The Dairy Farm Adventures: The cows come home

Posted Wednesday, April 24, 2013 in Features

The Dairy Farm Adventures: The cows come home

by Lee-Rae Jordan Oliver

Our journey as dairy farmers began in January, 2007.  Matthew and I left our oldest son, Walker, with his grandparents and rode around the countryside with our baby daughter, Anna, visiting dairy farms.  We focused our attention on organic dairy farms knowing we could receive more money for our milk and be able to keep our herd small.  Starting with thirty cows would help provide for our family and be manageable. 

Still trying to fathom the idea of operating a dairy farm, I imagined it would unfold in the distant future after careful planning and preparation.  Imagine my surprise when Matthew announced on the first week of March, 2007, “A dairy farmer down south will sell us ten bred organic dairy cows for a good deal if we buy them by March 31.”    

“But Matthew, we don't have a barn for the cows!”  I exclaimed.

“We can build a barn, it's easy,” he said.

“How do you know how to build a barn?” I asked.

“I've been looking at our shed the Amish built, and I know what to do.”

God, Mother Nature, and Matthew must have been in cahoots that spring.  After a mild winter, the ground was dry and snow free at the barn site we chose.  For the next two weeks, Matthew and I worked on building the barn.  Matthew's mother and my mother took turns watching the children.   Matthew's father supervised our construction and steered us in the right direction when we were stumped.   The gentle spring sunshine soaked through our clothes as we worked, and thankfully the mosquitoes and black flies were still dormant.  Working conditions were ideal, and we made steady progress.  I looked forward to the physical and mental challenge of building the barn each day.   When we finished, we admired the simple but sturdy 16 by 48 foot barn, confident it would protect the cows from the elements.

We hooked up an automatic watering system for the cows and ordered organic hay to be delivered.  Matthew bought second hand bucket milkers and a portable surge vacuum pump from a cattle dealer.   I kept firing questions at Matthew, trying to get a grasp on what we were about to do.  “Matthew, how do you milk a cow?”

“You turn on the vacuum pump, hook the milkers to the cow's teats, and the milk is sucked into the milk bucket.”

“The cow just stands there while you do this?” I asked.

“These cows have all been trained.  They'll know what to do,”  he answered.

Matthew made everything sound simple.  An acquaintance once told him, “You could sell ice to an Eskimo.”  I felt like the “Eskimo” about to get hoodwinked, but deep down I knew better.  

The cows arrived on schedule delivered on a long cattle trailer.  I stood beside the trailer wide-eyed with disbelief as the cows stepped off one by one.  I had never been so close to cows in all my life.    At the time, I couldn't have told the difference between a good cow or a bad cow.   However, I did notice what a motley looking bunch of bovines they were.  Five huge Holsteins, three Jerseys, and two Guernseys jumped around and explored the barn and paddock. 

I had no idea how to act around these large animals, so I relied on my knowledge of horses.

I hoped treating the cows with kindness, respect, and a wariness that heightened one's senses would  work.  As I stood quietly beside the fence, a Holstein named Vera walked up to me and stuck out her wet nose.  Slowly so as not to spook her,  I reached out to pet the white V on her forehead.  She did not shy away and leaned into my rub.  It seemed to be her way of saying, “Nice to meet you.”  I couldn't help but be pleased and smiled at Matthew.

We watched the cows for a while, making sure they wouldn't bust out of the corral or     demolish the barn we'd built.  Satisfied they were safe and secure, we walked back to the house. 

“Now what do we do?” I asked Matthew.

“We wait for our first calf to be born.”

“When will that happen?”

“According to the papers, the small Jersey cow named Belinda could calve any day now.”

Three days later, Belinda gave birth to a beautiful bull Jersey calf.  It was exciting for my family to run down to the barn and see this adorable brown eyed calf.  I named him “Walnut” because his coat was the same color as a walnut.  Belinda was a wonderful mother and became our first teacher.  She knew more about caring for her calf than we did.  Her kind and gentle nature gave us the hope and encouragement we needed as we began our journey into unfamiliar territory.       

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