Learn the best breed of dairy cow to get if you're wanting to make cheese! This post also has feeding and milking tips, as well as the differences in milk production from breed to breed.
At the time of this podcast, May 2022, we are about five weeks into our journey of owning a dairy cow.
Even before we knew we were getting a dairy cow, I had Kate, from Venison for Dinner scheduled to come on the podcast (Pioneering Today Podcast, episode #344).
Now that we're new cow owners, I'm so excited to get to pick her brain and glean the wisdom she's acquired from raising her own dairy cows.
Though it's been a number of years, my podcast interview with Jill Winger is also a great resource on the 8 things you need to know before getting a family milk cow.
Who is Kate?
Kate lives in Northern British Columbia, Canada and she and her family live on a 34-acre homestead. They raise their own meat, dairy, and vegetables, as well as homeschool their five children.
She is a blogger and YouTube creator and I have no doubt you'll absolutely love her! Be sure to scroll to the bottom of this post for where you can find Kate online.
Beef Cattle vs. Dairy Cows
Kate refers to beef cattle as your old farm truck. They can pretty much run on any hay you feed them, can be out in the weather and they'll do just fine.
Be sure to check out my posts on raising grass-fed beef, the cuts of beef to request from the butcher, and the pros and cons of raising your own grass-fed beef.
A dairy cow is like a fancy car that you feed premium fuel and park in the garage. Their systems run completely different than cattle and the way you feed them will make a difference in the production and quality of their milk.
What to Feed a Dairy Cow
When it comes to raising a dairy cow, sourcing hay is definitely something you're going to need to consider. Unless, of course, you happen to live where grass grows year-round!
Where Kate and I live, further north in Washington State and Canada, we have to supplement hay throughout the fall, winter, and spring months because grass simply doesn't grow year-round.
Kate has worked out a great system with a fellow farmer. Because Kate's family owns about 20-25 acres of pasture (but both she and her husband have no interest in tending to hayfields), they allow their neighbor to manage the hayfields and they simply get 1/3 of the hay in return.
This works extremely well for both parties and is a great way to maximize the use of the land and resources you have available.
Type of Hay
It's important that you don't make the mistake of jumping into getting a dairy cow thinking that you'll just buy the cheapest hay you can find. Generally speaking, there's a reason that hay is cheap.
You want to be considering the animal's needs first.
Kate feeds haylage to her dairy cows over 200 days a year. They don't feed hay, they use haylage because there are many years when they can't actually get hay due to poor growing conditions that year.
Haylage is fermented hay that provides good bacteria for the cow's gut. It's moist and softer than hay.
Kate noticed that when her cows are feeding on haylage they actually need less water. This is fantastic for Kate because they have to haul in water to the cows.
Depending on where you live, the terminology of these feed products may be different.
- Haylage or baylage is grass-based fermented hay. This is what both Kate and I feed our dairy cows.
- Silage is fermented corn or grain-based feed.
Be sure you know the difference before you jump in and buy a large portion of feed (which will save you money if you can buy in bulk ahead of time). Check out this post for more info on buying feed in bulk.
Grain vs. Grass
Feeding cows predominantly grain instead of grass changes the pH in their rumen. Neither Kate nor I recommend feeding your dairy cow large amounts of grain.
There is one caveat and that's if you get your cow and it's already been fed predominately grain. You can't simply convert a grain-fed cow to a grass-fed cow. It can actually be dangerous and need to be done slowly over time.
Cows weren't meant to solely live on grain alone or even have it as a large portion of their diet. And giving the calves a good healthy start by solely feeding them milk is in their best interest.
Century Farmer (on Instagram) encouraged Kate to feed her heifers only milk for six months as this sets them up for a healthier life metabolically.
If you start feeding grain to calves right away their rumen starts developing faster and, as mentioned before, changes the pH. *Certain larger farms want that because it speeds up when the calves can be fully weaned and the dairy will get more milk to sell, so they actually start feeding the calves grain from day one. They're only fed about 3 liters of milk twice a day until they're four months old.
Kate doesn't feed grain to her calves and commits to only milk for those first six months so set the calves up for the best health possible.
Is Some Grain OK for Dairy Cows?
Don't get the wrong idea when we're talking about grass-fed vs. grain-fed cows. Feeding your dairy cow a little bit of grain every day isn't a bad thing.
Actually, feeding your cows up to five pounds of grain daily (about 2.5 pounds at each milking) can increase the cow's milk supply significantly.
So if you're only getting one to two gallons from your cow per day, which may not be enough to make all the dairy products for your family, then consider introducing a bit of grain while milking.
I do, however, recommend buying non-GMO and/or organic feed when possible.
Natural Breeding or AI (Artificial Insemination)
There are two choices when it comes to breeding. You can track your cow's heat cycle and use AI if you want to ensure specific genetics. You can even get so specific as to choose sexed semen if you want to ensure you get either a girl or boy calf.
If you have a bull, you can breed your cows the natural way, but you'll want to know the genetics and history of the bull if you're hoping for a specific outcome.
Either way, you'll want to know the signs to watch for with an expecting cow.
What to Do With All that Milk?
Kate always gets asked the question, “What will I do with four gallons of milk a day?”
Her answer to this is that many people don't take into consideration the amount of cream it takes to make just one pound of butter.
If your goal in owning a milk cow is to be self-sufficient for all your dairy products, then you'll be utilizing a whole lot of milk and cream to do so.
A single seven-gallon wheel of cheese is going to produce a lot of whey. I can then make ricotta from that whey but there will still be some remaining.
That whey then goes to the pigs or chickens and helps reduce our overall feed bill.
But Kate also shares that she's not making butter and cheese year-round. She's making enough butter and cheese while the cows are producing a lot of milk in order to get her family through the entire year when they're not producing as much, or during those times the cows need to be dried up for calving.
Raw Milk Doesn't Go Bad!
Something else to consider about raw milk is that it doesn't go bad, it just goes through different stages.
For drinking, you'll want to enjoy fresh milk within about a week of milking. But if you allow the milk to curdle or ferment, it's great for turning into yogurt or cheese. Or, if it gets just a little too sour for your liking, you can mix it into your chicken or pig feed and feed the animals.
