The Family Cow: Trend or Lasting Value?

sunset_grazing_cowA family milk cow grazes on our pasture at sunset.

Actual statistics can be confusing, but anyone who has been observing the real food movement in America can attest that there is a growing number of families who are choosing a different route than the traditional supermarket or big box grocery aisles.

For many of these families, ownership of a dairy cow tops the list as a way to provide premium, affordable milk and meat for their households. While some in the media call this a trend that will fade away, the increased awareness and interest in where food originates and how it is handled has been blossoming in our country for several decades as more problems emerge in the commercial food supply. Ownership of a family cow is simply visible proof of this increasing awareness.

Why Keep A Cow?

  • Are family cow owners really saving money by having their own milk factory?
  • Doesn’t the cost of keeping a cow negate all the benefits?
  • Isn’t keeping a cow a lot of work?

 

These are just some of the common questions that family cow owners get asked everyday. At the time of this writing, an organic gallon of milk in the grocery store costs about $8. Whole Foods stores sells their organic Grass Milk (from grass-fed cows) for $10.50 per gallon. Currently hamburger is about $4. Steak and roasts are much more expensive, just as butter, cheeses, ice creams and other dairy products are.

The average cow will produce from 3 to 6 gallons of milk per day, or more depending on breed and feeding regimen. Based on the minimal three gallon cow who can be fed on good pasture and hay, that’s $24 per day worth of milk. Over an average ten month lactation this minimally producing cow offers about $7,200 worth of milk that can be consumed as fluid milk or made into whatever dairy products the family prefers, in addition to a freezer full of premium beef.

More Than Money

What cannot be measured in dollars, however, are the other benefits that come with the family cow. In pioneer times, the family cow was considered a valuable asset, and the families that were able to move west accompanied by a cow or two, or acquire one when they settled, were considered to be wealthier than their neighbor who did not have one. The cow promised stable nutrition in hard times, in the form of dairy products and beef.

In modern times, this same stability is comforting to many cow-owning families, as they see the headlines filledwith news of food shortages, food safety issues and rising food prices. With a cow in the back pasture, the family avoids these worries, but the benefits of cow-ownership do not end there.

The Center of The Farm Universe

The cow can actually help families prosper in many ways. The milk produced is usually much more than can be consumed, even when butter, cheese, ice cream, and other products are made from it. This leaves excess milk and whey to help support other animals on the farm. Any additional milk we may have on our farm goes to the dogs and cats.

family_milk_cow_trendOne of our family milk cows nurses her calf on pasture as another calf shows interest in the camera.

Milk can also be used to produce some of the finest pork. Milk-fattened pigs grow quickly, and offer gourmet quality meats that are delicious on the family table, in addition to bringing premium prices when sold. Poultry of all kinds also love consuming excess dairy products and the additional protein and nutrition will help increase both egg production and carcass weight.

Even the vegetable gardens, orchards and pastures reap the benefits of having a family cow on the property. The manure created by the cow can be composted into amazing, naturally organic fertilizer that creates wonderfully fertile soils. Spread on the pastures, the manure causes grass and pasture forage plants to flourish, creating even more feed for the cow and further offsetting the cost of cow-ownership. Fruit trees, flowers and even the grass in the front lawn can all benefit from the rich, fertile manure that is produces daily by the cow and her calf.

These are just a few of the many benefits that come with adding a family cow. And this is why the so-called trend of cow ownership has been growing for decades and the numbers continue to increase exponentially each year. Can you afford not to have a family cow?

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Farmer Guy June 25, 2014 Milking Cows