Homesteading Advice on Dairy Animals

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MOTHER EARTH NEWS shares advice on choosing which dairy animal is right for your homestead.

For most newcomers to the land — provided they’re not
the very strictest of vegetarians — the homestead dream
includes at least one placidly grazing dairy animal. Just
what animal, though, is a matter of personal
preference. In the U.S., Canada, and most of Europe, the
usual options are cows and goats . . . and each has its
vigorous partisans. If you’re not violently prejudiced one
way or the. other, it’s best to make the choice rationally
on the basis of your own circumstances and the nature of
the beasts in question.

Homesteading Advice on Dairy Animals

Cows, for instance, are basically grass eaters and require
good pasture in summer and plentiful hay through the
winter, with some grain as a supplement. If your homestead
is blessed with lush meadows, Bossy will thrive. On the
other hand, if what you have to offer is rough terrain and
brush-grown hillsides, a herd of goats will clamber and
browse happily on your place (and help control the
undergrowth while they feed). They can’t produce milk on
twigs alone, though, and will need additional rations of
hay, vegetables, and grain.

There are many other pros and cons . . . mostly questions
of cost versus productivity. A good cow will require a
fairly large initial investment (in many areas, $300 and up
for an established milker) and will need more food and more
elaborate shelter than a goat . . . but she’ll also produce
much larger quantities of milk (several gallons a day) and
her calves will be valuable regardless of sex (steers of
even the dairy breeds will provide large quantities of
high-quality protein for home use).

While a doe’s production is much smaller than a
cow’s — an average is two to three quarts daily over a
10-month season — always remember that you can keep
about five goats for the cost of one cow and that goats’
milk can often be tolerated by people who are allergic to
cows’ milk. Nanny is also given to multiple births, which
means that your herd will increase quickly (and also that
you’ll have to dispose of numerous male kids. . . not an
easy decision, since they’re among the most charming of
young animals. Chevon, however, is good food if you can
bring yourself to do the slaughtering.)

Two more points to consider before you commit yourself to
any milch animal:

  • The price of a home milk supply is
    getting out to the barn faithfully twice a day — come
    hell, high water, childbirth, double pneumonia, or legal
    holidays — to milk and otherwise tend your beasts.
  • Robert Frost was right . . . good fences really do make
    good neighbors. If you have stock, you’re responsible for
    controlling them. Goats are notorious escape artists and a
    frisky heifer is none too easy to keep in the home pasture.

If you do make the commitment, there are several
good sources of information on goatkeeping . . . including
the following:

Dairy Goat Journal (monthly magazine), Scottsdale, AZ (one year subscription $5.00,
three-year $14.00)

Aids to Goatkeeping by Cori A. Leach (8th edition,
$10.00 from Dairy Goat Journal )

Starting Right with Milk Goats by Helen Walsh,
$3.00 from Garden Way Publishing, VT (or
from MOTHER’S Bookshelf)

American Dairy Goat Association, N.C.
(There are also various regional dairy goat associations
and local goalkeepers’ clubs through which you can meet
experienced persons from your own area. Important: Ask such
an individual to recommend a veterinarian who has a good
working knowledge of goats. Do this in advance,
before you need the vet’s services.)

Advice on the care of a family cow is harder to come by,
since most dairy publications are oriented to the large
operation. One good, detailed description of homestead
cowkeeping and dairy management, however, is found in Carla
Emery’s Old Fashioned Recipe Book, ($12.95 including postage). You might also send for
USDA Leaflet No. 536, Keeping a Cow, from the
Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office,
Washington, D.C. (current price is available on
request). And then, of course, there’s the excellent
article, “The One-Cow Family Meets the One-Family Cow”, in
MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 15 and “The Miniature Dairy” section in MOTHER EARTH NEWS NO. 2.

Finally, you’ll find a good selection of animal husbandry
and dairy supplies — including specialized goat
items — in the catalog of American Supply House, MO.

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368