As for the cream, if it's allowed to sit for a long period of time, it can get a little off tasting as well, but then it's great for turning into butter (Kate uses this butter for baking) or sour cream.
Kate also loves making heavy cream drop biscuits with her excess cream that's gone beyond using in her coffee.
Breeds of Cows for Cheese Making
I was having trouble with a cheese recipe a while back and Kate actually shared with me that different breeds of cows have different effects on cheese making.
The two things you're looking for when making cheese with milk are the protein (Kappa casein) and the butterfat content.
Kappa-casein comes in different combinations. Kappa BB is the highest yielding cheese protein, and AA or AE is your lowest protein. This was studied because some Italian cheesemakers were noticing the different yields of cheese based on the milk and wondered why it was happening.
Holsteins are likely to have lower protein percentages and lower fat percentages which then yield a lower amount of cheese from their milk.
Kate says when she makes a six or seven-gallon wheel of cheese, she'll actually get one to two pounds less cheese when using Holstein milk.
Jerseys have higher protein and fat, Brown Swiss are known for their high protein and they're a mid-level fat.
Each breed has its averages, so you may have outliers.
The average grocery store whole milk has an average of about 3.5 milkfat.
Milk Cow FAQs
Can You Increase Cream Production in Cows?
Kate shares that different breeds will produce different amounts of cream, and even within breeds you'll have those that produce more or less.
Kate likes to see a minimum of two fingers of a cream line in a one-gallon jar of milk. Some cows will produce closer to three or four fingers of cream (closer to a quart).
But she's found in her years of raising cows that changing their diet doesn't necessarily increase or reduce the amount of cream the cows produce, but it does affect the quantity of their milk.
So though it may look like you're getting more or less cream, it's likely you're getting the same amount of cream in more or less milk.
Are Cream Separators Worth It?
I asked Kate if she recommended getting a cream separator and she jokingly asked how much I like doing dishes.
Because we don't have a dishwasher, she said skimming milk by hand is the best way!
Kate actually stores her milk in 3.5-gallon tubs in her milk refrigerator. 24 hours after milking she'll skim the cream off with a 1-cup ladle. This is the fastest “redneck” cream separator that Kate has tried.
How Much Time Does it Take to Milk a Cow?
People always ask how much time it takes to milk a cow. The actual milking takes only 10-15 minutes, but the rest of the time can be upwards of 30 more minutes.
Can Cows Survive in Really Cold Winter?
I was curious to know if cow's teets would be at risk of frostbite during extremely cold temperatures during the winter.
Kate assured me the cows will be fine, it's more about your own hands and extremities to consider. She did say that temperatures below minus 30 degrees F get really tough on your hands because they just don't want to function as well.
Where to Find Kate
You can find Kate on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and her website, Venison for Dinner.
Links Mentioned & Other Posts You May Enjoy
- Homestead Living Magazine – The second edition of the Homestead Living Magazine is now available. Also, when you purchase an annual subscription you'll get the past issue included!
- Century Farmer on Instagram
- How to Preserve Dairy, Meat & Eggs
- Fermented Dairy: Why You Should Be Doing This Now
- How to Make Real Buttermilk (Cultured Buttermilk Recipe)
- Easy, Flaky Homemade Buttermilk Biscuit Recipe
- How to Make Flavored Butter
- How to Make Homemade Yogurt that's Thick and Creamy
- 8 Things You Need to Know about Keeping a Family Milk Cow
- Stocking Up on Animal Feed (Buy Now, Save Later)
- Your Livestock Questions Answered
- Scottish Highland Cows: A Unique Cattle Breed
Melissa: Welcome to episode number 344. On today's podcast we are going to be talking about dairy self-sufficiency as well as how different breeds of dairy cows affect your cheese making and what you will want to be looking for if you are looking at one, purchasing a dairy animal and making cheese, which we highly recommend, but secondly, even if you are purchasing milk from someone else in order to make cheese so that you can get a higher yield from the milk for your cheese making efforts. If you have been listening to any previous episodes, then you probably caught that we are newer owners to having a dairy cow. We are about five weeks in to our dairy cow ownership at the time of this recording. And I already had Kate, who is our guest today, Kate from Venison For Dinner. And I have been following Kate on Instagram for quite a while, and we have messaged back and forth and she was actually scheduled to come on the podcast way before we even realized that we would be having a dairy cow, by the time we got to be doing this interview.
I am really excited to introduce you to Kate. She is very fun, has a wicked sense of humor and posts some really fun things on Instagram and within her home setting. I think you will enjoy her sassiness. Which her sassiness doesn't come out very much in this interview. And I mean that in actually the best possible ways, but if you follow her anytime on Instagram, I think you will enjoy her sassiness and really honest, even if it goes against popular opinion, she is going to share the real life and what she actually thinks, which feels very refreshing in this day and age. I hope that you enjoy this interview. You'll be able to click the show notes and see everything with links and resources to everything at the blog post for this episode, which is at melissaknorris.com/344. And today's episode is sponsored by Homestead Living Magazine. Homestead Living Magazine is the magazine that I am actually the editor in chief of.
And it is a brand new Homestead Magazine that is written obviously for homesteaders, but by people who have been living this lifestyle for a number of years, if not decades or longer. I noticed that a lot of the different, not all of them, but a lot of the different homestead magazines that I looked at felt like the articles were written by staff writers who were just doing research. I wanted homesteading advice and not only tutorials as well as step by steps and recipes and all of that, which is in the Homestead Living Magazine. But I also wanted the real life experience and stories that you can only get from people who have been living this lifestyle for a very long time, because there are certain things that you can find the information anywhere online, really with Google and all the different search engines.
We have never had this much information available to us, but what you can't get is that lifelong or at least years worth of experience and wisdom that comes from people who are doing something day in and day out. And what that really looks like, both from actually doing said thing, but also the mental shifts and observations and mindsets that you have to be able to create in order to do this long term. I am really excited for the Homestead Living Magazine, we just went live with our first edition. The feedback has been phenomenal, and we are hoping with support of the digital, right now it's digital only.
