Tuesday, December 29, 2009

100th post!

I decided to devote my 100th post to my greatest passion... Bonnie! I know, I know, "You have a cow! Get over it ya weirdo!". Bonnie is a frequent subject for this blog but I've been very heavily involved in "cow stuff" lately so it's on my mind.

For those of you just tuning in to this saga, Bonnie is my Scottish Highland/Shorthorn cross, family cow. I bought her to be our beef/milk cow. She gives birth to the beef and provides the milk, in case you couldn't figure that out. This journey did not start with the purchase of my cow, it did not start with the Craigslist ad I placed, looking for a cow. It didn't even start the year before when Dad said I could have one if I could find one. This journey started when I was 3 or 4 when my parents started buying raw milk in Montrose, Colorado. I believe it's illegal now, but it wasn't then. I remember watching my mom skim the cream from yellow milk in a gallon, glass jar. It was the coolest thing. I remember not liking the taste of fresh butter since it tasted nothing like Country Crock. Margarine was our spread up until that time and I was not used to the creaminess and slight tang of real, fresh butter.
My Grandpa and Grandma Arndt always had horses, they still do in fact! I associate the barnyard smell with my grandparents. Not in a bad way either. That smell is the smell of my childhood. I loved being with the horses, not riding them necessarily, but just being there with them.
The first five years of my "adulthood" were sprinkled with failed diet after failed diet. I had spent many years learning to enjoy sweets and sugar highs and it was showing. Five years ago I first learned of the Real Food movement. I decided that nothing else was working, I might as well investigate this too. It was a revelation to me! Real food held the key to my out-of-control weight. I'm not blaming food for my issues, it is all about me and what I choose to put in my body. I had been breaking my own body down by not providing the nourishment that it needed. And something had to change!

Two years ago, a local ranch put a sign out, advertising raw milk for sale. Kathy jumped on it, in the hopes of helping her grandson and his wife with their autistic son. Unfortunately, Jadrik's digestive damage was too extensive and he was reacting to the milk. So... She gave it to us and a passion was born. I had converted my family to organic milk, from the store, some months earlier but that milk, fresh from the cow, was the elixir my starving body was craving. I didn't skim it for the first few months, as all of us needed the full compliment of fats, vitamins and minerals it had to offer. About this time I found the Weston A. Price Foundation and my passion for Real Food was renewed. But, six months after discovering the wonders of raw milk, the ranch dried their cows, in preparation for freshening and our raw milk was gone. This was a big blow to our health, as we went back to store bought milk. I went from a quart of milk a day to nothing. I can't stand the metallic taste of store bought milk anymore. I decided to do something about this situation. I asked my parents for a cow.
My mother is not an animal person. She did not grow up with anything but a family dog. No horses, no fish, no birds... nothing. She never has gotten into the farming thing and she never will. She was very reluctant to plunge into the time and expense of a cow. I did a spreadsheet, charting our dairy product usage and our beef usage. The expense of a cow, when lined up, was significantly cheaper. With my parents' grudging permission I turned to my main source of research, the Internet. I spent a year searching, comparing and researching the different types of cows. Almost immediately, the dairy breeds were out as well as the beef breeds. Jerseys, Guernseys, Holsteins and Ayrshires give way more milk than we need and it takes forever to beef up the steers to butcher size. Herefords and Angus are not milking animals, are enormous (Herefords are bigger than Angus) and that cancels them out as milk cows. I needed a dual purpose breed. I discovered a wealth of them too... Outside. I settled on the little-known Dexter. They seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. Unfortunately, I could not find a single one in the state of Alaska. I looked for almost a year before giving up on the idea of Dexters. It seemed as the the Lord was not in this plan so I was not going to keep pushing and get myself into something that He was not in. I almost gave up hope. I decided to give one more try to find something, anything that would work as a family cow. In stepped the Highland. I had never really considered them as I had always thought of them as a rare, beef breed. Remember, I didn't want a beef animal. I did a little more research and discovered that THEY were the animal that I was looking for.

