Last time I wrote about us transitioning from observing cows to owning them. It was a big step given our knowledge of cows is 0 out of 10. But I know a bit about horses and chickens so hopefully barnyard 101 can somewhat transfer.
After many years of heavy herd pressure our pasture was feeling a bit like me in August: short, hot, and tired. Part of our plan was to give the pasture some much needed rest. Overgrazing gives the weeds a leg up and keeps down the grass & clover goodies because they are constantly being knocked back. So we rested. For about 3-4 months we rested the pasture. And amazing things happened. Grass grew! Clover popped up like wildfire! All without any seeding, liming, tilling, or work. We just did nothing. My kind of improvement.
Rotational grazing is common theme among cattlemen, but with only 10 acres of open pasture, moving cows into new paddocks daily/weekly/whenever seemed like treadmill running. A lot of motion with nowhere to go. But since Dexters are smaller cows they allow a higher stocking rate (or less frequent rotation). They are great foragers, eating some things other cattle breeds would snub. So we laid out a plan to divide our petite pasture into 4 pie shaped slices all with access to the pond. To build our herd, we purchased 4 cows: a 2 year old bred cow (pregnant) and 3 heifer (girl) yearlings. No boys. Chris Green called one day “Ummm, You know your 4 cows? You now have 5.” Our 2 year old mama couldn’t wait. Baby came early but healthy and a girl to boot. The more the merrier!
Mooooving day was surprisingly uneventful. Alan Green & intern Justin delivered mama (Oatmeal) and baby girl (Raisin) plus the 3 yearlings. The girls all hid in the woods for a few days adjusting and exploring the new place. But being new parents, we fretted. Sunday afternoon Oatmeal suddenly started bellowing – constantly. Constant, loud, yelling-type mooing for an hour or more. Baby Raisin was close by her side so I assumed it must be some intestinal distress. Like a Rolaids commercial after Thanksgiving dinner. I panicked. On went the mooing loud, insistent. I was prepared to call a vet (Sunday afternoon, right?). But talked myself off the ledge to phone a friend first. Turns out, Oatmeal was probably homesick. Just looking for her herd mates or maybe her neighborhood bull. (Nonexistent) crisis averted. New parents. Sheesh.
In a few short weeks Oatmeal has quickly learned what a feed bucket looks like. And what a whistle sounds like. Even the sight of the chickens’ scratch container will bring Oatmeal running. A handful of sweet feed makes for a friendly cow. “You do have something, don’t you?” her gaze says. But with her impressive horns, she chases off the little heifers to hog it herself. Soon enough we hope to make inroads with the younger ones. Someday maybe we will venture into a milking experiment. Lots of possibilities. Right now, it is a delight to see them grazing away or play chase in the tall grass. They are so peaceful to watch.
“Why didn’t you get a bull?” people ask. Because we only have 5 cows. Having a bull is handy to take care of the breeding when needed but it begs the question of genetics – you can’t keep the babies to breed back to the daddy. So there has to be some swapping. Since we are just starting out, we may eventually play The Dating Game and take the girls to visit a nearby beau or consider artificial insemination. Pros & cons to be weighed. There will be plenty of time for arranged unions down the road. Right now we’re enjoying & learning. And trying not to call the vet for homesickness or any other bull.