But if that is well supported and continues to be supported, how it is right now, we will be able to offer print early next year. The good news is you can just buy the single issue, which right now is quarterly. So once every season, but it's an incredible deal at the lowest price we could possibly offer it for the annual subscription. And you get the first edition, which is live right now included when you buy that annual subscription. Go over to homesteadliving.com/melissa. That's homesteadliving.com/melissa, and get wisdom from the past, advice for today and hope from tomorrow, from some of your favorite homesteaders. Now onto today's interview, I am very excited to have Kate join us today. Kate, welcome to the Pioneering Today Podcast.
Kate: I am honored to be here today, Melissa.
Melissa: I have really been looking forward to this because funny thing is, when we first got you booked to come on the podcast, I did not have a dairy animal yet. And lo and behold, I am now the proud owner of a dairy cow going on five weeks. I'm still very much excited to talk to you about this, but I'm really hoping you have some wonderful things to tell me about 100% Jersey cow.
Kate: I love jerseys, I have four of them, so I'm more than happy to talk about them.
Melissa: Okay, good. Well, dairy self sufficiency is something that I think people are very intrigued by. And we had been self-sufficient with beef cattle for decades. I mean, I grew up on a beef cattle farm, my husband and I have raised our own beef cattle and had a beef herd for over 20 years. And I am quickly discovering, dairy animals are actually quite a bit different, more so than I ever would've thought before starting to go down this road.
Kate: Beef cows are your old farm truck that you can feed pretty much any hay and they'll do decent. And they can be out in the weather and this and that. And a milk cow is your fancy car you park in the garage and feed premium fuel. Their systems run completely different.
Melissa: I'm quickly discovering that and it is very fascinating. So let's talk though, dairy self-sufficiency both all the dairy items, but also with that dairy animal.
Kate: I'm going to start by saying, I no longer love the term self-sufficiency because I feel it's an unrealistic thing. I strive for community sufficiency, in terms of making trades within your community. You're never going to be able to do 100% of everything yourself. It's not realistic. No one has that bandwidth, that time, that anything. I think community sufficiency and bringing it back to a tight knit local group, that's my main goal these days.
Melissa: Amen. I have preached that. I am so happy to hear somebody else say that because even the homesteaders of old, like actual homestead acts, going back into the 1800s, none of them were completely self-sufficient.
Kate: No. No one was.
Kate: And I've had people tell me that I'm completely ridiculous to not want to be self-sufficient. And I think they're just not far enough into this gig to realize they have a pie in the sky dream.
Melissa: I would 100% agree. Yes. With the-
Kate: With our dairy cows, how that looks is we actually don't do our own hay because I have hay fever. And when we bought this farm, my husband worked full time and couldn't just take time off, like, "Hey, it's the perfect weather we need to hay. I need to take five days off." His job didn't allow that. We made a deal with a neighbor, which is a very common hay contract lease that he does everything, pays for everything to do with our hayfield. He gets two thirds we get one third. So we do nothing. And we just get hay in our barn and we get a third of it.
We don't have a lot of hay fields. So that is only about one cow worth our share. But then we go a step further and that farmer also raises we have 20 acres of fields that we basically can't use because our couple milk cows are not going to eat that much grass. So he brings a herd of cows here and has payment. He pays us in more hay and that basically gets to where we have enough hay. And then what tops it up is my husband fixes the odd thing for him. So we're not out of pocket, any money for hay. And we just have this awesome trading relationship with this neighbor.
Melissa: That is awesome. For reference for those who don't know, where are you located, Kate? And then how many acres do you guys have?
Kate: I'm in Northern British Columbia, Canada. And we have 34 acres. And about 20 to 25 is pasture. Or some of that's hay fields that then gets grazed after it gets cut and such. And we just knew that haying was not something we really wanted to do. It just wasn't. Some people love doing it and we just weren't really interested in doing it.
Melissa: Yeah, we don't hay either. And one of the reasons I wanted to point out your Northern location, you're much more far north than I am. I'm about an hour and a half south of the Canadian border in Northern Western Washington State. But I think this is really important to bring up because depending upon where you live in the country, where Kate and I live and Kate probably even more so than me, there is no way that you can feed an animal, especially a cow on grass growing in the pasture year round. Now there are areas of the United States and more Southern spots, that is possible. I actually have a very good friend who lives in Tennessee and last year they had a mild enough winter.
She was able to do even her dairy cows without any hay, just because of their amazing pasture and the climate they have. But when you live far north, that's not feasible. At least nobody that I know of has ever been able to accomplish that. Hay is something that you're going to have to think about. And if you have enough property and you want... And hay has its own science, it's not like you just necessarily go out to a field of grass and you create that into hay. There's like so much more nuances that go into the nutrition that's in it. If you're doing haylage versus regular baled hay, getting it dried to the right percentage.
Kate: It's an art form.
Melissa: It is. It's an art form and a science. And I don't think a lot of people understand that when they first get into raising cows, but also when you're buying your feed, if you're not doing it yourself, being able to talk to the farmer and to see their hay. And that's really important too, because sometimes when you're just getting into it and you're going to buy hay, people will mistakenly be like, "Well I'm just going to buy the cheapest hay I can get." And there's usually a reason that hay is really cheap. And it's usually not a reason that's going to be of benefit to you or your animals.
Kate: For sure. So we feed hay over 200 days a year and we actually don't feed hay, but we feed haylage, which is those mash mellow looking wrapped bales.
Melissa: Yes. Love those things.
Kate: Because there's years where you can't actually get a hay crop because we don't have a long enough growing season with enough dry time.
Melissa: Amen. Yeah.
Kate: They do haylage or baleage, or silage is the chopped version. And I really like it for dairy cows for a couple reasons. Number one is that, because it's fermented, it just gets a lot more good bacterias going in their stomach. And I find they're able to kind of roll with the punches and feed changes better when they're eating silage, when they're eating a fermented feed. I mean, think of us in fermented feeds, our guts do better too. And the other thing is that it's moist and it's softer, so it's more palatable to them, but also we haul water. So they drink less water when they eat haylage.
