One of my favorite ways to spend any scraps of free time that I have is watching River Cottage on YouTube. While it feels like a vacation to me to zone into the happenings of River Cottage, in fact, it's quite inspiring and educational. Hugh muddles his way through “homesteading” in Devon and this show follows him from the very humble beginnings, over the span of sixteen years. Seeing his successes and failures as a first time homesteader are very encouraging – especially the failures, I must say.
Not that I want to see Hugh fail. Love you, Hugh. Mean it.
But knowing that we're not alone in the valleys of homesteading is also extremely comforting.
Hugh purchased his first dairy cow, a Dexter, in his second season at River Cottage. She came with two calves by her side – one from the previous year and the second from the year before that. Girlfriend could obviously have babies. Two of them were there as proof!
Hugh put his Dexter in with a neighborhood bull without success. To clean up the mess, he had his local veterinarian come and AI her. Six months later, when Hugh was have the veterinarian preg-check his ewes, he figured he'd have his cow preg-checked as well.
She was open.
Hugh handled it much more graciously than I have these past few months. He said quite perkily (is that a word?!) in his British accent, “Well… this is turning out to be a rather bad day, indeed.”
Oh Hugh. If only I could have handled Kula's lack of pregnancy with such class.
I kicked the dirt. Swore at the heavens. Cried like a young child.
But as they said, more is learned from our mistakes then from our successes. And the only way that we could see forward with our non-pregnant cow was to replace her with a different one. You may remember the other bits of the saga (if not, you can catch up HERE and HERE and HERE).
Here's the fact of the matter: I'm not just keeping a homestead for fun. I'm keeping it for food. And as much as I'd love to have dozens of pet cows running around the barnyard, it simply isn't economical to keep an open cow. Nor is it economical to dump hundreds and hundreds of dollars into unsuccessful breeding attempts.
We prayed about it. Cried about it (me… not my homestud). Thought about it. And wrestled with the options.
After much deliberation (yes, the jury was out) we decided on bringing in a new cow. A sweet ‘ol cow named Sally Belle that has been used for 4H all of her life. Sal is 5 years old and is a purebred Jersey. She has lived her life on one farm with one family and has had two calves, the last being in March of this year. She is currently in milk and is also nursing two bull calves (those won't be coming with her…). She is used to being shown, hand milked, tied up, and handled by youngsters.
Her current owners were very sad to let her go, but since their son will soon be showing new breeds of dairy cows, they couldn't keep them all. They did make me promise that should we ever decide to get rid of Sal, they would want first option to buy her back. If she proves to be as good of a cow as she sounds, I doubt that we'll ever let her go. But I do appreciate that they love her that much. That's the exact kind of cow we need.
And who knows? Maybe Kula will enjoy the company.
Sal will be arriving on our homestead, Beatha Fonn, this Sunday. Her owners have warned me of the tears that will come as they part with her and also promised to show me how to milk her as they have been.
I've never milked a cow before, remember? And you know what's a great idea for people that have never milked a cow? Buy a cow and milk it. Naturally.
As with most things, I like to jump right into that ‘ol deep end of the pool.
Saturday will be spent preparing a small milking station in the current cow shelter. It will be simple – enclosed to protect from the elements, a small tie up on the wall for a rope that will be attached to her halter, and another tie up for her grain bucket.
She's used to getting 4-5 pounds of grain per milking and I'm happy to keep supplying her with that – especially since we're heading into the winter months when there is no fresh grass or pasture to be had. For the next few months, it's all alfalfa/grass, a small bit of grain, and the occasional “treat”.
Dare I say: I'm incredibly nervous.
Nervous to commit to milking twice per day (since she won't be coming with a calf, twice a day milking is mandatory).
Nervous to have such an abundance of milk and all the extra chores that will mean in the kitchen (kefir, yogurt, cheese, etc.)
Nervous to have TWO cows to feed until we can sell Kula.
And nervous to have a new personality on the farm that I'm unfamiliar with.
And yet, as nervous as I am, I can trust that Sal is from the Lord. Just as Kula is. And just as this beautiful piece of land that we're homesteading is.
We have an ongoing joke between Stuart and I – when we're in the trenches, frustrated, sweaty, messy, and stressed: “Well… if we weren't workin' and strugglin', we'd be dead.”
Hows that for encouragement?
But seriously: at this stage of our life, it's not about making things the easiest that we can for ourselves. It's not about slaving away at a desk so that we can enjoy time for our hobbies on the weekend. It's about adapting a lifestyle that makes each day feel like a blessing and a lifestyle that will enrich our day-to-day existance. I don't seek for things to be easy – I seek for them to be GOOD.
And fresh milk daily, earned by our own two hands and a gracious cow named Sal, is GOOD. It enriches our life and benefits our family (and even those around us!) in immeasurable ways.
I covet your prayers for safe travels and for the arrival of our newest “family” member. We're sure looking forward to it!