Category Archives: Blog posts

Disbudding ( Dehorning) and castrating: our practices

Today we have the farm vet out to look at the calves, dehorn if necessary and castrate those bull calves destined to become family steers.

I am often asked why we choose not to disbud and castrate calves ourselves, so this is a good opportunity to explain our practices.

Simply put, a badly dehorned/disbudded calf is both unattractive and a concern. They often develop ‘ scurs’ –remaining bits of horn that are unsightly and often grow in odd ways that impair or threaten the adult bovine and require regular trimmings, which must be done by a vet anyhow.

Disbudding / Dehorning

I have a badly dehorned cow whose scurs grow twisted and often threaten to grow right into her eye socket. She has to be trimmed annually at her check ups and pregnancy checks. This requires light sedation due to the proximity to her eye, we don’t want to put her eye out !

We have a few others who have scurs that pose no substantial threat which are just trimmed when they develop an issue such as overgrowth, peeling or severe cracks. This is a problem with scurs as , like fingernails on a human, scurs continue to grow and because they are damaged at the root by bad dehorn attempts, they do not grow as hard or as properly and can develop deep splits or cracks that are uncomfortable and even dangerous for the cow.

A vet performed disbudding is clean and thorough, if the vet knows what she is doing and performs the procedure often. The horn is often trimmed back and then the root cauterized. Trimming is not necessary if you do the disbudding in the first few weeks as is our habit. The horn buds are slight and soft at that stage and can be easily removed with a disbudding tool or cauterization. We do authorize the vet to use light sedation and pain meds at the time of the procedure to minimize stress and discomfort to the calf.

The beginnings of apparent horn buds in a young calf We bought this guy as an older, weaned calf so he is being disbudded late according to our practices. We try to dehorn in the first few weeks.
Dreamy McMoo is a littel drunk after anesthesia
Numbing up
Disbudding a calf with a cauterizing tool specifically designed for horn removal
All done in a few minutes. Up and nursing mom within moments. The anesthesia is temporary and clean. In and out of the system very fast. Smooth as silk. There will be no scurs.


Castration is typically accomplished with a practice called ‘ banding’ where a very tight and thick rubber band is applied to the testicles with a tool called an ‘ elastrator’.

It is very effective in cutting circulation to the testicles , which eventually just fall off.

We do not practice this method, preferring veterinary surgical castration for two reasons , the climate here is typically hot and sub tropical, which means we deal with wet , humid, unusually warm weather year round. This encourages and promotes issues that threaten the health of a calf who is banded, risking fly strike, infection of all manner of bacterium and just general discomfort. Surgical removal is fast and efficient. A small cut is made with a scalpel , the testicles are pulled through the cut and removed. The wound is glued and sprayed with a aluminum sealant and it is over. We don’t have to watch for infection as the tissue dies back and wait with baited breath for the testicles to dry and fall off. It’s done. Quick and clean.

Banding should be done shortly after the birth of a bull. It is widely believed that the earlier the better for all sorts of reasons such as lessened discomfort and lesser chance of infection. Tetanus is among common infections related to banding and the older and tougher a calf hide gets, the longer it takes for bacding to be complete and the greater the opportunity for infection as the layers of flesh die off.

This is another aspect we appreciate about surgical castration; it affords us the opportunity to safely wait as long as we like to watch a bull calf grow out if we think he may be desirable as a herd sire in the future. I have had them castrated as early as 48 hours old and up to 8 months old with no discernible differences in their recovery or comfort levels.

Should I keep a bull ?

I am often messaged or called with the questions about bulls. Primarily, ‘ Should I keep a bull ? ‘

People often get irritated with me when I tell them there is no easy answer to whether one should keep a bull or not, just tons of questions and concerns.  I then begin to help them navigate all the considerations and options of having a bull on the property and not having one.

Let me begin by stating that I have kept up to three mature  bulls at once: A miniature Hereford and two miniature Jerseys.  I generally keep two.

We operate from two pieces of land consisting of a total of about 80 acres: the house land and the beef land, we call them.  Two of the aforementioned bulls were kept at the beef land in a huge pasture all to themselves unless we separate them out and add cows for breeding.  The two kept at the beef land have that arrangement because they were both a credible and immediate danger to humans.  The one kept at the house land was milder, but still a bull, being very destructive and moody at times with flipping troughs and throwing dirt and testing fence lines, but not outright threatening.

