Clarisse, our Jersey house cow, has been with us for about 18 months now. She was supposed to be pregnant when we got her, but it either didn’t take or she slipped the baby early. We took her back to the people we bought her from in July last year, as they had a young full-blood Jersey bull. He apparently did his job well, and we got her back in September, sure she was pregnant.
It was tough to tell, but we figured she’d be due in mid-May. By the beginning of May she looked like this:
Of course, as always happens with these things, she dropped while I was away for work. Unfortunately, she either had a stillborn or the baby died soon after birth. 😦 What makes this even more tragic for us is the fact that the baby was a girl. Jerseys aren’t great commercially, as they don’t produce the quantity of milk of breeds like Fresians, but their milk has a higher butter fat content, making them perfect for house cows. A full-blood Jersey heifer is worth $900 to $1000, so losing that little girl hurt in more ways than one.
The main reason for getting her pregnant really wasn’t the baby, even one that would realise us some cash further down the track, but rather so that she’d produce milk. In theory, we could just start milking her and she’d keep producing. My work travel was due to finish in a month or so of this happening, but I didn’t want to ask anybody else to milk her, even for that time. She’s a handful but fairly good for me, and it should be me who milks her as I’m the one who forced a house cow on the rest of the family. With that in mind, we contacted a mate of ours who breeds cattle and whose brother has a dairy. They kindly helped us out and supplied us two day-old bobby calves.
One of the calves is a Jersey, and Clarisse loves him. The other, on the other hand, is a Fresian-cross, and she’s less than happy with him. She clearly doesn’t have the cognitive ability to recognize the Jersey as something that looks like her. However, she did bond with her dead baby, and so sees the little Jersey bobby as her baby. At the same time, she sees the Fresian as an interloper. The fact that he’s bigger and butts the hell out of her udders doesn’t help things either. 🙂
For the first week-or-so, we had a routine where we’d lock the babies away of a night, tie Clarisse up in the morning with a treat while they fed, then we’d lock them away again, I’d hand-milk her, and we’d repeat the process again in the late afternoon. This worked well, though we learned to let the Jersey attach first and we had to growl at her if she kicked out at the Fresian.
After another week-or-so, we were able to just let the babies out and she’d feed them, after I took a bit of her milk for myself of course. She still wasn’t accepting of the Fresian, and we’d have to tie her up in the evening to ensure he got a feed.
Now we’re at the stage where we’re just leaving the babies out, day and night. She definitely mothers and cares for the Jersey and not the Fresian, but she’s letting them both feed.
We finished up her milking shed with a stall on one side and a little holding yard/shelter on the other. We’ll eventually get an automatic milker, but right now I’m only taking a litre or two as we need it and that’s easy enough by hand.
Getting 4 or 5 litres of milk a week isn’t exactly the pinnacle of self-sufficiency; however, it’s hard to understate just how freaking cool this is. We will eventually be getting more than enough milk for all of our dairy needs – cheese, yoghurt, cream, butter – and entirely from our own property. Not only that, but home-grown, full-cream milk is delicious! Seriously, it makes the store-bought stuff look like coloured water. And the coffee! Best. Coffee. EVER!!!!!!