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milk cows 100% grass fed

Emil Spoerri
pollinator

Joined: Oct 19, 2009
Posts: 415
    
    8
how many gallons can a 100% forage fed cow make a day?
I think I have read milking devons only make tops 3 gallons but can't remember if that is right...

besides devons and randles what other cows are good for grass only milk production?


does anyone raise goats for forage only?

Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
i don't know cow breeds well but I have looked into dexters for this purpose. they seem to have potential to be successful in this situation. any one individual of any breed could be acceptable. but dual purpose breeds are probably the most likely to be able to stay healthy in a grass fed only situation.  be careful taking any ball park figures too seriously. just because someone who milks their dexters for instance gets three gallons on grass doesn't mean that others who are raised primarily for meat are making three gallons on grass. if they are not selected and bred to do this they may or may not have it in them.

this happens in goats alot. someone breeds "dairy goats" but they aren't milking them and aren't selecting for milk production. buying a milker from someone such as this isn't likely to get you a 1-1.5 gallon a day milker with a long lactation as the books may say that breed is typical of.

I raise meat goats primarily on forage as adults. my few does this year all raised kids on nothing but browse and pasture. but I just weaned some kids off a dairy goat that simply couldn't do it and not look like a walking skeleton at the end of it. she got grain the first 1.5 months of her lactation then in an attempt to dry her off and get the kids weaning naturally I stopped graining her. the thing is, she didn't stop making milk she just started getting the hide milked off of her! 

you have to be a bit more careful with trying to raise dairy animals on forage only. some of them have been bred for such high milk production that if not given some concentrates and high calcium they will suffer from milk fever and ketosis. both fatal if not treated promptly.

my dairy goat of several years (rip lily) did great on alfalfa and limited pasture alone. her milk production was less then her potential but it seemed to be higher in butter fat and I felt much better about the health of the milk. not all dairy goats will be ok in this sort of situation though( and the same would apply to cows)  I am hoping that I will be as lucky with her replacements.

a cow gives so more much milk that I would think a good dual purpose or less then top notch producer (according to the standard) would probably produce enough for most families even on grass alone assuming that her health remained satisfactory and she wasn't the kind to milk herself to death.

there is wide variation in how much milk can be produced genetically and wide variation in the circumstances and managment that an individual can tolerate and thrive in.

I would suggest you try to find someone who is doing exactly what you want to do or as close as you can get to it and buy from them. think less about breeds and more about what genetic traits someone has been breeding into the individuals you are looking at.

 


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Emil Spoerri
pollinator

Joined: Oct 19, 2009
Posts: 415
    
    8
what about buying a cow that will be grained but using AI to "grade up" to a grass fed animal

for instance I was thinking about buying a guernsey or a brown swiss and getting an AI from a milking red devon..
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 968
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
Actually with either Guernsey or Brown Swiss you have a good chance of getting a cow that needs minimal grain -- breeding to a Devon should give you a good calf (although of course it may be a bull!). 

There are a few people who are breeding dairy goats for forage only.  I don't feed much grain to my does, but as Leah said, they go down in condition too much if they don't get any grain at all.  I'm breeding both Oberhasli does to a Nigerian Dwarf buck this year, and will keep any doe kids I get -- they will be 'mini-Oberhasli' and should need less grain to stay in condition.  Their butterfat should be higher (a good thing, as a totally-home-grown diet could be low in healthy fats), which will compensate for slightly lower production.

Kathleen
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
Icelandic sheep do well on grass only, and they are good for meat, milk and wool.
Emil Spoerri
pollinator

Joined: Oct 19, 2009
Posts: 415
    
    8
nigerian dwarfs need less grain to produce milk?
Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
the nigerian dwarfs are smaller and produce less milk and need less grain. whcih can be great for a family who just needs a quart of milk a day or has very limited space.  I have heard differing opinions on whether their feed conversion ratios are better or not.

my doe that I was able to feed alfalfa only was 1/2 lamancha and 1/2 nubian. In my playing around a bit and researching the lamancha breed I found out that although the 'earless' feature was considered a deformity in their native (domestically speaking) areas they were known for being rather easy keepers and still producing respectable amounts of milk. wether or not the new and improved american lamancha retains these traits on any kind of regular basis is very iffy.  nubians are also known for being dual purpose animals traditionally speaking and are more likely to produce a bit less milk but keep their weight on a little easier also. both lamanchas and nubians are known to often have higher than average butterfat in their milk also which is nice. the more butterfat the better the milk tastes.