Things to consider when considering a bull are myriad:

Safety is number one:

Bulls are dangerous.  Inherently dangerous.  Even the most mild or ‘ tame ‘ bull will have days that his hormones or attitude get the best of him and he turns on you.  If you’re lucky, you have an escape or just get hurt.  If luck is not on your side, you are dead where you stand.

There is no such thing as a ‘ pet ‘ bull. 

      I don’t care what anyone tells you.   I have heard horror stories of seasoned keepers being killed without warning by ‘ pet ‘ bulls they had raised from birth; some had even been bottle raised, which I believe to be the number one, most dangerous bull of all.  A pet is comfortable in your space, even in invading your space.  Frankly, you want to know when your bull is coming after you to do harm and not just seeking attention or a treat.

Often, a bull gives no warning whatsoever before attacking: no scraping the ground, no snorting, no throwing dirt in the air, he just decides he’s done with you and you are then done for.  I have been told three separate stories from three separate farmers of bulls that ‘ waited and / or watched ‘ for the opportunity to attack.  The results ranged from mildly debilitating to temporarily crippling, to devastating.

Bulls are smart.  Bulls are unpredictable in their violence.  Bulls, even the ones with the calmest demeanor, can and will eventually be aggressive in some form. Bulls, as a group, of any breed, are not to be trusted. Ever.

Some suffer the idea that halter training or hand raising a bull is the way to ensure he is a ‘ pet ‘ and not a threat.  Poppycock.  There is a news story available online of a family whose hand raised bull, which was used in 4H by their child, turned without warning on the man of the family while he was in the field and killed him. The poor farmer managed to call his wife on his cell phone to tell her the bull had him cornered. He was stomped and battered to death by his ‘ pet ‘ bull before his wife could get to him from their house.

Our own small mini Hereford bull,  halter trained and petted prior to our bringing him home, turned on my husband one day as he worked in the pasture.  That bull came out of the trees and attacked my husband and his truck, head bashing both.  My husband called me at the house for help.  Frankly, I took a gun and the gator.   I found my husband against the side of his truck with the bull repeatedly pressing him and butting him with some force.  I managed to push the bull away with the gator so my husband could jump in the truck.  We decided to move that bull on that day.  My husband’s entire torso was badly bruised and inflamed.  His ribs looked broken and black all along one side.  He was lucky.  He recovered.

I once had someone remark to me when I told them I thought it unsafe to let their children in the pen with a 6 month old bull, ‘ well, he’s a pet , like a dog.’  Uh…no.  He’s not.  Even if he acted like a pet, he’s not a pet.  Would you allow your small child to be in a pen with an unpredictable, mentally unstable dog ? Much less, a dog that weighs 600 lbs and could  severely damage the child just being playful?

All it takes to set off a bull is a heifer he can’t get at or a notion that you think you are in charge and he knows better.

In my article titled ‘ The erroneous romanticizing of cows ‘ I lay out the facts, briefly  but bluntly.  At the end of this argument is a sampling of news articles to reinforce the fact that even seasoned, careful farmers and herdsmen are not safe around their bulls.

‘ Oh, but he’s so sweet and cute.’  Look, I get it.  Bull calves can be adorable and lovable and curious little guys.  I talk to mine regularly in lovey , dovey voices, but at a respectful distance and I never , ever pet or even touch them unless absolutely necessary.  I want to know where I stand with my bulls and frankly, if you look at the tragedies of bull attacks and kills, the farmer was generally too comfortable in the bull’s space, even in open fields or had handled the bull regularly and did not see the threat when the bull approached him.

Totally hands off is the way a bull should be raised, without fear of you, but with a respectful ‘ flight zone’,  the term comes from association with the ‘ fight or flight’ response of all animals, human included, and means when you are approaching , he gives you space.  As with any animal, if you start leading them around with a lead rope or harness, scratching their heads and petting them and hand feeding them treats, they gravitate to you.  I would rather hand feed an elephant than a bull. I’d be safer doing so in the long run.

You also have to realize that psychologically speaking, a ‘ pet’ believes itself to be a part of your herd or family, You run the risk of the bull, at maturity , considering himself your equal and becoming an entitled, dangerous nuisance, pushing into spaces you don’t want him to be and finding yourself in closed quarters with an animal that outweighs you by several hundred pounds and which has the potential to kill you, even if by accident.

There is also the possibility that the bull will figure out he’s bigger and stronger than you and he’s going to do and take what he wants. As with males of many animals, he may decide to     ‘ challenge ‘ you for dominance in the herd.  It is simple psychology to understand that if you are regularly in the herd, taking charge and giving orders, the bull will view you as first an Alpha and later an intruder. It only takes once to find yourself in these situations that you could garner devastating results from your ‘ sweet pet’.

