Warning: This post contains details of the cow slaughtering process.
Late July 2011, we moved from our city quarters to our dream come true property in the countryside. On September 5th, 2011, we brought home our very first family milk cow. She came with the name "Bugsy". Not nearly a lady-like enough name for our cow-lady, we renamed her Gertie. She was said to be pregnant, and she came with a calf that was not her own. We named the calf Meatball as that was what he was destined to become: meatballs.
We waited many months for signs of a growing pregnancy or impending birth. They never happened as she turned out to not have been pregnant. Throughout, I struggled to learn the (exceedingly difficult, it seemed to me) art of handmilking a cow! I Googled, I watched You Tubes, I read from women who posted online about "how hard it was for me to learn to milk, it took me like, a whole week!!" Let it be known that it took yours truly a solid 2 months to really feel like I had it down. And dear old Gertie, she put up with all my tugging and pulling like the kindest most patient cow there ever was.
We continued milking her, my teen son and I eventually taking turns once I developed a fantastic case of carpal tunnel syndrome. We hired a veterinarian to come out to artificially inseminate her (AKA, impregnate her). Again we waited months for sign of pregnancy that never came.
Eventually she began giving less milk as cows naturally do, so, we bought more cows. A friend shared a Craigslist ad with us in which a batch of 3 Jersey cows were selling for a very fair price. The three were supposed to be: A pregnant cow, another pregnant cow and her 8 month old calf.
This is what they ended up being: A pregnant cow with a crotchedy disposition but a fantastic udder (our current milk cow, Elsie). An un-pregnant cow (our current freeloader, Hattie), and one feral, horned calf. We tried reselling the calf on Craigslist but garnered no interest so we decided to butcher her. We really didn't need a wild, horned cow and really didn't want to feed her hay all winter. Hay is not cheap, and our family enjoys beef, so, beef she would become.
It was horrendous. I won't share all the details of that butchering experience. You wouldn't want to hear them anyway! I'm sure it happens to every homesteader at one time or another. Sometimes this hardcore do-it-yourself lifestyle is rather, well, hardcore.
It is extremely important to my husband and me that our meat animals die as quickly and painlessly as possible. That just wasn't the case with that cow. It took enormous effort to get the poor animal to die. I cried. My husband swore. When the cow finally, finally fell, we began the butchering process.
As our luck would have it that day, it began snowing just as we began butchering. And it never stopped! Several inches of snow fell on us throughout that long, brutal afternoon and evening of meat cutting. We did our work over a tarp, in the snow with frozen fingers, me hunched over my big, pregnant belly. Where the cow had finally fallen wasn't anywhere near electricity so we couldn't use the saw to help us cut through meat and bone.
But guess what. It got even worse! It makes my stomach turn to remember. We discovered that that cow, who should have been only around 9 months old, had a calf inside her! She had been pregnant with a little heifer!
Now, cows can become pregnant no earlier than 6 months of age at the very soonest. And the calf inside her appeared to be about 5 months of gestation so it wasn't possible that she was only 9 months old as we'd been told. The industrial dairies tend to breed for the first time at 15-18 months of age. A cow that young/small would almost definitely not be able to deliver a calf- their pelvis is too small and their body too immature. The mom calf most likely would have been stunted for life if she had managed to survive the delivery as well. Very irresponsible on the part of the previous owners.
I am sure you can understand why we chose to hire a slaughterer when it came Meatball's time, which it did this past Wednesday. Not only were we still reeling from the past bad cattle butchering experience, but we were rather attached to goofy old Meatball and didn't want to do the deed ourselves. Not to mention the huge quantity of time it would have taken us...
He had reached full growth. He was over 2 years old and our pasture grasses are dying down for the season.
We had a mobile slaughtering unit come out from the city. They were just awesome. So professional and calm. Good old Meatball wasn't even nervous! He enjoyed his days on the grass and under the sun peacefully up to his very last, calm, moment. And we will have around 700 pounds of 100% grass fed beef coming to us soon!!
Our very first experience with raising a homestead steer could hardly have been better. Meatball came to us tame, friendly and halter broke. He was said to be a Hereford/Holstein cross. We never had any major problems with him. We really lucked out.