I am glad to hear that the brown swiss could be a good candidate for grass fed milk. we found several for sale the other day. my husband and I were poking around the idea a dairy cow and let her raise a beef calf. never had cows before and it might prove more trouble then its worth but I would like the experience anyway.
Emil Spoerri
pollinator

Joined: Oct 19, 2009
Posts: 415
    
    8
brown swiss is huge though, I'm worried about managing such a beast as my first cow
they are also known to be somewhat aloof though friendly

guernsey is what I want
Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
I get concerned about size too. the goats are so easy to handle and pose such little risk of injury I am a little spoiled. 
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 968
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
Size is one of the reasons I like my goats, too.  But we did have a Brown Swiss cow when I was a kid.  My younger brothers and I used to take her and her calf out to pasture sometimes by ourselves -- I was nine, and my brothers were eight and six and a half at the time.  So they aren't hard to handle (well, depending on the individual, but you can have difficult individuals of any breed).

Kathleen
Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
I keep going back and forth. bred cow........or youngster... that I can raise and train myself to be sure their behavior is up to my expectations. then again, I suppose they are a bit like horses in that they get a little more smarts with age and are less likely to do stupid things....usually.....
Emil Spoerri
pollinator

Joined: Oct 19, 2009
Posts: 415
    
    8
I would get an older cow that has some experience and is a good milker and inseminate her with some top quality bull...

if you get a very young calf it is going to be a loooong time before you get anything
if you get an older calf she is probably going to have learned most of the way she is going to act for most of the rest of her life

I am not actually sure about that, but it is the way cats and dogs and goats are so...
of course there is plenty of give and take with animals, even the most stubborn creatures can eventually be convinced that being owned by you isn't the very worst thing in the world haha

two of my goats incessantly ran away whenever anyone besides myself came into sight and would never ever let me get close unless I backed them into a wall
now it just takes a handful of grain and they are all over me...
but still very timid
while the youngsters I raised from 2 weeks or younger are the sweetest little angels
but they still know I don't like them following me around every which way I go!
                                      


Joined: Feb 11, 2010
Posts: 5
if you don't want to feed grain, you almost certainly have to move your cow to fresh grass every single day. She will need to eat a LOT of grass, and it will need to be very high quality. If you move pastures less often, your milk production will oscillate on a curve that has the same period as your period of occupation (if your cow stays for 1 week, highest production on day 1, getting lower every day until day 7.) You also might want to milk only once a day. If you don't manage your pasture and animals very well, its easy for your animals to lose a lot of weight if they don't eat grain. I'd recommend starting with feeding a few pounds of grain at first, then weaning her off, looking carefully at body condition.
Emil Spoerri
pollinator

Joined: Oct 19, 2009
Posts: 415
    
    8
clubforgrowth wrote:
if you don't want to feed grain, you almost certainly have to move your cow to fresh grass every single day. She will need to eat a LOT of grass, and it will need to be very high quality. If you move pastures less often, your milk production will oscillate on a curve that has the same period as your period of occupation (if your cow stays for 1 week, highest production on day 1, getting lower every day until day 7.) You also might want to milk only once a day. If you don't manage your pasture and animals very well, its easy for your animals to lose a lot of weight if they don't eat grain. I'd recommend starting with feeding a few pounds of grain at first, then weaning her off, looking carefully at body condition.


having researched quite a bit, perhaps that is a goal i can aspire to, of course i plan to rotate every day, but the pasture i am moving to is not of top quality.

I have read that some varieties such as randal lineback or milking shorthorn can make good milk on less quality grass.

I will have to buy grain for the first few years... though on the property there are lots of hawthorn, crabapple and honey locust... how much could those help?
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 968
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
asmileisthenewak47 wrote:
having researched quite a bit, perhaps that is a goal i can aspire to, of course i plan to rotate every day, but the pasture i am moving to is not of top quality.

I have read that some varieties such as randal lineback or milking shorthorn can make good milk on less quality grass.

I will have to buy grain for the first few years... though on the property there are lots of hawthorn, crabapple and honey locust... how much could those help?