Melissa: Yeah. We actually feed it entirely to our entire herd, both now our dairy animal, but also the beef cattle. And I don't know about where you are. I'm just bringing this up because I know that listeners will have comments. Where I live, and this is what's fascinating by different areas of obviously nationality, different countries, but also within different areas of the US is, where I am silage is a fermented corn based or grain based feed. Haylage and baleage is grass based fermented. And so we only feed the haylage, which is a grass form of fermented.
We don't feed the corn based, especially to the dairy cow, but even our beef cattle, because we want them to be predominantly grass fed better for their rumens. And also because when we butcher them, we want the omega three. We do not want the omega six, which you're going to get if you are doing a grain fed based feeding program for your cows. I know different areas use different terms for different things, but that's how it is here [inaudible 00:13:27]. And just a little bit more explanation if you're like, "Oh, what exactly do all of those different things mean?" They're all fermented base 100%.
Kate: Yeah. So we've have access to a few different ones. We can do a piezo barley silage sometimes depending on if they've done like a cover crop and they've bailed it because they had excess or just what would be their hay fields but then they just wrap it. We did feed a bit of oat straw, oat silage last year. And that actually they did really well on that. That milk production was really good on that. Oh, I lost my train of thought there. Oh, corn doesn't grow here. It's too cold.
Melissa: It's interesting. I try to grow sweet corn every year in the garden and it is my most pitiful crop. I keep asking myself like, why do you keep tr... Because I'm just stubborn enough that I'm like, "I'm going to nail this somehow, some way." And it just never works out well for me.
Kate: They call it farming where corn don't grow.
Melissa: Okay. I really love that term. Actually, I feel like that needs to be a country song.
Kate: Yeah. Because, so we what's unique, so I grew up just north of the Canadian border. Similar area to where you are.
Kate: Biggest thing about moving farther north. So I'm a thousand miles farther north now, is that in winter, it's so dark. Oh goodness. It's dark. The first winter I got seasonal depression, something hardcore. In spring though, suddenly your days are so long. Like when we go to bed right now, it's light out. When we wake up it's light out. We have these really long days, so the garden has so much more grow time during the day, but we just don't have the heat units that they would like a little farther east of us. They have more heat units and longer days. So they can grow corn and they can grow those sort of things. But we just don't have the heat units.
Melissa: That's fascinating. Back to the dairy sufficiency. Sorry. I love when we have these episodes because I always learned so many interesting things that I didn't even know we were going to talk about. And I think it's important to discuss all and have people on and learn about all the different growing climates because, I've always found that even if it's not a climate like mine, there's usually at least something that I'm able to glean. And our climates are similar though you're much further north than us. And I think that you have an even shorter growing climate than we do and we don't have quite... We do have much longer days in summer, but not exactly what you guys obviously are experiencing, because you're so much further north than us. But with the hay, so you're basically not having to purchase out of pocket any of, at least your hay costs. Now, do you supplement at all in the winter months with any type of additional grain or alfalfa pellets or anything like that? Or are you just doing the haylage, baleage often?
Kate: I do feed grain. I'm working towards not feeding grain, but you can't just take a cow who has been raised in a conventional dairy and always fed grain and just stop feeding them grain. They're probably not going to thrive.
Melissa: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kate: I'll get into how we've raised our upcoming heifers to hopefully not need grain, but for now we do feed a barley based grain because barley grows here. So it's a semi-local barley, it's from a couple hours away and then I buy it from a dairy and they mix it with a bit of a protein supplement and minerals and that sort of stuff. It's what they feed their dairy cows. We have, it's a semi-local grain and then we get it a lot cheaper because we can buy it by the thousand pounds from dairies, from a local dairy. That saves us a lot of money and we actually feed our pigs that too. And we feed our chickens a bit of it too.
Melissa: When you're storing a thousand pounds, just because I'm assuming you're pretty cold in the wintertime, but also probably a little bit wet like we are. Are you storing that just in a large barn or a big shed? Or what's your storage look like for storing that amount of feed?
Kate: We literally just have a covered bay and they're those white mini bags or tote bags and they're just in there. And sometimes the very end of the bag, we'll get a little bit moist, but then we just feed back to the chickens or the pigs and it's not spoiled. It's just not. I'm not feeding it to the cows.
Kate: But we've done it for years and never had any problems.
Melissa: Yeah. We have a local granary to us, they're about a hour away from us and they call those their super sacks. And so-
Kate: They call them mini bags here.
Melissa: This here is so fun to see the different, I love... In Northern Canada they're calling them mini where here in the US, they're calling them super, that's kind of fun. That's your feed stuff. Kind of you were talking about that you've got your heifers, which if anybody is new to those terms, heifers is a unbred cow that has not had their first calf yet. So I'm assuming that's been calves that your dairy cows that have had on the farm, so you've had them from birth?
Kate: Yeah. We have one that's 18 months old that I'm trying to get bread right now. I just had a hard time nailing down her heat cycles because I'm AI, and sorry, artificial insemination versus putting them with a bowl because I want certain genetics, which I can't get by just bringing her to a bull. She was raised on her mom, which I don't think is necessary. But what is necessary is she drank darn near unlimited, fresh, raw milk. She was not raised on milk replacer. She was not raised on a limited amount of milk replacer. She drank probably two to three gallons a day until she was six months old. Do you know Century Farmer on Instagram? Do you know who I'm talking about?
Melissa: I don't but it sounds like I have someone new to follow.
Kate: I think she's in your area.
Melissa: Ooh, even more exciting.
Kate: Are you Oregon or Washington?
Melissa: I'm Washington State.
Kate: She's Washington too. She's super neat. She doesn't post a lot. She's super holistic, but practical you would really like her. She encouraged me. She said that, "If you can do six months of milk of two gallons a day, it sets up the heifer in a different metabolic way." So if you start feeding, grain their rumen starts developing faster. So bigger farms, they want to start feeding grain, they literally have grain in front of them from day one.
Kate: In they're calf hub.
