Things are ticking along smoothly at Sellar Farmhouse Creamery at the moment. It’s a dairy farmers dream season with this early autumn break. Getting the rain while there is still a bit of heat and the soil is still warm may give me an extra few months worth of grazing feed.
I had been waiting to see if Berta had a heifer to make the decision on buying a new cow but as she had a bull calf, Otis, I decided to buy another Illawara Dairy Shorthorn who we’ve named Ginger. She’ll be calving in mid May which hopefully should tide me over the winter months with milk supply until Norma calves at the end of October.
Now, with a close to full herd, I thought I’d do proper introductions, as they are at the core of SFC. Running such a small herd means that the individual characteristics of each cow’s milk is very noticeable in the flavour. Cow’s are named by family lines so in future years it’s easy to recognise who is related to who.
Firstly a quick intro about the two main breeds I have in the herd which together create our delicious milk:
A small to average sized, classic dairy cow. Caramel colour often having a darker winter coat with black areas on face, neck, tail and feet. Black colour pigment: visible around eyes and nose. The Jersey cow has the highest butter fat content of the mainstream milking breeds in Australia. She is the best converter of feed into fat and her milk has a yellow appearance when on pasture. A very rich, simple and sweet flavour. Being a higher production cow they have a habit of producing milk first and then looking after themselves which can lead to higher risks of milk fever, weaker immune systems and struggling to keep weight on after calving.
I have two types of Dairy Shorthorns in my herd; the classic English dairy shorthorn and the Illawara dairy shorthorn which is an Australian Breed created by breeding a small amount of Ayrshire and Devon blood into the classic shorthorn. The Illawara is considered to be a straight dairy breed as opposed to the traditional dual purpose Dairy Shorthorn. Both animals are known for their roan markings, they can range from pure white to pure red and everything in between. Red or white colour pigment around the eyes and nose. A medium size animal who is far beefier than a modern dairy cow; looking after herself at the same time as producing milk means they are known for easy calving, resilience, strong mothering instincts, fertility, grazing efficiency and calves which can be raised for meat. Their milk is white with a savory, complex flavour. While there are very few purebred herds of either left in Australia, they were previously one of the most popular breeds.
Named by her previous owner after Roberta Flack, she was our first cow and the start of the singer family line. Now in her 8th lactation she is about 10 years old. Berta is a mix breed, most likely a large percentage Holstein meaning she has a large boney build and definitely produces milk before looking after herself. Reaching 43ltrs a day at peak she has one massive udder which can leave her quite vulnerable. Her milk is similar to the shorhorn in flavour. Berta is the most beautiful creature to behold; calm, affectionate with very strong mothering instincts. She was the matriarch but seems to be dominated by Joyce and Olive currently. At the moment she is feeding Otis during the day. Berta is one of the few cows who comes to her name when called.
Olive is a classic Jersey. Born and raised on the corner of Danns rd, daughter of the infertile Daisy, she will be the start of the edible tree family line. 5 years old and hopefully 6 weeks pregnant with her second calf. A very good milker who held condition after calving and is still producing 12ltrs in the morning after 10 months in lactation. A very rich yellow milk which sometimes you could mistake for straight cream. Olive is very cheeky, she loves to steal food and sneak into areas she shouldn’t. She’s known as boomba as she was so fat before calving. Currently Olive is dominated by Quartz and Iggy. Olive has a very husky jazz moo.
Joyce arrived last August and has been a complete no fuse cow to work with, even if she is the grumpiest old bag. Joyce is the beginning of the Buffy line. She’s a 9 year old Illawara dairy shorthorn who came from a certified organic dairy nearby. True to her breed she had an easy calving with Rupert and once she understood that her milking routine would now happen in a mobile parlour in the paddock she has been a dream to work with, often putting herself back in the stall after milking if I leave the gate open. Her breed combined with her age means her milk is very complex and savory. Last weekend Joyce had a trip to a beef shorthorn bull, so fingers crossed she holds. Joyce doesn’t moo, she yells.
Luna arrived from Guildford as an 18 month pure A2 jersey heifer. Shortly after her arrival, we got her in calf to Satellite and she had Stella last October continuing the Astronomy line. Both Luna and Stella are a little mad, with a quirky energy, but very affectionate. When Luna arrived she’d had very little person contact and I couldn’t touch her, she now is the first cow to come to you for a scratch and comes to her name for milking. They both love a head and brisket scratch, are darker colouring in winter and have a very dainty build. Luna had milk fever after calving and serve edema which led to her losing the use of one quarter of her udder. She has made an incredible recovery and is my best producer, per quarter, now with a classic rich and creamy jersey milk. Luna will probably remain my most vulnerable cow around calving.
Quartz also came from Guildford last year, as an 18 month pure dairy shorthorn heifer. We chose the mineral line as her registered breeding line was Molly and we made a very loose connection to molybdenum. She had a straight forward calving with Onxy last December. Quartz wouldn’t let me near her when she arrived and prior to calving I didn’t know how I would ever tame this cow. Both her and Onxy have a very different energy to the rest, she often does her own thing, can be a little vague and get left behind a bit. She has a very gentle soft nature and loves a good butt scratch. At times she has come into milking by calling her name, currently she just looks up and decides not to, but is easily lead in. Her breed and age makes her milk very simple, clean and savory. Quartz can get picked on a lot however she dominates Olive so theirs always someone to steal from.
Iggy has recently joined the milking herd. The first calf I had on the property, born to Berta with a dairy shorthorn sire. A combination of following the singer line and my fathers nickname being IG. Iggy was a teenage tart who broke in with the neighbours bull, Patti was born 6 weeks ago. Iggy has been my first experience of working with an animal I raised and so far so good, although she can have the attitude of a spoilt brat at times. She lead easily into the stall on day one of milking and while she’s a bit of a kicker, she’s actually doing really well. She hasn’t lost condition at all and had such an easy calving I didn’t know it was happening an hour before hand. She’s currently giving me 8 ltrs from 3/4 in the morning, Patti has the other quarter and the day milk which like quartz is clean, simple and savory. Iggy is quite bossy and dominates everyone except her mother who puts her in her place.
Ginger arrived a week ago as a 5 year old Certified Organic Illawara dairy shorthorn. Finally I have a roan shorthorn and she even has a love heart on her schnoz! So far she seems perky, if still a little weary of me. Her and Joyce seemed to remember each other and hang out together. She will calve in mid May so we still have a few weeks to build trust. This morning we had first contact when she let me give her a good butt scratch, I think she’s starting to see the point in being friends.
Norma Jean was our adopted jersey calf who Berta raised along side Iggy. Marilyn Monroe was also adopted and while she did sing she mainly acted so Norma will split off into a film star line. She arrived as a 24hr old angel who has certainly learnt to hold her own. She lets you know how unhappy she is about not being with Iggy currently and having to baby sit all the young weaned animals. She has a very high pitched moo which adds to her demanding nature. She is 3 months pregnant and I can’t wait for her to join the milking herd.
This is definitely the short version! My herd have become family to me and following on from years of breakfast conversations about the herd at Holy Goat, I could talk about them all day!
These ladies make me so happy, sometimes grumpy, sometimes sad but always full of love for what I do. I wish everyone could experience the feeling of building a relationship of trust with an animal who could very easily dominate you if they pleased. It is a beautiful and humbling experience. The year before I left Melbourne on this journey, a lady said to me ‘if everyone milked a cow in the morning, the world would be a much more peaceful place’.