Here he is, with Hattie in the background:
He was slaughtered on Wednesday. On Saturday my husband came to me and said he thought Gertie's udder appeared strangely large. We hadn't been milking her for many months. When I went up to the pasture to check it out, I discovered her udder was full! That crazy, gigantic, 1300 pound beast of a steer had been nursing on her all that time and keeping her in milk.
So my son and I commenced milking her again so her milk wouldn't dry up. Because - we'd had her listed on Craigslist for quite awhile but nobody is really interested in an un-bred, un-pregnant, un-lactating cow. Even one with such an awesome, sweet personality as Gertie! :p The moment we updated her ad to reflect her current milk giving status, there was suddenly a rush of interest!
One interested family offered to trade milk goats & buck for Gertie. Very intriguing. We nearly went through with the trade until we seriously researched fencing needs for goats. We have worked so, so hard on our new garden and baby orchard. If a herd of goats escaped their pasture and gobbled them all up we'd be devastated! Once we understood the work and the expense of getting goat fencing up that we could be sure they'd never escape from, we backed out.
We were also offered more Katahdin sheep. Hmm, that could work.... But then a nearby family we had met in church once offered to trade some beef calves. And they could come today (as in yesterday when I began writing this post). We had a deal.
And so, here is our new beef steer, Goliath, being led from his trailer out to our pasture. He is about a year old, friendly, but not halter broke. He strongly resists being led anywhere! Look at the neighbor's curious horses. They are so funny. They all come galloping up together whenever there's anything of interest going on on our side of the fence. "Whaddya doin'? What's goin' on??" they seem to be saying.
Here Gertie is being led to the trailer for the trip to her new home. She really is such a great cow. I am so glad she ended up being our first family milk cow experience. Again, we really lucked out with her too. (Those funny horses!)
Here is our son helping to load Gertie into the trailer for her new home with other Jersey milk cows, and Highland cattle. We have plans to go visit her in the future and take the kids on a hayride at their place.
We will keep Goliath, in the center of this picture, on grass until next fall when he will become next year's beef (later on we moved him up to the big pasture with Hattie. They already get along famously- grazing, sleeping and belching together as happy cows do).
In another month we will also be getting a Highland bull calf as part of the trade. Right now he is still busy under his mama cow's udder. The fact that I will look out my windows and see my own shaggy, gorgeous Highland bull gives me a huge smile over how life turns out sometimes.
Many years ago, before I had any clue that my homestead dreams could ever become a reality, I had a framed photo of a couple Scottish Highland bulls hanging in my dining room. Just because I thought they were the most awesome looking cattle and wouldn't it be so cool to have one?
I mean honestly, who doesn't think these shaggy guys looks super-awesome-cool-gorgeous? (pictures of Highland bulls borrowed off Google images)
Now. What to do with him? My husband and I are asking. Turn him into a steer (in other words, remove his baby-making abilities) and eat him in a couple years? Or keep him around as a bull because not being able to breed our own cows successfully has been the most stressful part of cow keeping? But how would we justify the enormous expense for fencing strong enough to keep a bull safely in? Should we scrap this whole dairy cow idea and keep goats because it would be easier to keep bucks (male goats) around for breeding (still a huge fencing cost)? Or, do we instead invest in a trailer of our own so we can drive our cows to a nearby, willing bull owner who would allow us to put our cow with his for breeding? Of course, we couldn't milk her during the months she'd be with his bull... and we'd have to assume we'd always be able to find bull owning neighbors....
Ack. There is so much to consider when it comes to making plans for dairy animals!
How my son often gets around our large property. :)
After all the excitement the cow trading brought, Grendel needed a cooling off apparently. The kids' wading pool happens to be empty right now. I filled a large tub with water many weeks ago for the homeless frogs to hang out in when the wading pool didn't work for their needs. The water in the tub is thick with green slime, just the way froggies like it. Grendel just plopped his great big fluffy butt right in.
And if you look closely in the black circle, you will see a little froggy guy peeking out, saying "hm, there appears to be an enormous hairy creature's butt filling my home".
I was too busy laughing and taking pictures to remember to move out of the way when Grendel jumped out. He immediately shook allll that nice, slimy frog water alllll over me.
The fun never ends around here.
Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways
Natural Living Mamma