Kate: And they're fed three liters, twice a day until they're here, the industry standard's four months old and then they're weaned and they're on grain and hay and such. So the grain speeds, their development of their rumen so that they can get off of milk faster. I don't feed grain to my calves and I commit to giving them two gallons a day until they're six months old and Nita is Century Farmer's name. Nita says that when you do this, they don't milk off their back. Which means if they have poor quality feed, they will just produce less milk.
They won't take it out of themselves because that's what most dairy cows will do. If I don't feed my current milker clover grain, she just gets skinnier and skinnier. She produces the same amount of milk and just gets skinnier, because that's how she is metabolically set up. What really excites us is not only this generation of peppers, we also have one that's four months old that's currently getting two gallons of milk a day. She eats grass. She doesn't get any grain, never had grain in her life and she's four months old. You're raising them like beef calves essentially. Beef calves nurse on their mothers, they don't get grain necessarily, they nurse longer. And that's my goal in raising dairy heifers.
Melissa: Yeah. See, and I didn't even realize that with dairy calves, how different they were predominantly treated because that's exactly what we've always done with our beef cattle. The calves, we never feed them grain. Calves are on moms all day long. They learn to eat the grass and the haylage eventually by watching their mom do it and they'll sample it. And then they're actually on her until she gets bred back. And then if the moms with the beef herd don't kick the calves off, most of them do before they're ready to give birth again, then we will end up separating them just so that mom has a chance.
And we want to make sure that new calf gets the colostrum and not the little piggy one year old, who's trying to still nurse, but that's usually very rarely. We just happen to have one calf, a steer right now that we had to pin off mom before she had her next one. I find that really interesting that they would give them grain right away.
Kate: They also primarily feed them on milk replacer because it's cheaper. All these things, which our first milk cows, we had no problem problems with them. And then the last couple milk cows we've had, we've had more problems. And we're like, is it because we're just our beginner's luck ran out this or that? But we're really starting to strongly believe it's because our first ones, they came from an organic dairy where they fed them raw milk as cabs three times a day and no grain until they were much older. And we strongly believe that's why they were hardier cows.
Melissa: Yeah. I would think that would be the case. Well also finding it interesting, as I said, I don't have that much dairy experience, but feeding them grain versus grass changes the pH in their rumen as well. It was very, very interesting beginning my trail of research. And so I would think not only metabolically as you were sharing, which makes perfect sense is it changes the pH, but it actually has a lot to do with how they're able to process their feed and their overall health. Because a rumen animal was not meant to be fed predominantly grain, even though that's what a lot of commercial, conventional big agriculture does now, but it actually goes completely against the way that their systems were created.
Kate: Yeah. I'm not against feeding grain because I have this other beef where people won't feed any grain, they'll be getting like a gallon or two of milk a day from their cow. And then they're still buying milk. They're still buying cheese and butter at the store. And I'm like, "Look, if you fed like five pounds of grain, you would get more, your cow's 900 to a thousand pounds, what's five pounds a day? You would get more milk and then you could make more things and you wouldn't be buying those things."
Melissa: Yeah. I should rephrase that. I'm talking predominantly 50% or more of grains, which is not... Yeah, we do feed it at milking time a small amount of grain. Yeah. I should have clarified myself there.
Kate: I feed like 10 pounds a day.
Kate: Is what the one is getting right now. Maybe less, a bit less. I don't know. One of my kids feeds her. It's about that.
Melissa: Yeah. Yeah. When you're looking at dairy breeds, one of the regional reasons, one, I've had a blast following you on Instagram and getting to know you and message back and forth has been a lot of fun. But one of the things that you said originally, which really intrigued me and I wanted to have you come on and talk about more is, I was doing cheese making and you were doing cheese making and I was having trouble with a recipe and we started talking back and forth. And you said that different breeds of cows have different effects on cheese making. Can you dive into that some more?
Kate: Sure. The two things you're looking at with cheese making are the protein, which is the kappa casein and the butter fat. So something like a Holstein is... So the kappa casein there's like BB, AA, AE, BA. There's like A, B and E and there's different combinations. Kappa BB is your highest yielding cheese protein. I think AA or AE is your lowest yielding. This got studied because some Italian cheese makers were like, "This is the same breed of cow, but why is this one giving more cheese, that one giving less cheese? Why is this happening?" Holsteins are more likely to have the lower producing proteins, not as good proteins or just lower protein altogether. There's protein percentages, just like there is fat percentages in milk. Holsteins are more likely to have lower fat percentage and lower protein percentage, which then makes it so you get a lower yield of cheese. And we're talking like when I make usually like six or seven gallon wheel of cheese, Holstein, I will get one to two pounds less.
Kate: It's a significant amount.
Kate: Jerseys have higher protein and fat. Brown Swiss are known for their high cheese making proteins. They're kind of a mid-level fat, there's all different breeds and they have different average breed averages. Sometimes you can get like the dairy we got cows from now has a robot milker, so they can tell the percentage of protein and fat in every cow every day.
Kate: If you're buying from somewhere like that, you can pick and choose. And that was actually a deciding factor in the last cow I bought. I had two on my pick list and we went and looked at the stats and I was like, "That one's like 3% fat and that one's 6% fat. I know which one I want."
Melissa: And they were the same breed, is that correct?
Kate: They were the same breed.
Melissa: Same breed? Okay.
Kate: Okay. So there's breed averages. The average milk you buy in a store is what? 3.25%
Melissa: Yeah. I was reading that that's kind of the average of Holstein and most big commercial dairies use Holstein.
Kate: And that's what our Holstein farmer friends, their tank percentage average is like 3.5. But when I borrowed a Holstein, if anybody here follows me on Instagram, you know that for a month or two, I had a Holstein cow. She was 5% or so. And that was the only reason I even borrowed her is because he offered that one while my cow was getting treatment and we had to dump the milk. And he looked at her stats and she was really high butter fat. And I was like, "Okay, I could do that. I don't want to skim milk cow."
Melissa: Same, the reason we decided to get our own dairy cow, I'll be honest, it was all for the cream.
Kate: Oh yeah.
