Calves on a Shoestring

Amish dairy farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

Image via Wikipedia

Okay. So Mike and I have decided we like this calf-raising adventure we are in. There are drawbacks, to be sure, but for the most part, it is something that Mike is capable of and I have learned I have an affection for. That is probably a good combination…like his upper body strength versus my nurturing side. He can lift a calf up, give shots, shove meds down its throat, and take care of daily heavy things like dumping feed bags into the trough and so on– and I can bottle feed it it, assure it, console it, find treats for it, and teach it to walk on a lead. The adventure continues.

The calf shed is nearly complete. All that is left is running the water lines and electric to it, which will be done this week or next when the electrician and plumber are available. Certainly, we could tote water in the dark during the darkest and coldest mornings this winter, but having the utilities at the shed is worth the expense. I’m thinking a little kitchen would be a great asset too. A refrigerator for keeping certain medicines fresh and for keeping mice, raccoons and othes critters at bay would be good; so would a hot water heater for making bottles…or at least a microwave oven where water can be zapped quickly. Besides, what home does not need a kitchen?

Of course, Rowdy and Pip are already at home and loving their warm “bedroom”, the “living room” with a view, the “patio” outside and the long walks we now take around the “park” (farm). Yes, Mike is still teasing me about walking my calves on a leash, but Pip especially is getting so good at voice commands, he obeys them in the pen when he is not on the lead. Good boy! It will make it much easier when we have to move them down one stall to accommodate new and younger calves. I think the plumber got a kick out of seeing me walking Pip yesterday too. I didn’t hear his comment exactly, but I did see him laughing and shaking his head as he pulled away. Hmmm…what is so strange about walking your cow to greener grass? It’s cheaper than buying hay, extending an electric fence, or buying cattle panels!

Therein lies a bit of a problem for new cattle farmers. See, when you are starting operations on a frazzled shoestring, you have to cut corners wherever you can. A thousand dollar investment must stretch beyond, for example, one solitary registered cow or bull. In fact most of the registered cattle I have seen are over $1500! It would take a huge investment to have a decent herd if it was strictly pure-bred and registered animals, not to mention the time investment of waiting for calves to be born and then raising them for sale. We decided to concentrate on “lesser” cattle instead– until we could build a better herd. You know, we are using the whole ‘beggars can’t be choosey’ mindset. It looks as though cast-offs from local dairy farms would be the least expensive way to establish our operations. The thing is, Kentucky is rapidly losing its dairy farms. Where does one find a dairy farm by which to buy these mostly-male calves?

An article at Maysville-online sums up the situation perfectly in the lead to one of its stories. It begins, “Ask about dairy farms in many Kentucky communities and a quick answer may be ‘there aren’t any.'” Of course, the article then goes on to tell about thriving dairy farms in the Buffalo Trace region of the state (north east) and of the losses in several other Kentucky counties. After reading the article, I decided to try to call a dairy cattle salesman mentioned in the June 2011 article.

I googled the man’s name and sure enough, he showed up on the Kentucky Department of Agriculture site along with probably another dozen farmers offering dairy cattle. Unfortunately, when I called, I got a fax machine rather than a person. I looked over the list and tried calling other names in our general area. Numbers were disconnected and no longer in service. The search left me frustrated but still determined.

There were a number of people listed that I did not call due to geographic undesireability. See, I may be new to this, but it seems to me that a young calf that is susceptible to shipping fever does not need to be transported hundreds of miles to its new home…not to mention the savings on transportation costs. I wanted to find someone closer. I found another government site that mentioned the next county over has THREE dairy farms!! Yay! The question is…where? There were no addresses listed and none of the farmers we know that seem to know everyone in the county ever heard of them. I had heard a story about one small dairy (did I say small? It had a whopping seven cows) that went out of business a year or so ago. Was that one of the three?

So it looks like today, I’ll be paying a visit to some of the government offices in that county to see if the dairies still exist, ever existed, and where they are. I am thinking if they are as small as the one, our chances of getting bottle calves locally are pretty much non-existent. The shame of it is, I was really hoping to see a dairy in operation…that might be another adventure for us down the road…hey, we could do seven cows, right?

Quit laughing, Caddyshack!

About cattlebaroness

I am a graduate of the University of Kentucky with a BA in History, nearing completion of a Master of Arts in American history. Born and raised first on military bases around the world, then in Orange County, CA, I moved to Kentucky when my children were small. I now live on a small family farm and am learning about farm life, planting and our newest addition to the landscape--cattle. Until a month or two ago, all I knew about 'cows' were that they came in brown, black and white and that some are raised for milk and others for meat. I am a quick study out of necessity.
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3 Responses to Calves on a Shoestring

  1. Jim T says:

    Baroness … This came today from Eunice Schlappi, our dairy director at KDA, who I notified of your need to find a dairy operation that might sell you some cattle: “Have her send me an email. I have a database of 400+ to send out info, purchase requests, etc. I will be glad to pass it on.” Her e-mail is Even though it’s a challenge to keep the database completely up to date, it may well furnish you some leads.

  2. You are the kindest person! Thank you! I will definitely get in touch with her!

  3. JAS says:

    Wow, I had no idea that dairy farming was disappearing in Kentucky! We are awash in dairy farms here in WI, which our State fortunately still sees as a good thing. We’ve got a cheese factory a mile from our house than takes milk from about 60 local dairy farms. They’re just one of several cheese factories within about 20 miles of us that each have their own circle of dairy farms. Our local farm paper every week is stuffed with ads and auctions for dairy stock. It’s amazing how different it is from what you’re describing!

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