Once our area was promoted as prime dairy country and while the soils were still fertile from recently cut down forests this was possibly the case. Producing milk on marginal land takes a huge amount of feed, fertilisers and water and many of the dairies are giving way to beef farming and vineyards. I am not a dairy farmer but I do love my small herd of Jersey cows and I’m slowly learning how to have a dairy system that works with the seasons and with the rest of the permaculture system.
The first thing to remember is the many uses of the humble cow, yes we love the milk products but what comes out the other end is just as valuable. The main products we get from our cows are milk, manure and meat (if you have dairy cows you have calves and at least 50% will be boys so be realistic milk and meat go hand in hand). We can also get horns, hides and bones (all useful in the system).
Our season of abundant grass is in spring and early summer, so we aim to have our calves in late winter, this way we can get the most of the natural abundance “make hay while the sun shines” or “make milk while the grass grows”. We share our milk with the calves, if we are milking in the morning we separate the calves the night before, taking the first milk in the morning, after milking we put them together again. Now we are into late summer and the girls are all pregnant again ( see my blog on our bull story ) so I’m weaning the calves off their mums. The calves are living in the yard getting friendly and eating lots of hay, bana grass and comfrey and providing us with loads of poo for our worm farms.
We wont get milk again till next spring and this is not the path to commercial milk production, but it is it is the way we incorporate dairy into our system, working with the cycle of seasons and the animals.