What is a safe and stable bull? There isn’t one.                                                    There is only Safer and more stable.

What to look for in a bull for the small farm or homestead:

Your best bet in a bull is one who has been raised ‘ hands off’ and as part of the herd.  He should also be dam raised and not bottled .  Temple Grandin is quoted as saying, ” The most dangerous dairy bull is the bull not adequately socialized with his own kind.”   Sadly, most large dairies must ‘ pull’ their calves and bottle them.  This is a recipe for disaster in a dairy bull, especially a Jersey bull as they are already known for being one of the utmost dangerous  bovines.

He should have a respectful ‘ flight zone ‘ , but should not be afraid or run from your presence.  As a vet tech, we used the term ‘ fear biter’ to mark a dog that was so nervous, he would likely bite anyone attending him.  They are the worst.  Those animals who naturally react with nervousness and fears, instilled or  inherited, are the most unpredictable and unstable. Like a dog, a frightened and skittish bull is more likely to attack when in a situation that makes him uncomfortable or startles him.

Does my bull need to be pure bred to assure soundness and stability?  No. Not at all.  In fact, the two bulls regarded as the worst for unpredictability and aggression are the Jersey bull for dairy and the Brahman bull for beef.  Adding the genetic influence of another breed to the mix may actually have the pleasing effect of ‘ watering down’ the innate aggression and instability factors.  Just as many psychological imbalances such as depression , schizophrenia and anxiety disorders have the capability of being inherited in humans, so are bad temperaments and unpredictable natures at maturity possible to convey to the offspring of a bull.

Containment :

If you’re going to keep a bull, you better invest in some good fencing and figure out how you will separate him effectively from heifers that cannot be bred and dams nursing young.  A bull should not be left with calving moms or new babies.  A randy bull will attempt to breed any female bovine displaying hormonal surges.  Sometimes he will attempt to breed a heifer just because she’s present, whether in estrus or not.  A heifer calf can have multiple hormonal surges and even display hormonal discharges similar to those present in the latter stage of heat while very young.  It is not uncommon for a newborn heifer calf to pass a little blood tinged mucus from the vulva due to the hormones passed from her dam in the delivery process. Always separate your bull from the cows and heifers prior to the delivery of calves.

I have always had a specific area set up just for bulls, but large enough that I can let any female I want to be exposed to them in with no worry about space or comfort.  It is not advisable to keep a bull alone, so always have a breeding female or some steer calves with him for company.  A lonely, bored bull will become destructive and challenge the most sturdy, well planned fencing, especially if there are other bovines on the property that he can see or hear.

I owned a particularly ornery bull who made me cringe every time I walked past his perimeter, knowing if he really wanted to, he’d bust through that fence after me, hot wire and all.  .  Fencing for a bull is not the same as fencing that will contain the average cow.  We never needed hot wire, only cattle panels and wooden posts, until we got our first mini Jersey bull.  He bested every fence we had in that first month . Two strands of hot wire and paneled reinforcements went up farm wide on both pieces of land we own.  That was a major endeavor and expense.

A fence meant for retaining a bull of any size should be constructed with at the very least, wooden fence posts.  Wood posts set properly and not too far apart with T-stakes between each run are less likely to loosen and fall than metal stakes and the like alone. Fencing is a primary concern and a regular expenditure of time and funds. Fence chargers have to be checked every day and maintained every week as when weeds or debris are against the strands of hot wire, they don’t work.  We spend more time maintaining and repairing fencing than anything else.

Expenses you may not have considered:

One must also consider the cost of owning and keeping a bull year round when the average small farmer uses him to service the eligible bovines in a herd once of twice a year.   There are as many financial responsibilities to own a bull as there are for cows.  He must be fed, vetted, inoculated, etc. He might also cause damage to farm implements and fences.  I kept a smallish mini Jersey bull who tore through wooden fence rails and destroyed several troughs pitching his fits, which , of course, had to be regularly replaced due to his shenanigans.  Which brings me to another point and issue, the cost of your peace.

Even if you have a small bull of sound temperament there will be times it is best not to be in his space.  Working a field or pasture when a bull is with a cow in heat or he senses a heifer in estrus nearby puts you at risk of him becoming agitated and threatening.  My most docile bull once chased me across a field because he was actively ‘ courting’ a girl in estrus and I interrupted his amorous process by walking in the yards. Thankfully, I wasn’t far from the gate when I heard him barreling toward me from behind.  I learned a hard lesson that day; never , never, ever turn your back on a bull.