Your hawthorn, crabapple, and honey locust aren't going to help much with a cow.  They might help a bit with a goat (I know goats will eat crabapple trees, not sure about the other two).  A few years of intensively managed grazing, well done, should vastly improve your pasture, though.  We had a small flock of sheep on rough pasture in New Hampshire for a while, and the pasture improved tremendously while they were on it using the intensively managed grazing.

Kathleen
Emerson White


Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
Cows prefer grass to crab apples but if you rake them up and present them in a bucket for the cow when it's not on pasture that might be accepted. I am not sure about honey locust, but I think the pods were used to feed cattle. You may have to harvest them while they are still pulpy and sweet, before they dry out, which might be more work than it's worth.
Emil Spoerri
pollinator

Joined: Oct 19, 2009
Posts: 415
    
    8
If harvested early, I wonder how they store, perhaps they could be included in silage.
Fred Morgan
steward

Joined: Sep 29, 2009
Posts: 972
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
    
  12
One thing perhaps that isn't being covered well is that all grasses are not created equal. If you just have run of the mill grass, you may well have to suppliment but if you look at your grasses, determine the mix and figure out how to improve it, you can do just fine on pure grass fed. Now, I can't tell you much about northern grasses because I farm in the tropics, but we have grasses that will recover in 2 to 3 weeks and be up to your knees.

We also grow forage trees like moringa.

Just like you grow a garden to have the foods you need, you should think about the same for your milk cow - improving the pasture so she has the food she needs. It is really amazing how many cows you can carry on a few acres, if you really work it.


Sustainable Plantations and Agroforestry in Costa Rica
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0
We're really hoping to pull this off with our new (six year old) Jersey cow.  We're willing to buy alfalfa or timothy hay for her.  Can these provide enough protein to make grain unnecessary? 

Right now we pull her stock panel pen around with a come-along twice a day, but I feel she could use a larger area and more grass than this routine provides. She's still dry now, due to calve in a month.  We're feeding oat hay twice a day, as that's what she's been eating all winter and we were told that any large change in her diet will cause her to calve early. 

We're still getting her used to our presence and touch (only been with us a week as of today), as soon as we can get a halter on her and she's comfortable with it we want to try staking her out.  We plan to improve our electric fencing situation so that she can have reasonably sized paddocks. 

Previous owner instructed us to buy a bottle of corn oil and pour that over her grain to make it more "digestible".  Um....I'd really rather not? 
Emil Spoerri
pollinator

Joined: Oct 19, 2009
Posts: 415
    
    8
Well, from what little I know, the main aspect of grain that makes it a need is the carbs. Certainly you can make up for the loss in protein in forage and hay. So, perhaps adding carrots, sun chokes and mangel's to the mix might help? unfortunately they aren't ready til the end of the season huh.

Stuff I wish I knew.
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 968
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
I can tell you what dairy goat breeders feed for good health and plenty of milk -- top-quality alfalfa hay (partly because of the high protein, but primarily because it's very high in calcium, which they NEED in order to put calcium out in the milk); and an amount of grain in proportion to the amount of milk the animal is putting out.  The grain is partly for carbs, but mostly for phosphorus.  In order for the animal to utilize the calcium in the alfalfa, it's got to also have phosphorus.  A legume pasture, or one with mixed legumes and grass, can be substituted for the alfalfa hay in season. 

Don't stint on the alfalfa (or other calcium source), though, especially during the latter part of pregnancy (when the calf is building bones) and any time she's lactating.  If she is shorted on calcium intake, she doesn't stop putting it out, and will take it from her body stores.  The end result is hypocalcemia, which can kill a goat, or a cow, in a matter of hours if it isn't treated promptly.  I've had goats for most of the last 27 years and in that time have only had three cases of hypocalcemia (always my heaviest milking doe, though, of course).  The first two died, the first one because neither we nor the vet knew what we were dealing with; the second one because I didn't recognize it and treat it in time (it had been over twenty years since I'd seen hypocalcemia).  The third one was last week, and I was able to treat the doe with warm milk with karo syrup added to it, syringing it into her mouth at first (you have to catch it early, because they lose the ability to swallow in the later stages, and then have to be IV'd by a vet) until she was able to start just drinking from the container.  I did this all day every hour or so until she finally came out of it.  Symptoms were being off feed, then being unusually quiet when I went out to do chores, not wanting to get up, and when she did get up, she was very shaky.  If it had progressed, she would have become unable to get up, then gone into a coma, then died. 

