The cat’s already out of the bag over on my instagram, but here’s the b i g n e w s : We’re getting a cow!
First, let me tell you about Elsie.
Elsie is a miniature Jersey cow, and she and her bull calf will be coming to live with us in early November (Good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise). She is about two years old, and the little four month old bull calf coming with her was her first calf. Elsie is a true miniature in size, which means she’s quite diminutive in comparison to a standard sized Jersey. She will be used for that wonderfully rich raw Jersey milk, of course, and her bull calf will be steered.
As a bonus, Elsie has also been exposed to a miniature Jersey bull (pictured below) and is hopefully bred. The people who are selling her have been very helpful, and they agreed to do pregnancy testing and some additional disease testing for me as well before we pick her up. This way I’ll know for sure that she is pregnant beforehand, which is an important factor for me because we don’t have access to a bull. I’ve learned through attempting to breed my pig that AI is tricky to arrange unless you have your own expensive semen tank. Naturally, I have my fingers crossed for a future heifer calf!
But you have dairy goats — why get a cow?
We’ve known we wanted a cow for while now. (“We” primarily being my mother and I, though my dad is on board as well.) I’ve actually wanted a cow for a long long time, back from my teenage years before I went to college. At that stage in my life it was only a peripheral idea, something that I envisioned for the future but not for the now. I didn’t know about miniature cows back then, and I thought all cows were 1,000 pound animals. I do remember discussing with my mom the possibility of starting a cattle farm instead of going to college, but of course I didn’t have the capital to do so — and naturally this was something my mother discouraged.
Flash forward about 8 years and the idea of getting a cow became more tangible, more real. I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for a suitable cow for about a year now, though I was not actively seeking it out. We did come very close to buying a beef steer about a year ago, but as it turned out the person we were on the list with did not have any for us when expected. It wasn’t the right time for us then, I believe.
Recently my mother has been hinting more and more about wanting a dairy cow, too. Many don’t know this, but my mother owned her own cow when she was around my age. Her cow was a big Holstein named Josie who was a pain to deal with and put out more milk than the law allows, but of course she loved her anyway. I believe that farming is in the blood. Once a farmer, always a farmer. It’s not something you choose, but something I’d almost go so far as to say you’re destined for. I don’t believe in destiny as a hard and fast fact, because I believe we all have free will and our choices affect our paths in life, but I do believe that we each have God-given talents and passions that, if we follow them, will lead us where we’re best suited to go.
All of this long-winded rabbit trail is to say that this cow is not an out of the blue, impulse decision. I know sometimes it can seem that way when I share things like this on the blog or social media. While I do sometimes fly by the seat of my pants, more often I have had a long held plan that I’ve simply not shared until it’s come to fruition. So while it may seem that we suddenly woke up one day and decided to buy a cow, it’s actually been a long time coming.
Oftentimes these things work out with timing much better than I could orchestrate myself. A similar thing happened with the pigs, as well. We often spend time talking about it, thinking about it, dreaming about it, and planning for it while not actively pursuing it yet — and then suddenly opportunity presents itself at just the right moment. Kismet.
So let’s get right down to it now. . . why the heck do I want a cow? There are a few simple reasons.
That Raw Milk, Though
I know what you’re thinking. “But you milk your goats!” This is true. However, when it comes to cows milk vs goats milk, it’s a quality vs quantity thing. And, actually, a quantity thing, too.
I’m not saying that goat milk is of lesser quality than cows milk — that is definitely not true. They are both great nutritious foods and either one (or both) is a fine choice. They are two different types of milk, though, and as such they have some differences. The biggest, most noticeable difference is the type of butterfat. Goat milk is naturally homogenized which means that the cream does not separate easily from the milk. This is due to the fat molecules being smaller in goat milk. Cow milk, on the other hand, has larger fat molecules which easily separate and rise to the top of the milk when it sits still. While some cream will rise to the top of goat milk, and mechanical cream separators can separate the cream as well, goat milk does not naturally lend itself to certain types of dairy products.
We’re mainly talking about three of my favorite dairy foods here: butter, cream cheese, and sour cream. Cows milk is much more suited to making these delicious goodies. Bring on the butterfat!
In addition, because I have Nigerians, I don’t get enough milk from them to fill all our milk needs — drinking, cooking, cheese making, soap, butter — there’s no way I can accomplish all of those things with just my goats’ milk unless I was milking many more goats than I do and milking them twice a day instead of splitting the milk with their kids. Even my best producing doe only makes 1/4 of the low-average yield of a miniature Jersey. She’s a good producer for a Nigerian, but comparing the size and capacity of miniature goat udders to miniature cow udders is like comparing oranges to watermelons.
