Milkcow Blues

When I was planning our transition to the homesteading lifestyle I imagined that we might someday have or make everything we need, here on the farm. Some of the things we did, such as planting fruit trees and gardens, made good sense.  Other things we did were, in hindsight, probably not great ideas. For example, I bought hay equipment, even though we were using very little hay.  At the time my thinking was that we should not buy anything we are capable of producing ourselves.  It would have been wiser to consider the cost of the hay we would need in relation to the cost of buying and maintaining the machinery to make it.  There are other things I’d planned to do that never happened.  Some of them, such as generating electricity here, I still hope to do. But with some of the other things I had on my homesteading checklist, I’m glad we never went forward with them.

For example, it seemed obvious to me at the time that we should have a milk cow. Why buy milk if we can keep and milk a cow instead, I reasoned.

When I was growing up my grandparents had a milk cow. In the summer milking was sometimes one of my jobs. The cow was milked, by hand, every day before dawn and then again at dusk. I didn’t know there was any other way to do it.

So I imagined that we would have a milk cow and she’d be milked twice a day, every day of the year.  In my mind, that was just part of living on a farm.

I decided we should have a Jersey.  In the industrial system Jerseys have been replaced by the more prolific Holsteins, but the consensus among people whose opinions I valued was that Jerseys produce the tastiest and most nutritious milk.

Here’s a little aside about our modern industrial milk production (because I can’t resist).

Whereas in 1900 eighty percent of American farms had milk cows, today only 8 percent do and nearly half of those are on farms with over 1,500 cows and $1 million in annual sales. Four companies control 70% of the milk sales in the U.S. In 1950 the average dairy cow produced about 5,300 pounds of milk per year. By 1965 production had increased to over 8,300 pounds per cow. Today, amazingly, the average is close to 22,000 pounds of milk per cow, about four times more than the production of a generation earlier. As Joel Salatin would say, “Folks, that ain’t normal.”

So (returning to the story) I put an ad in the local paper for a hand-milked Jersey and a few days later I got a call from someone who lived very close by who had a milk cow for sale.  Excited, I went to see her.  She was a beautiful sad-eyed hand-milked Guernsey.  I didn’t buy her on the spot, but I left fairly convinced that it was the thing to do.

Luckily some semblance of sanity came over me.  In those days I was still commuting to Florida and was only home on Saturdays and half of Sunday. That twice-a-day chore would have fallen almost entirely on Cherie, who already had a full plate and had never milked a cow before (and it certainly wasn’t what she signed up for when she agreed to marry me).  Furthermore, as Cherie gently reminded me, we use very little milk.  There’s no way we could use the several gallons per day that we’d be getting.

So we didn’t get a milk cow after all.  A wise decision.