Book Review: The Cow Economy

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ILLUSTRATION: MERRIL AND JOANN GROHMAN
A Jersey cow can be the basis for self-sufficiency.

“Only three things a young feller’s got to git to start
hisself a farm,” some old-timers used to say, “a piece of
dirt, a cow, and a wife . . . and he don’t strictly need
that last one.”

Ahem. Yes, well. Times have changed. But there’s sound
advice to be found in that bit of chauvinism from the past,
and today’s homesteaders would do well to consider what
great-grandpa was really saying: that next to land
itself, there’s nothing more indispensable to a family farm
than a good dependable milk cow. And if you don’t agree
now, you probably will by the time you’ve finished the
first chapter of Merril and Joann Grohman’s recently
released book on the subject.

The Grohmans, you see, have a pretty good grasp on what it
takes to become at least partially self-sufficient. They’ve
been there . . . and still are, on a spread up in
southwestern Maine. And one of the lessons they’ve learned
from rural life is that there’s much to be said for the
food, fertilizer, and cash money that can be had by keeping
and caring for at least one productive dairy animal. What’s
more, they’ve come to the conclusion–after trying all
the options (including goats)–that that “one
productive dairy animal” should be . . . the soulful-eyed
Jersey.

In case you don’t know, jerseys first came to this country
from an island of the same name off the coast of France.
And as the Grohmans are quick to point out, the strain is
smaller than any other, has a longer lactation life,
consumes less feed, produces 12 tons of valuable
nitrogen-rich manure and urine every year, and yields milk
(600–1,000 gallons annually) that’s highest among all
breeds in terms of butterfat, vitamin, and mineral content.

And, say Merril and Joann, the Jersey is an
especially adaptable creature that can be put to pasture on
rocky, hilly soil that can’t be used for crop production
and might otherwise lie fallow (which pretty much blows
away the common argument that keeping any cow is “wasteful”
because it yields less food than might be harvested if the
pasture such an animal requires were sown in vegetables
instead).

The Grohmans have called their book The Cow
Economy,
and have done nothing short of a superior job
of explaining just how and why a Jersey can be the basis of
real self-sufficiency for anyone with a tiny piece of land
(or even just a garage that can be converted to a stall).

In fact, it’s difficult to imagine any aspect of the
subject that Merril and Joann have not covered: There are
detailed chapters on buying, housing, feeding, milking,
handling, breeding, calving, treating, and grazing a Jersey
. . . and still others on making and selling dairy
products, harvesting hay for feed, and using manure to
enrich garden soil. There’s even a section that explains
how to take a vacation and provide good care for Ole Bossie
while you’re gone.

In other words, The Cow Economy is well-nigh
all-inclusive. If you’ve been looking for an inexpensive
way to raise food and money on the homestead, look no more.
One of the best home enterprises of them all is explained
right here.

You’re not likely to find The Cow Economy at your
local bookstore, but you can find copies available at many used booksellers.

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