There is also a subtle difference in taste between cow and goat milk. Some people will tell you otherwise, but I’m going to be completely honest. There is a slight difference in taste. There’s even slight differences in tastes between individual animals and separate breeds within the same species, so of course their is a difference between two completely separate species! Some people may not taste it, but I can. While I don’t mind drinking goat milk, I prefer cow milk when it comes to fresh drinking. (Good clean goat milk does not taste goaty. Goaty milk is an indication of poor nutrition, mineral deficiency, or poor hygiene. But the taste is a little different just the same.)
For years we have relied on purchasing raw cow’s milk from other farmers. At $1o a gallon, that adds up. Then, on top of that, we are no longer purchasing from our regular supplier and haven’t for about a year or maybe two. Long story short, there was a dispute over missed orders that was not resolved to my liking, so I told them I would never purchase from them again. . . and I haven’t. I’ve tried to find a new supplier — I have literally been craving raw cows milk lately — but it’s a struggle. The new farmer we did find has had all sorts of difficulties this year and three weeks after my order, I still have no milk from him. I don’t hold it against him at all, but it’s so frustrating! I’ve learned from purchasing from three different farms over the years that buying raw milk can be unreliable and unpredictable at times.
I’m ready to have my raw cow milk in my own hands and not rely on the whims of others. Store bought milk (even cream top) simply does not compare. My plan is to continue to use goat milk in my soap making and cooking, but use my cow milk for fresh drinking and anything requiring cream. Excess milk and whey will be fed to the pigs.
Cows Are Not Goats Are Not Cows
A common misconception people have about livestock is that if they’re similar then they must be basically the same. This happens a lot with goats, because people are usually less educated about goats than other livestock species. Often people assume that goat and sheep are basically the same, or even confuse them for each other, or that cows and goats are basically the same. The truth is that these individual types of livestock are each different, despite their similarities.
Each of these creatures bring something unique to the table, both positives and negatives. There are many things I love about goats. They’re quirky, personable, and ornery. There are also many things I love about cows. They’re unequivocally majestic and beautiful creatures. They have big pretty eyes and big soft ears. I mean, who can argue with that?
Why a Miniature Jersey?
Traditional heritage breeds of livestock, like the miniature Jersey, are most often smaller than their modern industrialized counterparts. This is true almost across the board — everything from heritage turkeys to heritage cattle grow more slowly and mature at smaller sizes than the modern breeds. Livestock ain’t what it used to be. . . unless you choose heritage.
As the country industrialized and people moved off of the farm for city life, the remaining farmers had to focus on producing more. Cows were no longer family animals that provided milk and meat for the immediate family and maybe a few neighbors but no more. Cows started to become what they are now, which is an animal designed for profit. Biggerbettermore. More milk and more beef from one animal means more to sell. As this happened, the Jersey — which was traditionally small in stature like what is now referred to as a mini Jersey — grew.
I understand why some farmers have bred their animals this way, but that model doesn’t work for a homesteader. If we brought home a Holstein, which produces the highest amounts of milk with the lowest butterfat percentage, we would be swimming in milk. There’s no way a family of three and a few pigs could lay waste to that much milk. On top of that, due to lower butterfat content we could also get lower yields of butter, cheese, yogurt, and whatever else we were to make with the milk.
Miniature cattle are the perfect option for most homesteaders. They require less space and feed, do less damage to property and pastures, and make enough milk (or meat) for an average family without flooding them. They’re easier to handle and easier to house. These smaller types of cattle started out as family cows and they’re still ideal for the role.
There are other heritage breeds we could have chosen, some even harder to find than miniature Jerseys. Dexters, Milking Devons, Milking Shorthorns, Dutch Belted. So why choose Jersey specifically? One reason is that I simply like Jersey cows and always have. I think they’re beautiful creatures. They may even be the prettiest breed of cow there is! Personal preference is a definite factor.
It also comes down to availability. It hasn’t been easy to find a miniature Jersey within reasonable distance, and it would be even more difficult to find many of these other smaller breeds of heritage cows. Some of these heritage breeds are extremely rare and endangered. While I’d love to help preserve these rare breeds, I do still have to work within my own means. I can’t travel cross country for a super rare cow right now.
Lastly, Jersey are a dairy breed bred for centuries for their milk production. A lot of other heritage breeds (though not all) are actually dual purpose cattle, meaning that they originally were bred to produce decent amounts of milk and beef. That balance is ideal for small families. Sure, we do intend to use bull calves for beef from our mini Jersey, but undoubtedly we will not get as much beef as we would from other breeds. That’s okay for us, because we want and need milk more than beef. The problem that many dual purpose heritage cattle breeds face is that in recent decades those who continued to breed them often focused on their beef more than their dairy. That means that it’s easy to buy a “dual purpose” heritage breed only to find that they’ve been bred away from milk production in favor of meat, and they’re not so dual anymore. With a breed like Jersey, it’s fairly safe to expect that milk production will be decent because that’s what the breed has always been used for primarily.
I’m so looking forward to bringing these two home in early November and can’t wait for our new homestead adventure! We’re going to have a COW. Finally!
What say you? Do you want a cow? Let me know in the comments.