Apathy to the inherent danger of ANY bull and an over developed sense of comfort in a herd within which a bull resides is the primary cause of bull related deaths world wide.  People think their bull would never hurt them because he’s sweet and mild and has been with them all his life.  This is profoundly untrue of a bull.  Bulls cannot and should never be trusted.  Treated kindly , yes.  Petted through the fence, if you like and insist, but never ever openly trusted.

Knowing there is a bull on your farm will cause you to be hyper aware when in or near pastures, at least if you have any sense of care for your well – being. This is especially true is you have small children around the farm.  Kids are curious and often feel invincible, believing that nothing bad will ever happen to them.  You will have to be super vigilant of your kids and the children of visitors when keeping a bull, whereas if a child disobediently wanders into a pasture of cows while you have your back in your work, it will likely lead to a time out for the kid, but not a moment of heart failure for you as you laser focus look for the bull and determine his distance from the child.

Herd plans and Breeding:

Breeding considerations when using a bull are varied depending on your herd plan and practices.  The average farmer keeps a bull in service only two to three seasons, so the genetic lines stay varied and fresh and to avoid inbreeding and add to the most desired traits.  Most do not inbreed: generational breeding of closely related bovines and line breed , breeding a bull of some relation , only when there is some distance in relation and the traits to be gained are highly desirable.  this essentially means that you will replace your bull regularly, especially if you wish to retain heifers from his breeding.

A second reason for replacing the herd sire regularly is the substantiated belief that after a couple of years past maturity on the same farm a bull can get ‘ too comfortable ‘ and may begin to exhibit concerning character traits that he didn’t have early on.  I have witnessed this in my own bull, the destructive one I mentioned previously.  He began a mild and even tempered bull and left the farm an unpredictable, destructive  and threatening beast that no one trusted as far as they could toss him.  He was truly awful. His sire became the same way as he aged and I do believe it is in part due to genetics that a bull goes that bad, so start with a bull of sound genetic temperament and hope that his sire has passed that trait along to him.

Housing and care:

Bulls require their own space at least part of the calendar year.  This requires a pasture or large yard set aside for the sole purpose of housing and maintaining a bull.  If the bull is kept within the herd, you run the risk of his harming or attempting breed small calves and breeding the dams back before they have recovered from delivery and ‘ rested’.  The typically observed ‘ resting period’ for a freshened dam is three months, but I generally wait to breed back until her calf is weaned at around 5 months but up to 7 months.  This gives the calf time to nurse to a point they are maintaining weight and health well and the dam time to recover and regain what she lost while nursing and milking in the first stage of lactation.

That means, your bull will require the cost of setting up an adequate pasture with strong fencing and maintaining him there with the added chores and costs of cleaning, feeding and care every day for the months he is not in service.  It takes valuable space from the land that could be used as rotational pasture or calf rearing areas for weaning young.  It is an ongoing investment of time and extra work and added expenses.

A bull should also never be kept alone as this entices him to become angry and aggressive toward his keeper.  Bovines are herd animals and it is ingrained in their DNA to be part of the daily life and activities of a group of like beings.  I keep my bulls with the family steers when I am not using their services with the girls.  When steers are not an option, I give him a couple of mature girls even if against my breeding schedule to keep him ‘ settled’.  I have had absolutely no issues with bulls becoming violent toward steers, even calves.  I believe that the castrated steer does not pose a threat to the bull’s senses and is therefore not viewed as a potential Alpha.

Separation anxiety:

Taking a bull from his ladies is no easy feat.  A bull will never be more agitated than when he knows you are attempting to remove him from his herd.  A herd of mature bovines bond very tightly; they become ‘ family ‘ and the bull considers himself the patriarch and protector.  Even after successfully transitioning him to another pasture, the bull may try to get back to the herd. He will pace the fence lines and call to the herd for days.  Particularly if they are on the same property.   Distance does not matter, he knows they are there. If possible, take a steer calf with him from the herd.  It will help to have a bovine he has familiarity with.

Options to keeping a bull:


Occasionally you will run across a farmer who will lease her bull with proof of proper testing of your herd.  I do not practice this, nor do my associates, as there are too many possible difficulties that arise from the prospect of moving and leaving your bull on another farm or homestead.  The variables are too vast for me to be comfortable with this practice, but I have seen it done.  Personally, I recommend strongly against it.  You may not get the same bull back that you lent.