Kate: Oh yeah. I have this funny thing where my in-laws when they would come for coffee or we'd have a family dinner here, my husband's from five kids and I'd put out cream for coffee and then after everybody left there would be multiple partially finished mugs of coffee with all that cream in it. I stopped offering them cream. They get milk in their coffee now.
Melissa: Do not waste the cream. I love it. Yes.
Kate: Yes. One of my sister-in-laws and my father-in-laws know I will have cream in the fridge and they will just get it and they will drink it because they have both milked cows and they get it and they finish their cups. Even if they're like slamming a cold cup before leaving, they'll finish it. But I literally had one person fill it up, piles of cream, and then something happened with their kid and then they decided they were leaving and they left.
Kate: I considered putting it in the fridge and saving it for her.
Melissa: I possibly would've. That's funny. Okay. Sorry. I got soft on a tangent there. Back to percentages and how that affects the yield. Obvious, the higher the protein, the higher fat, and the more yield you get on your cheeses. But just because there are specific breed, there is even variances some whole scenes, as you're saying, was like that one was almost 5%. So if you don't have access per se, and I don't even know if there is a way to do this or not to a machine like that, is there any way when you're milking, is it just looking at what the cream line is that will kind of give you an idea if you don't have a way to measure that by a machine on what that cow's butter, fat percentage is? So that if you were like testing milk or something, or testing out a cow, that you could maybe get an idea if they were a higher butter fat, or is that not really.
Kate: For sure.
Kate: For sure. You couldn't tell a protein unless you took it home and made cheese with it, which the average person is not going to do when they buy a cow. But you could ask if they could either milk that cow separately, or if they could get you some milk from that cow or whatever. You may not be allowed to bring it home depending on the laws, like where we live raw milk is illegal across the board.
Kate: But maybe they could just put it in the fridge, in a jar and they could send you a picture. I would want to see at least two fingers of cream on the top of a gallon jar.
Kate: I ideally want more like three, I get the odd one with four. I'm looking at my fingers right now, but if there was less than two inches of two fingers of cream at the top of a gallon jar, that's down near skim milk cow.
Melissa: Okay. And then I'm assuming too a little bit the time of year, if they're in the middle of winter, you're probably not going to have as much butter fat. Maybe keep, is that something [inaudible 00:30:51], is that not true?
Kate: There's different factors. The biggest factor is genetics.
Kate: The next biggest factor is where they're at in their lactation. If it was a cow giving 10 gallons of milk a day, she's going to have less cream line per gallon versus later in her lactation if she's giving like two or three gallons a day, they're still going to be on average giving the same amount of cream per day, it's just spread over a different amount of gallons. And that's what I've found is that they seem to produce the same amount of cream throughout their whole lactation. It just seems like more because there's less gallons of milk near the end.
Melissa: That makes sense. There's less dilution, it's more concentrated.
Kate: There's a few factors. My cows will give more cream when they're on hay versus silage. But then again, they're giving less milk when they're on hay versus silage, so really it's a wash. There's a few things that I've heard, but it really comes down to genetics.
Melissa: For the cream, because I'm just now assembling more and more equipment. I didn't want to buy a bunch of stuff till I knew what I actually felt like I needed, having a milk cow. I have just been ladling the cream after it rises to the top. Ladling that off. I've heard that you could get home cream separators. Do you use those? Do you feel like if you have that, you really got that much more cream out of the milk or do you just old fashioned ladle the cream off the top?
Kate: How much do you like doing dishes?
Melissa: We don't have a dishwasher. My two hands are the dishes washer.
Kate: You do not want a cream separator then.
Melissa: Thank you. Okay.
Kate: I have what I call the redneck cream separator.
Melissa: Ooh. Do tell.
Kate: I have three and a half gallon food grade buckets. They're from Uline and they fit on my milk fridge shelves. I have three shelves in my milk fridge, because if you have a dairy cow, you have a milk fridge.
Melissa: Amen. Yes, I do.
Kate: Actually I think on all three shelves, I can fit these three and a half gallon buckets. So I just put the whole milking in there. And then after at least 24 hours, I can then easily skim all the cream off. And then that, the remainder of the milk either goes to the chickens or the pigs, or I make mozzarella or yogurt or whatever.
Kate: That's my rednet cream separator.
Melissa: Okay. I like it. I like it. So-
Kate: Because then you can use a bigger scoop too. I can use like a one cup measuring cup and just skim it all off the top.
Melissa: Okay. Very good. That I am not going to look into getting an actual mechanical cream separator right now because I'm already with... It's really funny. I really thought that before having a milk cow, I thought that the majority of the work would come from actually milking her.
Kate: It's like the shortest part of it.
Melissa: Hey, yes. I'm like, "My gosh. It's all of the prep like beforehand and then afterwards, dealing with the milk." That is what takes up all the time. Milking her is like actually... Yeah. Anyways, I was very surprised by that.
Kate: I post little videos of me milking on Instagram stories all the time, people love it. And they'll always ask, "How long does it take to milk a cow?" And I'm like, "Are we talking pulling of teats here or the whole situation?"
Melissa: Yes. Because it's very different.
Kate: Actual pulling of teats 10 to 15 minutes. The rest of it, it takes me 30 to 40 minutes to milk.
Melissa: Yeah. We're at about 40 minutes from said and done. And that does not include like sanitizing or washing up all of the jars beforehand. But that's like, everything helps.
Kate: We're really fortunate we have a basement bathroom that we don't use as a bathroom. And my husband built me a bunch of shelves in there and there's a big laundry basin sink in there. So that's where we store all our milk jars. He built me a bucket tree on the wall. My buckets all hang to dry there afterwards. And I have a table that I can deal with things. I keep my vet supplies there and it's super nice to then just have all that mess downstairs out of the kitchen. And it also makes that we come inside, we deal with all the milk dishes, get the milk in the fridge and then I go upstairs. Whereas I have some friends that they come into their kitchen and then they get sidetracked with kids and then their milking stuff, it's like the next milking time and "Oh man, I haven't washed my milking buckets yet." Whereas we just get it all done and then we go upstairs.
