was disbudded at the same time and hardly even seemed to notice. 

I have been away twice last month, once to Rhys’s brothers wedding and then away for a weekend to mark my birthday. Both weekends were lovely but my birthday weekend especially, we camped near to a beach in South Wales and spent the whole of my birthday walking along the coast in glorious sunshine, with quite literally not a cloud in the sky, then cooked Mexican wraps on a BBQ. I got some lovely presents, almost all of them were off of my wish list so I am now the proud owner of a number of cloches, a head torch and a lovely wax jacket (which I still haven’t had any need to wear yet, but winter will be here all to soon I’m sure.) 

Last years leek bed with what was left - 3rd of May 2010


At the end of the day; weeded and planted with onion sets - 3rd May 2010

I spent the Bank holiday at the allotment which is going along slowly but getting there, I turned one of the beds from this (left) to this (right).

Other than the onions, garlic and carrots there is not much planted up there, other than the potatoes that still haven’t appeared but are still there as I dug down to find one to check they hadn’t rotted, but at home there are leeks, parsnips, red and green cabbages, red and green sprouts, broccoli, two types of squashes, sweetcorn, tomatoes, sweet peppers, french and runner beans.
The weather is looking good for Sunday so I’m planning on spending a couple of hours up there. I made some soft cheese out of the milk from the freezer the other evening and I’m hoping to make a cheesecake out of it over the weekend too.

Saturday mornings surprise

Pumkin and her calf - 24th April 2010

This is what mother found when she went to do the early morning checks on Saturday, a little baby heifer. It was more than a bit of a shock as Pumkin isn’t due for another month and hasn’t shown any signs of being that close to calving.

The calf is also red, and we were expecting a black or dun coloured as that is her blood lines but we are very pleased with what we had and both mother and baby are doing just fine.

Chloe and Black Foot

Black Foot the lamb comes running over to say hello - 18th April 2010


Chloe runs away, scared of the little lamb - 18th April 2010


"Please come back, I only want to say hello" - 18th of April 2010


"Ok, we won't be friends then" - 18th April 2010

Once upon a time, many moons ago…

I was learning to knit again. It was on this day in 2008 that I posted my first proper blog post.This is my second blog, the first one was very much a warm up to this one. And having spent some time reading back through my posts I thought I had posted most of it on this one any way, and all not that long ago either! I began blogging in November 2007 with this: 

A place to begin…Last night I finally got the push I needed to start off, I was on a forum and someone said that they would love to follow something like this, there are already loads of popular TV series, books and magazines about self sufficient so that must mean that other people are interested to. So this is my two pence worth to add to. My idea is very simple: produce as much food for myself as is possible with what I’ve got, that said I already know that it isn’t as simple a task as it sounds. I also would like to learn how to live as cheaply as possible and make some money from the things I enjoy doing.

 What I already have/where I’m at: I already keep goats, two of whom are in milk but I’m not milking them at the moment for no really reason other than the fact that I haven’t sorted myself out into doing this. I have quail; I got some for my last years Christmas present (in April, but I said I wanted to wait to get what I really wanted rather than having something else) from these there is one male left and I brought four more the other day, two females and two males and I brought 24 eggs, 12 of two types, for hatching from ebay last night, they should arrive on Tuesday next week.

 I’m a vegetarian, but others in my family eat meat, and I’ve got most of a vegetable garden up and running now but ‘the family’ have just been told that we can use part of a field we keep donkeys on as a vegetable garden as well which is quite a big space. I’m going up there tomorrow to start clearing the ground and covering some of it with manure ready for the summer.

 “The Family”: that is me (eldest daughter) my parents, my two younger sisters, a younger brother and my boyfriend. ‘The Family’ also includes a whole host of dogs, cats, ponies, donkeys, cows, sheep, chickens, ducks, rabbits and a guinea pig. I don’t think I’ve left anything out but I might have.

 So there are a lot of us, some useful others not so useful. I plan to be adding more very soon and to start adding some photo’s when I’ve got to grips with how to do things on here.

I changed blogs as I wanted to have more control of the way that it looked, and in particular a banner that I could add my own photos to.  A train track in the middle of nowhere is nice… But it wasn’t really what I was looking for. 

So what has changed since my first ever blog post? Well, I have almost finished my first own-spun and knitted project… more details coming soon. 

I have grown my own potatoes for the first time, and leeks, and carrots, and some other thing too; I have made butter and cheese from our own cows milk and cream. I have started keeping chickens, and am having another break from keeping quail, mother has the remaining trio that I had. 

‘The Family’ has grown, my baby sister will be eighteen this summer, we all have boy/girlfriends and although we are all still one big family it feels like we are also splitting off into our own little families as well. 

I am a published magazine writer… Twice. 

I have a much better job and am in much better health then I was back then. I have survived no less than two redundancies. I have become much more of an ‘outdoors’ person, even in the pouring rain I am still happy enough (cue a week long down-pour, sorry) and have much more of an idea of who I am and what I want to do. 

All this sounds very fluffy and… Picture prefect, but the thing is the milestones for ‘this kind of life’ are more woolly or yearly events than anything else. Lambing is followed by shearing, sowing time is followed by the growing season, followed by harvest time… Each year starts with hopes and dreams of building on what has been started the year before, which is followed by successes and failures, wet muddy times followed by the smell of grass cutting and fat happy animals sun bathing. It is a circle that keeps going and has no really ending. 

So here I am again, writing a blog post, in the middle of lambing. It has been raining outside and it is probably not all that different to the very first time I put fingers to keyboard for the first post of this blog and that is just fine by me…


Today has made everything better. There is still just as much snow and ice as yesterday, with even more snow forecast for tomorrow and even a few snow showers today but this morning middle-younger-sister arrived with animal supplies, our hayman delivered a big round bale for the sheep and goats and four small bales at the cows field and we got out of the village for people supplies later in the day.

Everyone has something and enough to eat for some days to come.

This morning the goats seem to have given up on their part-hibernation and not only got out looking for something to do (their gate is frozen and not shutting probably) but are eating well again. For the last few days they have eaten but there has been no enthusiasm for it, which is a big weight lifted for me.

This morning Rhys went through the feed shed looking for the sheep minerals, which still remain hidden or maybe don’t exist?, and found extra feed that we had forgotten we had including half a sack of calf milk, wheat and an unopened sack of ready grass.

Now that we are stocked back up this evening we can relax a little, even with more snow on the way, and enjoy roast potatoes and gravy for dinner!