Borrow or co-own:

If you have friend with a proven bull of sound temperament you may  work out a deal to borrow their bull for breeding purposes.  I have a farm friend who regularly borrows her good friend’s bull for servicing her herd.   They have worked out a deal wherein they essentially co-own the bull and have planned their breeding schedules to suit each having the bull half the year.

Leave your cow at another farm for service:

I know of locals who do this to have their cows serviced.  They leave the cow at another farm to be bred and pay the farmer a fee for the care and board, plus the service.

Artificial Insemination:

This is likely the easiest option for breeding a cow, but it has it’s expenses and drawbacks.  You must be able to store the frozen semen in a tank made for that purpose or have an AI tech who will receive and store it for you, usually for an additional fee.

Even the best AI tech has about a 70% success rate and NIH reports that the successful conception rate of AI can be as low as 10% in times of climate change, excessive heat or environmental stress, so one must consider the time and expense of repeated attempts .  Between herd sires, I decided to have my girls Ai’d by my vet who trained at Georgia State University.  Out of 9 girls inseminated, none settled.  It cost me over a thousand dollars in semen procurement and tech fees and services and there was zero success. While these results are not typical, they do occur.  Best case scenario, I would have had 6 or 7 of 9 pregnant.  Still not ideal for me.

Temporary Herd Sires:

This is a controversial option , but a practical one.  It ensures you have the services of a bull you like without the commitment to his ongoing care.  Buy a bull you want for your herd, use his services on all your cows at once, sell him off.  You’ll still need to care for and contain him during the service period of approximately three months, but you won’t be stressed, strained or worried with keeping him year round.  Just being honest here, I have recommended it.

The caveat is you should never ask your seller to take him back unless she has expressed a desire to reacquire him.  It isn’t fair to ask her to accommodate you as such.  Generally , a farmer sells a bull because she has no use for him.  It will be your responsibility to move him when you have no longer have need of him.  Don’t assume someone else should help with that.


The thoughtfully bred dual-purpose hybrid family cow

n my blog post entitled ‘ The case for the  dual purpose cow ‘ , I introduced the various studies and theories touting the dual-purpose hybrid as the perfect homestead and small farm cow.    In this essay, I aim to explain and illustrate the differences between the breeding options and what each brings to the table, literally, as a family cow.

When cultivating or buying a dual purpose, hybrid family cow, there are two basic genetic options, each producing a different result in the family cow and a different body type.  There is beef over dairy, which means that a beef bull of a pure breed is used to service a dairy cow or heifer of a particular breed.  Or, Dairy of beef, which is a pure bred dairy bull servicing a pure bred beef cow or heifer. Many studies recommend that using the bull that carries the qualities you most want to see will allow you to reap the highest ratio of benefit from those traits in a calf  than the reverse breeding.  I do not disagree with that thinking, except that I have found that certain breeds such as Angus simply have such strong genetic influence no matter what type of bull they are bred to, their strongest traits, such as their coloration and muscle structure will convey to the calf.

That fact being stated, the Angus cow bred to the thoughtfully cultivated dairy bull, will provide a future family cow with the production capabilities of her sire’s line and the beef quality and build of her dam.  For a couple of years, I milked an Angus X Holstein that was huge ! She was a heavy producer of wonderful milk, but looked like a giant Angus cow.  She threw wonderful, sturdy calves that were excellent for beef due to her build and Angus genetics, but also made excellent potential family milk cows due to her own ability to produce when combined with a dairy bull.

From a purist standpoint, these are ‘ mutt ‘ cows and in a sense, that is true.  I rather like to think of them in terms of being a ‘designer’ breed, such as a labradoodle is to dog fanciers.  Though not recognized in show circuits, those dogs are deliberately bred and coveted for the best qualities of both the Labrador Retriever and the Standard Poodle and their owners have nothing but glowing praise for their lack of the typical behavioral and genetic weaknesses that each of the two individual breeds suffer singularly. That being stated, one must thoughtfully plan and develop a herd plan, choosing the finest specimens with the most desirable genetics, otherwise one just ends up with a herd full of ill bred mongrels.

A hybrid or cross-bred cow of any kind will likely lack the genetic frailties that can be present with the pure bred cow of any kind and will possess all of her most desired features and attributes in an enhanced degree through the naturally occurring genetic process of heterosis.  Heterosis is the tendency of a crossbred individual to show desirable qualities superior to those of both parents.

Also known as outbreeding enhancement in the cattle world, the cross bred individual tends to possess the best of the best qualities of both sire and dam; in essence, those traits which would make the offspring a stronger, more productive, more psychologically sound and more vigorous animal.

