From Plan A to Plan H

Reader Contribution by April Freeman
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One thing I’ve learned through the years in farming is the value of flexibility. It’s not that we’re not invested in making plans for the farm. It’s more we’ve learned that when you are dealing with plants, animals and other natural processes, you can’t always force things to work out the way you had in mind.

My dairy cow project is a prime example of this.

Plan A.

Back in 2011, I wanted a Jersey cow. The Man of the House scoured the ads and finally found a pair of bred heifers at a price that we could afford. We bought Dolly and Blossom, and I worked at training them to a halter and calming them in the stanchion.

They both gave birth, and I was ecstatic. My enthusiasm was short-lived because several days after giving birth, Dolly fell while on a tether line and broke her neck.

So we were at Plan B.

I didn’t like Blossom’s personality as well as Dolly’s, but I did have a Jersey cow, and I milked her. We had trouble figuring out her feed requirements and getting her bred back, but I figured it was part of the learning process.

Soon, we got into Plan C.

Because of Blossom’s knuckleheaded personality and the fact that we had a hard time getting her bred, in the spring of 2013, my man bought me (what we thought was) a bred commercial Jersey cow from a dairy. Lady was lactating at the time, and Blossom was dry. I fell in love with this cow. She was beautiful, sweet, and our personalities meshed. I figured I’d sell Blossom when she finally calved since selling a cow in milk is much easier than selling a dry one.

We bought a Holstein heifer at the sale barn named Valentine to use up Lady’s extra milk.  

Later in the summer, I was sad to learn that Lady was either open when we got her or she had aborted shortly after we brought her home. Her due date came and went and it was clear that calving was months away. No worries. I loved my cow and was just looking forward to milking her again.

Lady calved a few days after Christmas. She had a beautiful heifer calf. But all was not well with Lady. She dropped weight alarmingly. Despite the  massive amounts of grain I was feeding her, she still lost weight and didn’t give much milk.

When Lady died this past spring, I had to make a new plan.

Enter Plan D.

I was back to using Blossom as my milk cow.

We still had the Holstein heifer, and I was hoping to eventually sell Blossom and use Valentine as my milk cow.

Additionally, we’d bought another Holstein heifer named Pixie as a bottle calf, which could be a back-up plan to my back-up plan. I had them tested for a disease that Lady had carried and that had contributed to Lady’s death.

Plan E.

Blossom was positive for the disease. Valentine was negative. Well, shoot! I made plans to sell Blossom and keep Valentine as my milk cow.

Plan F.

Valentine was not showing signs of coming into heat or anything else. I had her blood tested for pregnancy, and she came up open (un-bred). We figured that Valentine had some female issues, so we tried a few things to get her to cycle. No luck. She joined Blossom in the sale group of cows.

So my next plan was to milk Pixie, the young calf. However, she wasn’t even a year old and it would be a long wait until she had a calf. By this time, the Man of the House was fed up with keeping dairy cows. He talked me into selling Pixie and figuring out something else.

Plan G.

For a brief time, I toyed with the idea of getting a couple of dairy goats. You can combine them in a field with beef cows, and because they eat different plants, you can keep just as many cows as you did before.

The Man of the House even found a small herd of milk goats and offered to take me to look at them.

However, this fall, we already have several projects to complete. I just couldn’t fathom re-working our fences right now. We’re already stressed and overworked, so I asked my husband if we could hold off a couple of months on deciding. He agreed that would be best.

So now, we’re drinking store milk.

The kids are not happy about that and neither is my grocery budget!

Plan H.

Currently, I am working on taming one of our beef cows. She’s the cow who has been on the farm for the longest, and my husband says that she’s going to die here of old age. 

Perhaps I’ll be milking a Black Angus cow here pretty soon. If milking Sugar doesn’t work out, I guess I’ll go to Plan I.

Whatever that is.

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