Melissa: Yeah. It's funny because we definitely are looking at revamping, because everything right now is coming into the kitchen. Except we have a little outbuilding right outside our house where we actually have the milking fridge where everything goes in milk, because you're right, there's no way it would ever fit in our regular fridge. But out at our milking parlor right now we only have one power outlet and one hose line.
But this summer we are looking at speaking of community sufficiency, we have a neighbor who's a plumber and we have a neighbor who's an electrician. And I'm like, "Guess what's going out at the milking parlor?" I cannot wait because what you're saying, having a dedicated area. Oh my goodness. I see why it's so essential. I feel like I never empty the kitchen counter or the draining rack, it's always just overflowing with all the milk stuff. So I love that idea.
Kate: We couldn't do that in our climate now, it couldn't be outside because we'll get minus 30.
Melissa: Ooh. Yeah.
Kate: But where we used to live, we had an outdoor setup and it was great.
Melissa: Okay. So when it gets that cold out of curiosity, because I've never had it, are her teats in danger or she's inside the barn so it's not that cold?
Kate: No, she's fine.
Kate: I used to baby them and if it was that cold, they would get fed inside the barn. But last winter, my husband's like, "Nope, they got thick coats. They can suck it up." And he continued feeding them outside all winter and they were just fine.
Melissa: Oh good. Good to know. If we get like five degrees Fahrenheit, I'm not going to have to panic.
Kate: No, about minus 30, so I think in Celsius.
Kate: Minus 35 is where Celsius and Fahrenheit meet up.
Kate: Minus 30, 35 that starts to get so your hands don't work quite properly to milk, that's hard. Anything above minus 30. It's nice and cozy to hand milk. You snuggle up against a cow and your hands are warm. You get more below minus 30 and your hands start to stiffen up while you're milking. I only had one or two days like that this winter, otherwise it was fine.
Melissa: Okay. That's good to know. Yeah. That's right. You are in Celsius. I was thinking negative 30 Fahrenheit when you said that. And I'm like, "Wow."
Kate: [inaudible 00:37:31] negative 30 Fahrenheit, that's what I'm talking about.
Melissa: Wow. Don't you get frostbite immediately at negative 30?
Kate: No. Negative 30. It's actually like negative 35 I milked in a couple days is winter. I have a big Arctic native coat that's got a fur brim and that protects your lungs because it keeps it warmer around your face so your lungs are protected. Because it's actually less worried about my extremities and more worried about damaging my lungs and such. And there was a couple days where I'd milk one handed and the other hand would be up in the cow's armpit and then I'd swap and do the other one, swap and do the other one. It's not the most pleasant, but coming inside is real nice.
Melissa: Yes. Wood heat. I tell you what, when it's cold out, there's nothing like coming into a warm house. And it's really funny because sometimes I'll feel like it's cold in the house and then I go outside in the winter and then when you come back in, you're like, "Oh no, it's toasty." It completely changes what your perspective of what warm is once you've been outside of that.
Kate: Coming back in is the best part when it's that cold.
Melissa: Yes. And then wrapping fingers around a hot cup of coffee with lots and lots of cream is the next best part.
Melissa: Yeah. Back to the dairy community sufficiency, is there anything else that you wanted to talk about or touch points on that?
Kate: I think part of the nitty gritty on what it looks like is, people will be like, "Four gallons a day. What am I going to do with four gallons a day of milk?" And they don't realize how much volume of fluid milk you need just to skim enough cream to make a pound of butter. It takes a lot of milk. And part of that is you need something to complete the cycle and to either drink the excess skim milk or then if you make cheese, if I make a seven gallon wheel of cheese, I got seven gallons away. Then that's why we have pigs or chickens. And I think you end up dumping a lot if you don't have something like that to feed to. So to make the whole cycle work.
And then it helps us save on our feed costs because, we're giving the pigs and the chickens milk and weigh and then it's less grain they're eating. And people will say, "You're always making cheese. You make so much cheese." I'm like, "Well right now I'm making lots of cheese because I have lots of milk, but then there's going to be a couple months where I don't make any cheese, but I'm also not buying it." So I have to have that stockpile of aged wheels to get me through.
Melissa: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kate: And yeah, I think people just don't realize quite how much volume of milk you need to supply a family with all the dairy products you need.
Melissa: Right. Because it's not just the milk as you're saying, it's the butter, it's the cheese, it's the fermented, cultured dairy items. Yeah. I'm curious because, I have never had excess milk because when I was buying it, I was paying top dollar and was really, really stingy with it. This may sound silly to someone who's never done it, but I'm hoping that there's a listener out there who is happy I'm asking this question, it's really for myself. But do you mix some of the chicken feed in with the milk or do you just literally set it on an addition, the chickens just drink it?
Kate: Depends what I'm feeling like.
Kate: I do both. I have like a dish bin, bus pan and I'll just dump some milk there. If I have a bunch of excess milk, I'll put the buckets out and I'll dump a bunch of grain in and I keep a stick by the grain and buy our mini bags and I just stir them and then they get fed out. Especially to the chicks, I'm more likely to mix it and feed it to them like that. Whereas the bigger ones, I'm more likely to just give them a bucket of skim milk.
Kate: And same with our pigs. In the colder months we don't ever mix feed because you just would end up with frozen solid buckets of feed mixed with milk or way. So in the colder months we just feed it to the milk and way in the warmer months we usually mix it.
Melissa: Okay. Gotcha. And when you are mixing it, you're just stirring it up and mixing it? Or are you actually letting kind of soak a little bit so it absorbs that liquid?
Kate: We usually would then let it sit.
Melissa: Okay. And I know I'm getting super micro, but how long do you let it sit? Just until you feel like it's absorbed some of it?
Kate: It usually is till the next feeding time, 10 to 12 hours or it could be a week later, you find one you forgot about.
Melissa: And then it's just fermented and you're good to go?
Kate: It's just fermented that's not a big deal.
Kate: It literally never goes bad. It becomes very strong, yeasty, fermenty, but it's raw milk, it just fermented. So we'll find one like a week later and we're like, "Whoops, forgot about that one." Dump it to the pigs and the pigs are stoked.
