I want to be clear on one point. I am not really a survivalist. I am a thrivalist. What is that? For me, being a thrivalist is a combination of several factors. First, I believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand...today...right now...here on Earth...not at some unknown post-apocalyptic point in the future. Second, philosophically and politically, I am very Libertarian with a strong Epicurean streak. For me, these two views are well summarized in the following quotes (and you will soon read why this is germane to the topic):
Life Is a Gift from God.
We hold from God the gift which includes all others. This gift is life -- physical, intellectual, and moral life.
But life cannot maintain itself alone. The Creator of life has entrusted us with the responsibility of preserving, developing, and perfecting it. In order that we may accomplish this, He has provided us with a collection of marvelous faculties. And He has put us in the midst of a variety of natural resources. By the application of our faculties to these natural resources we convert them into products, and use them. This process is necessary in order that life may run its appointed course.
Life, faculties, production--in other words, individuality, liberty, property -- this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it.
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
So, eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorow we may die fighting to defend our person, liberty, and property? Well...kinda, sorta, yes.
Personally, I am a self-made professional and an equestrian-by-marriage. Most important to this post, I am not a prepper focused on some unpredictable future event (thank you Nassim Taleb), but rather a man focused on living well today, and God willing tomorrow, with an eye to practicing disintermediation wherever and whenever possible.
So, where is this leading, and what does it have to do with cows? Well, yesterday, I was asked by Meat Hammer:
This was my response:
A clear mind, a fit body, a few people you trust, a quality blade, a rifle you know, and a good mare, everything else is superfluous.
I am happy with that response, as those are truly the ESSENTIAL Shit-Hits-The-Fan items for me. I have posted a much longer and more detailed TEOTWAWKI article on ZeroHedge before, with a much broader and more general audience in mind. However, I think Meat Hammer is looking for something less general, and a little more personal, specifically dealing with what some people call homesteading, but I like to think of simply as thriving. At the top of that list is a small bit of pastureland proximate to one's home, then closely followed on my list by the family milk cow, which is really the focus of this article.
Do have a cow, specifically a triple-purpose heritage-breed cow such as a Milking Shorthorn! She provides milk, meat, and when trained as an ox she can pull a load.
A cow is a proven way to convert sunlight, water, and pasture into a usable surplus of protein, fat, calories, leather, and horsepower. I believe that in many ways having a family milk cow is both easier and more reliable than raising crops, although it is pretty darn easy to grow potatoes or yams.
In The Princes of Ireland, one of Edward Rutherfurd's historical-fiction novels set in Ireland, it is illustrated how cattle have been the most significant store of wealth for centuries of Irish history, and how political power and stealing said wealth (by cattle rustling) were often intertwined. For me, as someone who has enjoyed historical Wyoming from both horseback and an easy chair, The Johnson County War came to mind. But I digress.
Let us get to what Meat Hammer really wants to read, which I believe is hedgeless_horseman's list of things you will need for your SHTF family milk cow. Please understand that neither I, nor mrs_horseman, were raised on a farm, nor did we study agriculture in school, nor were we in FFA. However, we both have had horses most of our lives, kept at a stable or a neighbor's when we were young, and later at our home for our entire married life. After having a family milk cow for more than five years, I will say that cattle are much easier, and infinitely more productive than horses.
First, you need pasture-with some source of water. A spring-fed pond is best, but anything from a garden hose and a metal tank to a windmill and stock tank will work. How much pasture is entirely dependent on your local climate. In the South we can keep a dairy cow and her calf year-round, without hay, on just a few acres. In the West you need to have many acres and/or feed hay. In the North you probably also need a barn and hay storage, or a small silo, to get through the winters, but we have no experience with this situation. Your county Ag Extension office is a great resource for these calculations, testing the soil, etc. If you are in Wisconsin, ask a Cheese Head.