You CAN change your cow's diet.  Just do it gradually -- and if there are few legumes in the pasture you are providing (oat hay has very little calcium in it), then you definitely need to add alfalfa hay.  Give one-fourth of her hay as alfalfa the first two days, then half for two or three days, then three fourths, then finally the whole hay ration.  Right now, if she's only one month from calving, the calf is building bone at an immense rate -- they grow a huge amount the last couple of months -- and she's pulling calcium from her own body to feed that growth.  She needs a calcium reserve in her body before she freshens.  The hypocalcemia that I mentioned is also called milk fever, and Jerseys are known for being more prone to milk fever than the other breeds, so this is definitely something I would pay a great deal of attention to!

Kathleen
Leila Rich
steward

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3620
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
    
  71
This topic really interests me.  I live in New Zealand where agricultural systems and climate are very different to the US'.  While most cattles' winter feed is supplemented with lucerne hay (alfalfa) and silage, it is rare for farmers to feed out grain.
Are commercial American cattle like Holsteins bred to digest grain,  while traditional breeds like Jerseys are suited to grass?
I imagine climate plays a large part: our grass grows (slowly) all winter and herds are outdoors. Grass is simply what you feed cows.
Emerson White


Joined: May 02, 2010
Posts: 1206
Location: Alaska
A cow on grain will deliver more milk, but a cow on grass will give enough milk for a whole family (and maybe enough for a little cheese too) so I don;t know why you would want to feed it grain, if you aren't going to be selling milk.
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 968
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
Emerson White wrote:
A cow on grain will deliver more milk, but a cow on grass will give enough milk for a whole family (and maybe enough for a little cheese too) so I don;t know why you would want to feed it grain, if you aren't going to be selling milk.


Some cattle (and some goats) have been bred to milk so heavily that if their diet of grass/pasture or hay isn't supplemented with grain, they will literally milk themselves to death.  We can argue whether or not this is a good thing (I don't think it is good), but unfortunately, most of the dairy cattle, and many of the dairy goats, in this country have been bred to this point.  Pippimac asked if American Holsteins are bred to digest grain, while Jerseys are bred to digest grass?  Originally, of course, no livestock got grain at all.  When people started to grow grain, it was for their own consumption.  But somewhere along the line -- rather recently, I believe -- people realized that feeding grains would increase the volume of milk produced, and since they were being paid for volume of milk rather than the quality of milk, and since the grain by-products they fed were cheap, they bred for cattle that would do well on that regime and produce huge amounts of milk.  In this country, unfortunately, MOST commercial dairy cattle are bred this way, not just Holsteins.  But because Holsteins give the greatest volume of milk of any breed, they are the ones that have come to predominate in the market, and most of the breeding attention has been focused on them.  This is the only reason why some of the other breeds still have a few individuals that can be switched back to a grass/hay feeding regimen. 

We do also still have a few of the old dual-purpose breeds left, although, because they aren't the best milkers by any means, and neither are they the best beef cattle by any means, there aren't very many of these breeds around any more.  If you want one of them, you may have to search for a while, and plan to travel to get your animals when you do find them.  A couple of examples of these breeds that come to mind right away would be the old-fashioned Shorthorn (mid-way between the Milking Shorthorn and the beef Shorthorn), and the Milking Devon.  Both of these breeds were also popular for oxen, so could actually be called triple-purpose.  There are other old dual-purpose breeds.  Dexters are one, and were also used for (small) oxen.  I have a friend in New York who raises Dexters (they also have a commercial dairy and raise excellent Ayrshires), and she says they are extremely smart.  This can be a good thing, or a bad thing -- it can be a little disconcerting to have cattle that are smarter than you are, LOL! 

