Tag 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

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

New home sort for our mini-moos

We are selling our cows.

We are going to lose the field that they have been living in and just don’t have enough grazing for them without it. They have been TB tested and we thought we had a buyer for them who was meant to be collecting them at the start of next month but this has fallen through. Most annoying especially after going ahead with a new pre-movement TB test as this was all that was needed before they left for pastures new…

So, if anyone is looking to start keeping cows or would like to add to their collection with a pair of lovely registered dexter heifers. One black, one red. Both with lovely temperaments and easy to handle. Ready for the bull and TB cleared ready to go. Then I know just the person to contact;

Pippin; 2 year old polled dexter heifer - July 2012

Pippin; 2 year old polled dexter heifer – July 2012

Pumkin (not her registered name); 4 year old dehorned dexter heifer - July 2012

Pumkin (not her registered name); 4 year old dehorned dexter heifer – July 2012

New arrivals

Last Thursday we had two, or should that be three, new arrivals.

Image1The first two we have been waiting for for about six weeks. Our new cows! 

We now have a black Dexter heifer, who is in calf and due next May, and a steer to keep her company until her calf arrives. They seem so small and delicate up to our other cows, even our last Dexters. They are more nervous of people then any of our last cows, but they will settle down. When they arrived in the lorry the people got out and were amazed at the view as it is all flat where they are, so even our field, which is on a hill, is something completely new to them. They seem friendly though, and stand behind the thistles watching us to see what we are doing or if we have bought anything worth them being interested in.


The other new arrival was my spinning wheel. I have finally given in, and not given up but put on hold spinning with a drop spindle which is very slow, and am now the proud owner of a Louet S15. (thank you mother.) It took me a while to get the hang of spinning on it but, touch wood, it seems to be going ok. I have just ran out of wool now to spin!

It is much faster then using a drop spindle, and it seems much easier to get a more even thread.

Loose ends

Well, the cows have gone and life is carrying on as it does. We are starting to think of what to get next, as we do enjoy the cows milk we will get another one, it is just a matter of what and when.

There have been other things that have happened in the last week or so that I have meant to post about but not had chance. All of the girl goat kids have been disbudded so as they don’t grow horns, they are growing well too. ‘Greedy Boy’ has not been disbudded as as he is not pure bred he is a meat kid so it will not matter so much if he has horns, where as the girls will mostly likely become milkers when they are fully grown and it is not a nice job teaching a large female goat to stand to be milked if she has horns, even if she doesn’t mean to catch you with them.

The goslings and chicks are also doing well and are big enough to move out of the brooder this weekend. I’m also trying to have a clear up and sort out inside, I have far to much ‘stuff’ that I just don’t use or need and it is stopping me getting to the things that I do use or would use if I could get to it.

Last Sunday there was a special LETS meeting, it was nice to have a meeting on a weekend afternoon whenyou haven’t had to rush to get things done because you’ve been at work all day but there was a disappointing turn out. A small amount of trading went on but we ,mostly sat around chatting and drinking tea. I didn’t bother getting most of the things I had taken out of the car so I still have boxes of ‘stuff’ sitting around that I’d hoped to of got rid of by now. I will take it to the meeting next week and then maybe take the rest to a carboot sale.

We lefted the first garlic on mid summer, it was some of the self sown patch so has been in the ground for at least six months or more but was very disappointing. It haven’t started to split into a bulb yet. We also harvested some potatoes last week which were also disappointing, not many at all. 

The weather is very hot, which is making getting things done during the day difficult but it’s slowly getting done. The weather is meant to break over the weekend so it’s best just to enjoy what we have now and try to arrange the day so as we are not out during the hottest parts

Living the dream

Tomorrow marks a very sad ending in our household, as both Primrose and Sunshine have come back as ‘re-actor’ on their annul  TB test.

We have known that TB was a risk ever since we first got cows, Gloucestershire is a ‘hot spot’ for TB, but have always, naively it would seem now, thought that it wouldn’t happen to us. They may very well not even have TB, the test that is used is only 68% reliable, but we cannot have a retest. The ‘rules are the rules’.

We could fight it, but then it is likely that the cows would just get taken in the night, or certainly without warning. So we would be living on the edge all the time, knowing that it was going to happen but not when. It could be in a months time or maybe not for a year or more but it would happen and waiting for it would just be too much.

The lady from DEFRA has been very nice and understanding. She is coming out herself tomorrow to put the ‘death tags’ in, it has not been done before as it would just upset them. They are going in a lorry on their own, not with other cows from all over the area, and to the local slaughterhouse about four miles away, not all the way in the Midlands somewhere.


It is a big knock, and something that a lot of people wouldn’t understand, Primrose’s calf was sold for meat after all, why is it so different for Primrose and Sunshine. We still cared for the calf, and enjoyed watching him grow and lean about all the new things in the world… It’s not something that I can explain right now through.

Cheese, gardening and days off

Ok, this weekend are my first two days off the past two weeks, and I’m really glad of them. There is only so much you can get done in the evenings once you get in for work, just making sure I’m got enough clean work clothes (work and ‘animal’ clothes are something you have to have here) when it’s raining on and off all the time is almost a full time job. We don’t have a tumble dryer.

Any way. Milk is the other big job at the moment. Milking is taking about 45 min – 1 hour, youngest-sister and Mother are doing that, and then collecting the cream, bottling milk and then sorting that days milk is also taking up the best part of an hour. And now we’ve Had to start making cheese, it was starting to make itself really. Before we’ve only really made soft ‘cream’ cheese but this weekend I got the cheese press out and had a got at using that, and it makes REAL cheese! It even looks like real cheese, very posh real cheese in fact.

So Saturday was spent making cheese and cleaning the kitchen and then we had lasagne, with loads of veg either from the local farm shop or from the garden (the nettles came from the garden) homemade pasta, I was layering the pasta on as Rhys rolled it, with homemade cheese in the sauce and on top. It tasted really good.

It was a really nice relaxing day.

Sunday I spent mostly in the garden, when it wasn’t raining, weeding and I harvested the garlic and put the bean plants out. The sprouts and purple sprouting have caterpillars so I’ve feed as many of them as possible to the chickens, and a white butterfly I caught which the chick went mad for.

In the news

A Thai journalist being sued by Tesco. 

I’m not a big fan of super markets and at the moment Tescos is trying to build ‘mega-store’ in one of my local towns, there are two arguments, Tesco’s will bring much need employment to the area vs Tesco’s will kill of the small, ex-mining town centre. Seeing as I have no desirer to work for Tesco’s, I’m in support of the latter, the town alread has two supermarkets (a co-op and a Lidl) and if people really want to shop at Tesco’s they could take the free bus that Tescos provide.

Health and safety experts are investigating the death of a woman who died after being trampled by a herd of stampeding cattle in Suffolk.

Stories like this always make me worry that there’s going to be an up-rising against farm animals, and there have been two stories involving cow recently, I know the people involved have been hurt (or in this case worse) but I always find myself thinking “what were they doing?…” possibly wrong of me.

Measures designed to curb the power of major supermarkets and improve choice for consumers have been announced by the Competition Commission.

I’m in two minds about the really price of food, I do think that supermarkets should be paying producers the true cost of what it costs to produce food, but I’m not completely sure we’d (the family) be able to afford to eat if it wasn’t for supermarket own brands