Hybrid vigor from the beef / dairy cross is remarkable:

The impressive  feed efficiency and conversion lends itself to a calf which grows out leaner and faster than it’s pure bred counterparts on the same feed schedule and quality of grazing and supplementals.  This makes them outstanding candidates for the organic farm or grass fed herd keeper.

Even the smallest addition of beef genetics, such as a dairy bull over a dual purpose , cross bred cow will improve the offspring’s ability to maintain and gain weight while securing her production capability and milk quality.  If you look at the history of most pure bred miniature cows, they became minis because somewhere way, way back in their genetic lines, so far back that the fact has dropped off their record even in registered lines, there was an introduction of an already miniature beefy type breed such as the dexter.  Dexters are commonly introduced to ‘ bring down’ the size of a herd. Viewed as a natural ‘ dual purpose’ breed, Dexters are a fine choice to accomplish a herd of smaller stature, adding the low line height and keeping at least a partial dairy component to the genetic blend.

This blending for smaller size is also the reason we see miniature Jersey cows that are stocky and well muscled, as opposed to the classic Jersey frame. While I prefer the smaller, classic Jersey look in my minis from a personal aesthetic viewpoint , they are more difficult to keep in condition as compared to what I refer to as the ‘ short stocky’ mini.  Frankly, it has been my experience and the experience of my friends who keep them that the stubby, beefy mini Jersey is just hardier and easier to keep all around.

One of the more impressive benefits of the dual purpose family cow is their ability to gain and maintain weight even when solely fed on appropriate vegetation.  As anyone who has kept pure bred dairy cows such as classic Jerseys or Holsteins knows, it is difficult to keep weight on them as a general rule when they are nursing or milking.  Milk production is hard on the body of a dairy cow if she is not in prime condition and keeping a dairy cow in prime condition while in milk is a difficult task that requires lots of planning and scheduling. Furthermore, once a dairy loses condition, it takes a very long time and feed alterations to put it back on her.  This is a tricky area, as you do not want to overfeed a dairy cow.  Overfeeding can produce results which are just  as harmful as those an under conditioned  cow may bring, such as acidosis or causing her to ‘ push ‘ production, using her increased intake to produce more milk by volume, which leaves her at square one.

The thrift of the cross bred calf inclines it to be more tolerant of stress, climate changes and have more resistance to parasites and disease.  The cross bred calf also gains faster on less feed and is market ready up to 1/3 faster than the pure bred calf.

The outbred cow ( bred outside it’s genetic pattern ie…dairy X beef ) will produce young that can expect a longer life span and a stronger production  ability with less rigid nutritional needs and feed requirements , plus  longevity of production both in meat and milk than her pure bred counterpart.  Her heifer calf will benefit from calving ease and less risk of milk fever and the like.  The increase of the offspring’s milk production quantity and quality by adding a sound dairy line to beef genetics, will ensure her future calves have access to copious amounts of rich milk for nursing  and an ample amount of fine milk for a family,  plus feed efficient and well muscled steer calves for the table.

The well bred family cow comes from decades of  focused selection and responsible breeding to garner the best of the best traits from the cream of the crop lines, regardless to the breed or cross.  Every farmer serious about her profession has a herd plan.  Every herd plan differs to some degree.  One farmer may have a smaller size as her primary goal, while another may focus on a herd and calves to offer that do well being entirely entirely grass fed.  One may seek high production capabilities, while another may lean to a richer milk to offer in her stock.  This is why it is so important to recognize what your own goals and needs are in a family cow or herd before you start looking at what is out there to buy.

Do you want a cow that is a steady and high volume producer of milk and do you have the time in your schedule to milk her twice a day as required for such a cow?  If you do not wish or do not have the ability to be tied to milking a cow religiously twice daily for a majority of the year, you would probably be well suited with a dual purpose cross bred cow.  Most of them, bred for quality of milk, rather than quantity, can be milked only once a day if she has her calf with her to nurse regularly and I know of several folks who successfully keep healthy, productive dual purpose cows who leave the calf on her for the whole of her lactation and milk only when they need or want to.

The best pairings if seeking a hybrid family cow will result from a bull of stout, superior genetic lines over a dam of equally impressive representation.  In the instance of cultivating a strong, dual purpose hybrid dairy cow, one would always seek a calf resulting from a pairing of dairy bull over beef cow.  The bull carries the most influential dairy traits, so one would desire a bull whose lines are rife with heavy producers and sound physical qualities.  Chances are that some of the production volume of his lines will be lost to the pairing with a beef dam, but that is not always the case.  I have seen plenty of ‘ beefy’ looking cross bred cows which are impressive producers of the nicest milk, have gorgeous, huge udders and would give a well bred Jersey a run for her money in production.