Kathleen
                    


Joined: Oct 23, 2011
Posts: 0


You CAN change your cow's diet.  Just do it gradually -- and if there are few legumes in the pasture you are providing (oat hay has very little calcium in it), then you definitely need to add alfalfa hay.  Give one-fourth of her hay as alfalfa the first two days, then half for two or three days, then three fourths, then finally the whole hay ration.  Right now, if she's only one month from calving, the calf is building bone at an immense rate -- they grow a huge amount the last couple of months -- and she's pulling calcium from her own body to feed that growth.  She needs a calcium reserve in her body before she freshens.  The hypocalcemia that I mentioned is also called milk fever, and Jerseys are known for being more prone to milk fever than the other breeds, so this is definitely something I would pay a great deal of attention to!



Ah geeze, Kathleen, now I'm super worried about our cow!  We do have a legume growing everywhere (people call it cow pea, then someone told me it was a vetch, but I don't think it is actually), but it hasn't gotten to the point of making peas yet.  Is there enough calcium in the leaves of legumes to provide the calcium?  Should we go buy alfalfa!?  Her udder is starting to swell a little bit, I think she's maybe closer than a month to calving.  I really want her and her calf to be healthy!!
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 968
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
Don't worry -- if you have vetch growing there, and she's eating it, she should be fine.  (I've noticed that goats won't eat clover, not sure about cows, but they did eat vetch when I had them in New Hampshire.)  It's not necessary, or even desirable, to have the plants in the seed stage, as they are higher in protein at an earlier stage of growth.  The calcium is in the leaves and stems, mostly.  I would do some research on the relative calcium contents of vetch and alfalfa -- if I'm remembering correctly, alfalfa is the highest in calcium of all the legumes.  But the vetch should do the job.  She should be getting a little grain for the phosphorus, too, but not a lot at this point.

If her udder is just starting to swell, she probably is a month from calving.  Do you know what the imminent signs are to watch for?

Kathleen
Emil Spoerri
pollinator

Joined: Oct 19, 2009
Posts: 415
    
    8
oh, goats won't eat clover? oh crap what do i do, that's half of what mine eat!

Goats will eat most plants, they ignore a lot of stuff if there is something else they like better.

It takes a while, but my goats have wiped out patches of poke weed, which is supposed to be poisonous to them. They just take a bite here and there every time they walk past it, but eventually it kills the plant.

I feel that Mr. Emerson may be right about the majority of non holstein cows, but I think that they need a gradual weaning off grain, perhaps a year or so, but they may never be able to do well in the cold north, without some kind of carb supplements, without extensive breeding.
Kathleen Sanderson


Joined: Feb 28, 2009
Posts: 968
Location: Near Klamath Falls, Oregon
    
    1
LOL!  Well, mine wouldn't touch clover -- when we lived where we had it.  And there was a discussion recently on a goat forum, and everyone else said their goats wouldn't eat it, either, so maybe you have some unusual goats?  Or possibly it's a different kind of clover.  I'm trying to remember what kind we had -- it's been a long time ago.  Seems like there was some red or crimson clover in that pasture (which isn't good for them anyway), and probably some white clover.  Like I said, a long time ago.

Kathleen

Emile Spore wrote:
oh, goats won't eat clover? oh crap what do i do, that's half of what mine eat!

Goats will eat most plants, they ignore a lot of stuff if there is something else they like better.

It takes a while, but my goats have wiped out patches of poke weed, which is supposed to be poisonous to them. They just take a bite here and there every time they walk past it, but eventually it kills the plant.

I feel that Mr. Emerson may be right about the majority of non holstein cows, but I think that they need a gradual weaning off grain, perhaps a year or so, but they may never be able to do well in the cold north, without some kind of carb supplements, without extensive breeding.
Sherry Willis


Joined: Jun 09, 2010
Posts: 29
Location: Missouri
Emile,

Why do you want to go grainless?  I give both of my Jerseys about two pounds of grain a milking......so four pounds when I'm milking twice a day and two pounds when I'm milking once a day.  They loose condition very fast without grain and can end up with Ketosis, especially early in lactation.  As has been mentioned before, modern dairy breeds are just not remotely natural animals anymore.

So how much milk are you wanting?

Daisy, my Jersey/Gurnesy gives 9 gallons a day

Rosebud, the two year old Jersey, peaked at 6

You can expect 6 or so from a Brown Swiss

Figure on 8-10 for a Holstien.


Size really doesn't matter with cows.....they're all going to be a lot bigger than you are used to.  Temperment is the key.  A nasty little cow is just horrible to handle and a sweet big one is a dream.

Good Luck!
 
 
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