Monday, August 27, 2012


We never name our livestock. That being said, of course we have ways of referring to them...the pen of hens we were certain had to be too old to lay eggs are the "old nags and hags" (in honor of Christine Mason); the pigs we hope will make piglets are the "married couple"; and the one member of the cattle herd who looks like Grommet of Wallace and Grommet has that name.

But we don't stand and call them like we do with the dog. It is only the sound of feed that gets livestock moving, not their names.

And then there is the milk cow, which is not livestock at all, but rather an investment in our future. As we consider just how much we spend in dairy products: milk, butter, cream, yogurt, ice cream, cheeses, pudding, and then how much goes into additional things we love to eat...a grass fed milk cow almost becomes a savings! While she cost more than I've spent on any animal, we are now reaping the rewards. June 2011 she gave birth to a bull calf and this past Saturday she birthed a beautiful heifer calf. Sybil, our milk cow, arrived with the name and the category of 3/4 cow: sweet, beautiful, big and a tremendous consumer of all things green, she only produces milk from 3 of her 4 tears. Fine for us, not so great at a commercial dairy.

She arrived here in spring 2011 and had her first calf, never named, that summer. The addition yesterday, a little girl cow, means a name must be given, because if the baby is half as sweet tempered as the momma we will own her for a decade or more.

Our milk cow comes from a local dairy where the herd is kept on grass much of the year. To nonfarmers that sounds perfectly normal, but farmers know that most milk cows raised in the U.S. are raised in buildings, are Holsteins, eat silage (you probably don't want to know) and on average have a life expectancy of 4-5 years. Milked 2-3 times a day those girls have a difficult time with fertility, birthing and overall health.

As farmers it is important to know limitations. What is done well and where failures occur. A high maintenance high production Holstein would not do well with us, a cow from a grass fed Jersey herd is perfect for us.

This herd has been bred to birth unassisted, in the field. Both bulls and cows have been selected for decades on their ease of birthing: if a bull produces off spring that are right sized, healthy, pop out, clean up, stand up and nurse quickly they are used for making more. If the cow requires no help, mothers right up to their baby, bags up nicely they are also selected to make more.

So Sybil, our girl, produces another girl. We will keep them both for years to come. The tradition of the herd is to keep the same first initial of the mother in naming the daughter: in our case, an S name. We ran through a number of them and have settled on Silla, a derivative of her mama and my name: seems appropriate for a gal we hope to have sustenance from for years to come.

But naming is difficult. So much to choose from. And here she is, cute little thing, nobby knees, black muzzle, and no obvious white spots yet. We are hopeful that both mother and daughter live long, happy, peaceful lives here with us.

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