It’s been a little over a year now since my husband and I purchased our very first large livestock animal: a miniature jersey heifer. I can hardly believe it has been a whole YEAR! If you’re needing details on what you need to own a cow, I’m about to share a few things that you should definitely consider. If someone had been around to tell ME these things a year ago, it would have made our journey that much easier!
A quick backstory
When we got Beulah, she was 15 months old–which is considered to be the minimum breeding age for the jersey breed. We had already planned out how we wanted to go about breeding her, and we hoped that she would be giving us milk within 1 year. Well, that didn’t go quite according to plan. Partially because we had no idea what to really expect. And partially because we had no idea what we were doing! (We still don’t in some cases) The good news is, now she is finally bred! And her expected calving date is around the first week of December.
Want to know something funny? We uploaded our very first YouTube video last May, and it was all about buying our little heifer and bringing her home. Now, that video is the silliest, most low-quality video we have ever done. But somehow it continues to get more and more views. I just think it’s hilarious that very first video continues to be our most popular. But we all have to start somewhere, right?
Fast forward a year later and we’ve done quite a few more videos. And we successfully completed an entire year of cow ownership! I feel like we’ve improved in more ways than one. These are just examples of how we can look back on a time and say, “What were we thinking?!”
Sharing our story has been fun, and we don’t regret all of the mistakes. We learn something through every step of the process. Now, I want to encourage you in your own journey. My hope is that by sharing these 4 mistakes we made, you will find faster cow-raising success.
Not thinking through building a stall
On our property, we have something you could call a barn-shed. It was already here when we bought the house, so it was not designed by us. Sure, we would like for it to be laid out a little differently, but we are still so grateful to have it. It has been very useful! One half of the barn-shed is a workshop with a plywood floor. Before we went to pick up Beulah and bring her home, we closed in the back area of the workshop. Stephen used scrap wood and some extra gate hardware we had laying around to build a really nice-looking stall.
Looking back, I’m honestly a little ashamed that we didn’t realize what a bad idea it was to put a livestock animal that pees and poops on a wooden floor. Don’t get me wrong, the stall looked great. It still does. But now that area is only used for storing hay. And the floor is rotting out more quickly than it should.
The other half of the barn-shed was older and had barn wood planks for flooring. We originally used it for storage and to park our riding mower, etc. I guess that’s why we didn’t want to give it up at first. But last fall we realized that the storage half of the barn-shed made way more sense to use as a stall. So we took out the floor, covered the dirt underneath with straw and wood chips, and added a gate. Now Beulah has a much larger and more comfortable area to bed down in. It’s also easier to get her in and out because the opening is wider.
We managed to complete a lean-to addition a couple of months ago, so now we have more space to park our bikes and motorized things, as well!
Breeding by artificial insemination
Now, I’m definitely not saying that artificial insemination is a mistake for everyone. But looking back on our experience, I know that it was for us. Yes, there are many benefits to AI, including the opportunity to breed up, obtain better genetics, and not have to deal directly with a live bull. That’s exactly why we chose to go with it in the first place. However, the cost is high, and the alternative option actually ended up being much cheaper and easier.
Trust me, I wish AI had worked. But it didn’t. And now I think that I understand why. First of all, Beulah is a very small cow: 37″ tall to be exact. When using AI, it can be more difficult for the semen to get where it needs to go in small cows, even if it’s done by the most experienced tech. We thought that by buying 3 straws that surely one would take. We even tried both the natural heat cycle method and the hormone shot method.
After 3 strikes, we gave up on AI and considered selling our beloved girl. There was no way we were bringing a bull to our own homestead, and I wasn’t having much luck finding the right farm, with the right bull, that would temporarily board her. Finally, we came across someone not too far away with a miniature wild red Dexter bull! Sending her to that farm for a couple of months cost about a third of what we had spent on all the AI attempts, and overall we had a really good experience.
Waiting too long to buy hay
It’s simple supply and demand: in winter, everyone needs hay but it isn’t being cut. In summer, no one needs hay but it’s frequently being baled as the grass grows. We live in Tennessee where things stay green until November-ish. And guess what we did? We waited until November to buy hay. And that meant we would be paying a premium.
The main reason we waited so long isn’t because we didn’t know we would need hay, but because we hadn’t yet arranged a proper place for storage. The decision to buy Beulah was fairly quick. Add to that the fact that we were first year cow owners with limited space, and you see why we didn’t quite have this situation figured out. If we had planned a little further ahead and been ready to store the hay by late summer or early fall, we would have saved a lot of money and headache. But the good thing is, we did find hay and got it stored before we really needed it!
The lesson here is to figure out where you’re going to store your hay before you buy your cow. Even better, buy your hay before cooler weather comes around! It will be cheaper and easier to find.
Not supplementing with enough minerals
When we went through the artificial insemination process the first time or two, I didn’t understand the importance of supplementing with certain minerals to improve fertility and overall health. When we first got Beulah, we went to the supply store and basically bought the first salt block we saw. But as I was reading the book Keeping a Family Cow, I learned how important certain minerals were in maintaining a cow’s health. One of the most important minerals I learned about was selenium. Selenium promotes fertility and healthy growth. It also helps to prevent certain cattle disorders.
Another thing I started doing after a while (too long!) was supplementing Beulah with baking soda. It stabilizes the rumen, which improves digestion. Something she now gets but didn’t at first is a probiotic (we use this one). This year before winter rolls around again, I plan on supplementing her with kelp as well. Kelp provides many important minerals including copper, iron, magnesium, and zinc.
Mineral supplementation is so important to maintain immune and reproductive health in your cow.
If you’ve been looking into all the knowledge about what you need to own a cow, I hope this post was helpful.
More family cow from Growing Dawn:
The Homestead Cow and Why They’re Great
How Many Acres Does A Cow Need?
How To Milk A Cow By Hand For Beginners
What Causes Bloat in Cows (+ Our Heartbreaking Story)
Homestead Dairy Cow: Genetics and What To Look For