Wednesday , 20 September 2017

Dr. Amanda Glew: Cow Births & Farming

Cow Births and Farming  – by Dr. Amanda Glew 

People often ask me what animals we have. I usually say 1 dog, many stragglers, 2 official cats. Then I pause and add- 2 horses, 2 cows, and one farm cat, and 2 doves. Not all of them are mine per se, but since I participate in their upkeep, both financially as well as physically, they are partly mine.

The horses happened on purpose. My daughter was riding, and we were somehow convinced that “owning” was better than leasing (same with cars, right?) and started with one old mare. This mare ended up being pregnant, that was the year I broke my neck in a riding accidents, so of course, we decided to buy another horse. In hindsight, the logic still escapes me, but at the time it seemed the right thing to do. The foal was born, was aptly name “Take a Risk” since we knew nothing about raising a horse. We have subsequently learned.

So now we had 3 horses, 2 which were not ridable. I somehow calculated that if we had our own barn, we would reduce the cost. This is also when Hudson was cracking down on off leash walking, which drives me crazy, so owning land to secure my own walking paths was appealing. 50 acres later, we met with the agricultural craziness existing only in Quebec. You can buy agricultural land, you can have animals on the land, but unless there is an existing building, you cannot build a residence. Safe for the animals right?

One barn later, my daughter starts to work at a real cow farm. The reality of farming quickly becomes apparent, so I am somehow convinced we would like a young cow who is not meeting growth standards, and would otherwise be culled. “We can breed her and have milk.” Sounds good, and it may help my plea to build a residence. However, the cow doesn’t grow to size, so is now a pet. We would not be able to sell milk anyway since we don’t own quota. So let’s get another cow who is already pregnant, my daughter convinces me. We can use the milk for ourselves, and my daughter reassures me that she only wants the cow to experience a summer of pasture, since she always starts her lactation in summer, so has never been outside in the summer (another reason to question the hows/whys of what we consume).

I must admit, having cows and getting to know cows is interesting. They are not like horses, but do enjoy human attention. I also got to play large animal vet, doing rectal exams to verify correct positioning of the calf, reading up on mastitis/milk fever. Picking colleagues brains on nutrition etc… I was determined not to hand milk the cow, so after some research, a large animal colleague found me a portable milker on Ebay. Of course.

Sure enough, 2 weeks ago the calf was born, a healthy Ayrshire bull calf, nicknamed “Red Bull” or “bully” for short. We had more friends visit for this than when I broke my neck! My daughter has taught me how to milk her. We only do it once per day since the baby is on her. So my daily routine is drive to the barn, clean up manure, feed, water, then coerce the cow named Ecstacy into the stall, tie her, clean her udder (each teat area is a quarter), check her for mastitis, disinfect her, put on the milker. The milking only takes 5 minutes, but the subsequent cleaning takes an hour. We repeat this every day. Fortunately, some good friends enjoy helping, and we have nicknamed them the Polish Cowboys (they really are Polish!).

Did I tell you I still work full time? Sometimes I wonder.  However, the milk is lovely, I have learned how to make cheese and butter, and where these new life skills will take me, I have yet to find out. Anyone want some milk?

Photo credit: wildeme from morguefile.com

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