Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Finally the winter weather has begun to moderate at our Micro-Dairy in Royalton, Vermont. I can finally start to think about the arrival of spring. Operating a Micro-Dairy is so simple and easy that very few changes are required when the seasons change. It is really simply a matter of letting the cows spend more time outside, which can make cleaning the barn easier.
Tread Lightly in Mud Season
Spring in Vermont means mud season. And it is not just muddy roads but muddy pastures as well. When the snow leaves I'll let my cows stay in the barnyard until the ground starts to firm up and the grass begins to green up. Most of my pastures face south and have sandy soils so they dry up relatively quickly. But I am careful not to let my cows on them too quickly, avoiding a punch-up of the sod. But on the other hand I don't want to wait until the grass is lush. I want my cows and their systems to get used to green grass gradually so they don't get sick or have really loose manure. This spring I will put them on my largest pasture just when there is a hint of green from the new grass so they can slowly adjust. That is really important for the health of my cows. As the grass begins to grow in I will rotate them through all my pastures fairly quickly. When the grass is lush then I will reduce the amount of pasture I give them each day as we get into the summer grazing season.
Advantages of a Tie Barn
Being somewhat old fashioned I chose to build a tie barn for my Micro-Dairy. The stalls have thick mats and the cows love it. During the winter I can keep the temperature of the stable around 45 degrees with good ventilation. A tie barn gives me much greater control over the cows bedding, feed and manure. Bedding and feed are the largest expense on my Micro-Dairy and, besides milk; manure is the most valuable product my cows produce. Not only do I spread it on my own land (it is absolutely the best fertilizer and soil supplement) but I also sell it and trade some to a neighbor for firewood. I want to make sure I can gather it all up conveniently and compost it with as little waste as possible. Compared to loose housing I use very little bedding for my cows in my tie barn. I use bagged dry pine shaving and go through less than a bag ($6.00) per week. I also save on feed as well. The cows do drag some hay under them but I use most of that to line the gutter after I clean it.
A Micro-Dairy Provides Flexibility
This past fall I knew I was going to be really busy with my off-farm job at Bob-White Systems all winter so I sold my cow that would be freshening soon and cut my herd size down to just two cows. One is a heifer due to calve in July and the other is mature cow due in April. I dried her off February 22 so I haven't been milking any cows for the past few weeks and won't until my cow freshens in April. That has made the winter a lot easier for me and cut way down on feed and bedding costs.
In my next post, I’ll review additional steps to prepare your Micro-Dairy for spring. Including the process I go through when buying a new cow, preparing for a calf and getting the water lines ready for summer.
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