Keeping a Family Cow and Raising Calves on a Small Farm

Learn about feeding cows, breeding cattle, calving and raising calves in this excerpt from John and Sally Seymour's book detailing their experience on a self-sufficient smallholding.


| May/June 1974



A Cow and Her Calf

A cow can be a useful and profitable animal for a homesteader, but she also requires a significant commitment of time and resources.


PHOTO: FOTOLIA/ FABIEN GRÉBAN

Farming for Self-Sufficiency: Independence on a 5-Acre Farm, John and Sally Seymour's record of 18 successful years on a shirttail-sized homestead in England, is important now and should offer welcome encouragement to today's back-to-the-landers . . . both real and imaginary. The book is excerpted chapter-by-chapter beginning in the January/February 1974 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS and is copyright © 1973 by John and Sally Seymour. —MOTHER. 

Chapter Excerpt: The Care and Raising of the Cow

When you have got the cow, there is no more care about manure. - William Cobbett 

The cow should be absolutely central to the economy of a smallholding. When you get a cow you immediately find the pace of all your other smallholding activities will be forced on. To feed the cow you will have to grow fodder. To use up the manure from the cow you will have to dig or plough more land. To use up milk by-products, such as skimmed milk or whey, you will have to keep other small stock — probably pigs. Your pigs will then produce even more manure and you will feel like ploughing more land. Besides, you will need to grow crops for the pigs. You will have calves to dispose of — what will you do with them? Your cow will go dry one day and you will need another cow to fill in the gap. Then the time will come when both cows are in milk. Unless you are part of a community you will then have too much milk. What do you do then—put the two calves on one cow and milk the other? Whatever you do you will find the purchase of a cow will push on the pace of your other self-supporting activities. It will save, at a stroke, possibly more money than anything else. Butter and cheese go up and up in price.

But think hard about it. A cow is the biggest tie in the world. You will have to milk her twice a day, and you will be very lucky to find somebody to stand in for you. Very few people in this world can milk. I would say that, unless you are fully determined to spend all of your life at home, or only go away at rare intervals when you can either get somebody else to look after your cow or else board her in their herd ('meat for manners' — in other words — they keep her and they get the milk), or unless you are part of a community, you should think loud and often before getting a cow.

But a cow is a very gentle, beautiful creature, and you can get very fond of her and derive much enjoyment from her. And you and your children can also derive much help. We have never been without a cow, in milk, these last fifteen years.

Feeding Cows

A cow can theoretically be kept on an acre of grass, but I would far rather have two cows on five acres. By flogging grass with nitrogenous fertilizer I think you could keep a cow on an acre during the summertime, but you would not be able to cut hay on it as well.





dairy goat

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