Are you leaning toward both meat and milk for the table?  If so, you would do well with a beef over dairy mix, giving more of an even genetic draw between the two. The hybrid calf has a propensity toward thicker and more complex muscling, making for a superb cut of beef and sturdier animal with the added gains of having to provide a substantially lower amount of supplemental feeds.

Are you looking to build a herd that not only provides for the family, but leaves product to offer for sale?  The odds are best that you would either need a pure bred cow from strong dairy lines or a cross bred cow with a strong dairy influence, such as the cow I mentioned above which was Holstein X Angus.  In this case, there is the bonus of retaining the beef benefits of the Angus. While the milk from this sort of cross is divine, the cream line would likely not be as thick.

Knowing your seller would be of the utmost importance when considering a cross bred bovine, as you are placing your trust that cow will meet your needs and the seller is being honest about the genetics behind her. As with any intentional breeding, a beneficial cross bred cow must come from a responsible source. Any farmer I know personally will tell you upfront in an offering what percentage beef to dairy is in their cross bred calf / heifer and what purposes they believe she would be best suited for.

Honesty is crucial in a seller, as is reputation.  You are dependent on the selling farmer to keep the animals well and breed them responsibly because as well as gaining all of the most desirable genetics from a pairing of any type, you also gain any anomalies or undesirable characteristics if they are present in the sire or dam, or the recent ancestry line.  Aggravations and worries such as calving issues, Milk Fever propensity and structural anomalies such as hoof issues, supra numery teats, structural disorders of the udder, etc…can all be inherited from a line carrying the genetic influences and some of these will not present until the heifer or cow calves for you the first time. Common genetic issues can also ‘ skip’ a generation just as they do in humans.  It doesn’t bother me at all to know up front that a certain cow is predisposed to MF at purchase because I can be prepared and have experience.  However, it can be a very scary surprise for a novice bovine keeper to find her cow down and not be aware or prepared for what to do for her.

* Please note that MF can present in any cow, whether she has a history of it or not, but the higher degree of incidence of MF is commonly found to run in the line.

On our farm, we primarily keep Jerseys and Hereford, miniature and standard, because I have found through my own experiences, research and feedback I’ve received both from professionals and other farmers that they are the most dependable, sound and stable breeds of the beef and dairy world separately.  We have further found that the combination of these two breeds for the hybrid, dual purpose cow, is respected by scholars and farmers and kept in many places worldwide for the very reasons I appreciate the individual breeds and the hybrid cow.  In my post : ‘ The case for the cross bred dual purpose cows’, found on our page in the left column, I reference many studies and articles touting the benefits of such pairings.

The recent trend toward miniature cattle of all types is not an unfounded nor illogical movement.  The mini or percentage mini hybrid ( Mini x standard ) carries all the bonuses of the standard breeding, without the cost or space requirements of the standard cow. All of our bulls are carefully selected registered miniatures from reputable sources.  This ensures our ability to pass on only sound temperament and physical traits.  It also allows us to ‘ breed down’ our standard girls, so that they produce smaller calves with the best of the dam’s features. If your needs are not great in a family cow with regards to how much milk product you require, I strongly recommend a reliably bred mini hybrid.  She will likely provide ‘ just enough’ for the family if you do your homework and buy from a trustworthy source where selective breeding is employed.