Scottish Highland cattle are uniquely adapted to rugged climates. They were developed in the windswept, barren-ish Highlands of Scotland (duh) to be easy keepers, self-reliant and tough as nails. The shaggy hair provides weather-proof insulation as well as contributing to the fine marbling of the meat. Highland cattle do not put on a thick layer of subcutaneous fat, like other cattle. They have hair for that. Every breed of cattle needs more calories to survive when the temperatures reach 32 degrees. Highlands are the only breed that can hold out until -18 degrees. Only then do they need more and better feed. In fact, my Bonnie is so rugged that she loses body condition when her food is too good. She needs large quantities of average hay rather than good hay. Her body is so efficient at ringing the last vital nutrient from her feed that she can't eat enough good hay to keep her rumen working. Her brain shuts her down before she gets the quantity her ruminant system needs. This was one of the major selling points for getting an Highland. Average hay is much, much cheaper than the high quality "horse" hay.
Second, Highland milk, while not abundant, is very, very rich. Jersey milk, the most butterfat for the dairy breeds, is about 4%. Highland milk is 10% butterfat. That makes is just a tad lighter than half and half. I don't know about you, but that sounds so wonderful. Especially for my fat-starved body. I was concerned about the calf though. I don't want to feed commercial milk replacer as it contains huge amounts of soy and GMO ingredients. Those are two things that have no place on this property. My father, in attempting to dissuade me, and with an air of doom, kept reminding me that I HAD to milk twice a day, every day. First of all, so what! Second, no I don't! Many people only milk their cow once a day. Many other people leave the calf on the cow and only milk when they need to. Highlands give an average of a gallon a day. Three gallons a week is more than enough for us and even may be too much at times. I only need to milk Bonnie, provided the Shorthorn blood doesn't make itself known, three times a week. That's Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning! The rest of the time I can leave her baby with her. The baby will grow more and stronger, the maternal instincts of my Highland cow are fulfilled by being able to mother her baby and we still get her milk. If the Shorthorn blood comes through then she should have more milk. Shorthorn is a dual purpose breed. Some would say that there's two breeds of Shorthorn, milking and beef, but they are the same breed with the same genes so milk production it greater than the Highland. I'm kind of hoping for a little bit of Shorthorn break-through in the production department, though I'm not holding my breath.

My biggest reason for wanting a cow is the current administration. Our president is going to do his level best to destroy the hope of small farms and pave the way for the monopoly of agribusiness. I know he's saying the opposite but, as they say, actions speak louder than words. With his endorsement of NAIS, GMO's and big government the small farm is on it's way out. My cow is my rebellion against the system. She is my declaration that I know what's best for me and my family, not the government. I neither need, not want it's interference in MY farm. I refuse to pack up and move to the city so I can collect a welfare check. I can do it myself, thank you very much. It's harder to be self-sufficient in Alaska, admittedly, but I am going to do what I can to become less dependent on the grocery store.

Now the health benefits of milk, specifically raw milk. I know that the USDA claims pasteurization does not destroy any of the nutritional benefits of milk but I don't buy it. The USDA HAS to say that since the law is, you must pasteurize your milk. I choose to be skeptical of government claims of safety and I'll drink my milk raw, thank you very much. I know how pasteurized milk makes me feel and I know how raw milk makes me feel. Raw milk doesn't make me react the same way as pasteurized. I get nauseous and grumpy and sneezy when I drink store milk, even organic. My milk will be raw and my eggs are soy-free, free range. Woohoo!

When I bought her my mom was really unhappy about her being so young. She was nine months old. I had her bred when she was almost two years old. It's been a long year and a half but the culmination of this dream is due in three months. Everything seems to be going really good and she is bagging up quickly. Not really quickly, but her udder is bigger every day and her teats are getting longer, in preparation for nursing her tiny calf. Her calf, if it's not twins, should be between 50 and 70 pounds. That is a small calf, for those of you who don't know. A typical Holstein calf is between 80 and 100 pounds at birth. With a wide pelvis and a small calf she should have no difficulties birthing, even if the calf is breech. Hopefully, there won't be any problems and I am not borrowing trouble in thinking about it too much. I have the vet's number and I know how to tell when she's having trouble so I'm prepared as well as I can be.

I am completely in love with my cow and my arctic farm. I want to get a garden in, with vegetables that do well up here so I don't have to baby them so much. I hope you enjoyed my Bonnie post and if anybody has a question or two, I really do like comments from people!


1 comment:

Eric Stoch, South Africa said...

Hi from sunny South Africa.

I loved your story. Please keep us enthralled during 2010.

We thought we had unique problems with our own Government. It is interesting to see that, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

I a herd of Dexters and breed for sleek coats without long hair. Ticks are a major problem. We only go down to about minus 15 degrees centigrade, but we go up to about 35 to 40 degrees centigrade in the summer.
I wish we could keep "something" that cute here, but the heat would kill her.

Keep it up and good luck.


About Me

We're a family that came to Alaska in shifts. We've been here since 1995 and don't plan to leave any time soon.

For Jaime

Comment from a SMART President

" The government that is big enough to give you everything you want is strong enough to take everything you have."

Thomas Jefferson President 1801-1809
Died on JULY 4th, 1826



Learn to cook online. Traditional foods, sourdough, and more!