Melissa: Okay. Awesome. I think for people who've never dealt with raw milk, that seems so foreign to think that milk never goes bad because pasteurized milk that you buy from the store definitely does go bad. It like-
Kate: Oh yeah.
Melissa: ... smells rotten once. So I think that's a very foreign thing. I was even telling my kids, I had a jar of cream because mama hoards the cream for her coffee. And I was gone for a week to Tennessee to speak at the Homesteaders of America's Conference and so when I got back, they hadn't used any of the cream and they're like, "Well it smells like it's starting to get sour, like it's going bad." I'm like, "No, no, no, no, this isn't going bad because it's rock cream." So we literally just had this whole conversation because we didn't really have raw milk prior to us getting...
It's funny, my milk cow was already named, but her name is Clover too. Prior to getting Clover, we didn't have raw milk because you can buy raw milk here where I live in Washington State. It's unlike Canada it's up to each state. So some states you can and some states you can't. However, the price of a gallon of raw milk here was 1499 a gallon. And I understand because they make raw milk dairies go through so much more processes in order to be licensed. They have higher costs. I understand all of that, but I couldn't afford $15 a gallon for milk. Having raw milk and actually having enough that it could start to turn and to get old is a very new concept for us here.
Kate: What did you do with that [inaudible 00:43:39] of cream?
Melissa: Oh, I'm still using it.
Kate: Even though it's really... How are you using it though?
Melissa: Oh, I'm just dumping it in my coffee. I have it expresso-
Kate: Even though it's really strong tasting? You haven't got coffee cheese yet?
Melissa: It's funny. My kids thought that it smelled sour. I don't think it smells. I mean it's a little bit, but it not like to the point of-
Kate: It doesn't go sour, it starts to smell more like a cow.
Melissa: Yeah. So far I've been adding it and I brew my coffee strong. I actually espresso. Yes. I have an espresso machine. I'm like, so it's really strong anyways. And so I put quite a bit of cream in there and once it's mixed in with the two shots of espresso, I don't notice any strong flavor yet. Now if I have enough to last another week, maybe by the end of the... Are you saying like, does it curdle? Because you said coffee cheese, what happens?
Kate: Oh yeah. We've had it where you have been a milk or cream it's little too strong and you pour it in and you get little chunks of coffee cheese.
Kate: Because of the acidity of the coffee.
Melissa: Okay. I've not experienced that yet. That's probably a good thing.
Kate: My husband says, "Just strain it through your teeth and keep drinking."
Melissa: Yes. We're not wasting that cream even if it curdles, I like the way he thinks.
Kate: If I have cream that's too strong for me, and want do something like that with, I just make it into butter and then it's baking butter and I just will either label it or just use it right away and you would never notice it in baking.
Melissa: Okay. Perfect.
Kate: For something like heavy cream drop biscuits, the ones that you don't add butter or lard to you just use the cream as you're fat.
Melissa: Oh, I've never done this. Please do tell. See, I've never had plethoras of cream to do this work before.
Kate: Oh, it literally is just like flour baking powder, salt, a bit of sugar and then heavy cream to make drop biscuits.
Melissa: And you're just dropping them onto the pan and then baking them?
Melissa: No roll and cutting? Got it.
Melissa: Oh, that does sound fun.
Kate: Yeah. So they're super fast. I think it might be on my blog. I can't remember if it's just in my family notebook or it's on my blog, but I have one that's got sourdough discard in it as well.
Melissa: Okay. Sweet. Well guys, we will look after we get done recording this, when this goes live. We always have the blog post with all the different links that accompanies it. You'll be able to find that at melissaknorris.com/344, because this is episode number 344. If it is on Kate's website, we will make sure that we link that for you so that you can go and check those out as well. Kate, thank you so much for coming on. This was a very fun chat about things dairy and sufficiency and milk cows. For those who would love to learn more about you and from you on cheese making, milking, all of the things, where's the best spot for people to connect with you?
Kate: I'm Venison For Dinner on Instagram and YouTube and my blog venisonfordinner.com. And on the cheese making topic, my next thing on my list after I'm done this interview is to finalize a cheese making workshop course that I'm doing. So there's lots of cheese making content to be had.
Melissa: Awesome. Well guys, you will have links to all of that as I said in the blog post with this episode, and I know you will have fun following Kate's adventures on Instagram and all the spots as much as I do. Kate, thank you so much for coming on today.
Kate: Thanks for having me.
Melissa: I hope that you enjoyed this interview as much as I did and having Kate on the podcast. And we will definitely be having more dairy animal, dairy cow specifically episodes coming your way. I have learned a lot in the few short weeks that we have had our dairy cow, including dealing with mastitis the very first day that we brought her home. I would love to know if you would like to have more dairy cow specific episodes or information. If that's something that you would like to see more of here on the podcast, please do let me know. You can leave me a review, let me know it there. Or shoot me an email or message me on social media, wherever we happen to be hanging out together. Thank you so much for joining me and I can't wait to be here back with you next week. Blessings and messengers for now, my friend.
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Excellent information! I keep thinking about getting a milk cow and this is extremely helpful! Do you have a resource that gives the Kappa-casein and butterfat information on the different breeds.
A very informative and well done interview! Just strain it through your teeth is about the size of it – I chuckled. Living in similar climate as Kate (East of her a couple provinces), I totally related. -35 Celcius is equal to -31 F…its cold! LOL Again, Well done!
I also wanted to say good job on the magazine! I read it from cover to cover and look forward to the next issue.
Great episode!! I have been milking our milk cow for 10 months now and YES! I have made coffee cheese! Too funny to hear I am not the only one 😅
How frequently do you need to calve the cow, to ensure a steady supply of milk? And i assume you can’t milk a pregnant cow, so do you need 2 cows to ensure a family supply of milk?
Thanks so much!
You milk the pregnant cow until 2 months before she’s due. Two cows for a single family is usually too much milk because of the months of overlap. We freeze dry extra, make cheese and butter for the off months and get milk from a friend (our cows are opposite in breeding times)