Second, you must have time, man-power, and passion 365 days per year, often twice a day. On our little farm, this comes primarily in the form of the dynamo known as mrs_horseman, with assistance from the lil_horsemen, yours truly, and our friend and neighbor, juan_caballero. It is important to convey that being a female equestrian, mrs_horseman is blessed with super-human endurance and strength, as well as a burning desire to spend vast amounts of time in the barn...bordering on insanity...aka horse crazy. If it is not already obvious to you, animals need to be attended to every morning and every evening. If a cow does not have a calf and needs to be milked, and is not milked, it is very bad. Having a hand like juan_caballero to fill in for us several times a month is absolutely critical, and surprisingly easy to arrange, when one realizes how valuable fresh-raw milk is in today's world. However, please understand, the time commitment is a very good thing, as it teaches us real responsibility (especially important for kids), which leads to huge amounts of self-esteem (important for stay-at-home mothers), eventually gratitude (important for happiness), and periodically when taking care of the animals we can even experience complete bliss. It goes right back to the Bastiat and Epicurus quotes, above.
You will need to have fencing. If you have horses that share pasture, like we do, then three-board rail fences work just fine, as long as you don't have a bull on one side and a cow on the other. You do not need barbed wire or hot wire. Our cows have always been very domesticated, the never jump the fence, and are not prone to damaging the fence, especially relative to horses.
You may need to feed hay. Horse hay and cow hay are two different things. Horse hay needs to be kept dry. Cattle hay is found sitting out in the rain, and is much cheaper. You can have a big round bale loaded into the back of a pickup truck, and roll it out into the pasture. Buy one of the roundbale hay feeders. You lift it over the round bale to keep the cow from shitting, pissing, and standing in her food, and this dramatically cuts your feed cost. We can pick up a round bale today for $65 and it would last our cow about a month.
When you buy your family milk cow, get her just before she calves, or just days after she calves. It needs to be her first or second calf. She and the calf will probably cost you as much as $2,000. At first, the calf keeps you from having too much milk for your family, and you can separate them at night, and thus only need to milk once in the morning. If you have a dual-purpose breed of cow, and mate her to a beef bull, then when the calf eventually goes off to freezer camp it will provide your family all the grass-fed hormone-free beef it needs for a year.
About once a year you will need to either artificially inseminate your cow, have someone AI her for you, or take her to visit a bull. NEWSFLASH: Cows only produce milk after they give birth. The trick is determining when she is in heat. If she is trying to mount her calf, the dog, or you, then she is in heat. If she is mooing all night long, then she is in heat. It is that simple.
You need a stainless steel bucket for milking, a plastic bucket or a stool to sit on, and a place to tie her. It helps if you feed her a little treat at milking time. Our cow gets the ends and tops of vegetables, fruit rinds, banana peels, etc. Remember the lesson from Napoleon Dynamite...no onions or garlic. Hamby Dairy Supply has everything you need such as teat wipes, teat dip, strip cup, stainless filter and paper filters, cleaning brushes, and soap.
You may eventually decide to build a stanchion for your milking parlor like I did...
Your hands will get stronger milking by hand, and it is faster because there iss less clean up. A Surge Bucket Milker with vacuum pump, like the modern conveniences of a refrigerator and chest freezer, are not absolutely necessary, but very convenient and very expensive. They do work incredibly well.
Order two dozen one-gallon glass jugs and metal lids at Specialty Bottle's website. They can be cleaned and sterilized with a normal cycle in your kitchen dishwasher.
When the milk sits in the refrigerator for a day the cream will rise to the top. Use a stainless ladle to skim it. Fresh, real, heavy cream in a cup of french-press coffee is heavenly. Whipped it is absolutely sinful. This is more of that epicurean stuff.
For making butter you will need a butter churn like this one available at Lehmans (we cheat and use our MagiMix), a wire-mesh wood-rim sieve, and a wooden butter paddle. Ceramic butter crocks and molds are nice to have, but you can also just wrap the butter in wax paper and put it in the freezer.
For making cheese, it is important to use only stainless steel pots and utensils. You will be able to purchase all the recipe books, cheesecloth, rennet, molds, presses, wax, etc. from Ricki at New England Cheese Making Supply.
If you want to do it all yourselves, butchering equipment and supplies include a cold place to hang the carcass, gun, hoist, spreader, hanging hooks, skinning knife, butcher knife, sharpening stone, steel hone, shovel and garden for the offal, butcher saw, meat grinder, several large plastic buckets, butcher paper, freezer tape, and a marking pen. Alternatively, load the heifer or steer in the trailer and driver to the butchers. Your meat will be correctly aged, butchered, and ready in a few weeks.
If you have read this far, then you may also be interested in my article on killing fascists by raising rabbits.
Happy New Year, and peace be with you!