                        Hybrid photos from our farm

Why we don’t halter train calves



I’ve been asked why I don’t halter train by folks, particularly when I have a calf for sale.
Here’s why:
I haven’t seen the need for it with my set up and my training.
My girls and boys come when called and follow my direction to move through gates or into buildings. I use voice, hand signals and the already trained herd to move cows and even bulls. I have not had that fail yet.
While I understand that some folks need this ability to tie off their cow for milking, that should not be the primary means of controlling a cow. A buyer can slip a halter on a heifer and train her later in her development for that.
The girls will come individually by name. I call them and they all look, the one that I have called comes and the rest of the herd generally returns to grazing, unless they think there is a treat involved. Ha ! If you name your cows and speak to them often, they know who they are. Even the bulls respond to their names.
All that simply stated, we recently bought the two Swiss girls from a farm that is big in show. The girls were exceptionally well handled and care for in prep as potential show cows, but spent their lives being confined to huge stalls and small pastures for their maintenance and safety as show heifers. All the cows there are kept in very structured environment. They were led by halter everywhere they went.
Due to that, they have no idea how to move or behave in a herd. They will not budge unless led. We had a hell of a time getting them off the trailer upon arrival. They just stood there looking at us like we had no clue what we were doing and waited for us to lead them. Pushing their rears didn’t budge them. Coaxing didn’t budge them. It was ridiculous.
They also have no idea what it means to be in a herd , but are slowly adapting. They did not follow the herd. They hung to themselves apart from the herd until we decided that separating them would be the best thing for them mentally and functionally.
They still walk tentatively as though they feel insecure without their halter and lead rope stabilizing them mentally. It’s what they are used to. They feel insecure without them.
Cows are creatures of habit. I don’t train mine to the halter because I do not want a herd of 36 cows I have to walk in one by one after retrieving them from pasture individually. These girls will still not budge from whence they stand without me pushing, cajoling, coaxing and insisting. It’s a mess.
I want to stick my head out the parlor door or the back door and holler ‘ C’mere Girls !’ and have them come. None of this current ‘ come get me ‘

You do not have to halter a calf to make a pet of them.  Most of my girls are pets and none have ever been haltered.  Time, attention, speaking to them as you pass, extending your hand as you walk toward them or by them, all of these acts will earn the trust of your calf or cow and eventually the ability to give them physical affection such as scratches and pats, even hugs with many.  I rather like to give my cows the choice to be pets, rather than forcing attention on them, I just offer it.



There is also no need for halters to train a cow, again–unless you need to tie her off for milking.  A cow that is raised according to her natural drives and instincts will follow her herd. Herd mentality is a powerful thing and should be used to your advantage when calling or moving cattle. A single family cow that was raised with her dam will mimic her dam’s behaviors even after she leaves her.  If her dam was with her long enough to instill behaviors such as responding to her keepers call or feed / milk times, she will not be nervous about such interactions and will just respond to the cues around her.


The erroneous romanticizing of cows


My social media pages have been flooded with a particular post about a business that offers ” Cow Cuddles” for $300 per hour.  There has been talk of how ‘ cute’ , ‘ sweet’ and ‘savvy’ an idea it is.  I am appalled by it.  Appalled.

Let’s consider the facts:

Every year, cows kill more people than sharks , snakes and bears combined.

In 2009 in Britain, 8 people were stomped to death, separately,  by their own cows in a three month period.

In the US, the CDC estimates that 22 people are killed by cows each year.  75% being deliberate attacks, 25% being accidental / incidental. While it is clear that bulls are dangerous, bulls are only responsible for 6 of the 22 bovine related deaths on average.

Why more cow related deaths than bull related ? Simple. People are naturally respectful and afraid of a bull, a cow is not held in regard as being threatening.  She should be.

These facts are available to anyone who wants to look them up on online.  What is not clear with any reporting entity is how many serious and tragic injuries involve cows each year in addition to the human deaths.  Those figures are sketchy at best, due to insufficient and unrequired reporting of medical facilities, but are frightening.

Cows are just generally  cumbersome, clumsy animals which, with no intention at all on their part, can cause serious injury to a human.  As my best friend states, ‘ They just don’t always know where their ends are.’  I am very careful around my girls, very aware of where they are in relation to me when I am working with them, yet I have suffered numerous accidental injuries:  I have had three toes broken by my sweetest mini Jersey cow who walked across my foot leaving the stanchion because I forgot to pull my foot back.  I have suffered bruised ribs and pleurisy from the trauma of being accidentally pressed against the wall of a barn by a cow just walking by and found another cow blocking her path.  I have suffered numerous deep tissue bruises and broken vessels on my arms and legs from incidental swipes of the hoof from a cow trying to kick a horse fly that had landed on her udder and a calf just doing his ‘ happy dance’ while I was standing too close turned my entire calf of my left leg black for nearly 8 months and required frequent checks by ultrasound and other tests to ensure no clotting had occurred.  One calf cut me severely with her teeth trying to mouth my hand when I had my back turned. Another young cow head butted me in the kidney while I had my back to her, for no understandable reason other than she was in a snotty mood and didn’t appreciate my presence.  This is the short list.

A happy or excited cow will burst into a dance that involves throwing the head and bouncing in such a way that they cannot know what is around them. This happens without warning and frequently.  Cows startle easily.  Anything out of their routine ( ie…strangers , the noise of an excited child) can set them off in a nervous state of confusion, defensive aggression or fight or flight mode.  Sometimes, just like any sentient being, they’re just cranky or having an off day and that will bring you a surprising head butt or side swipe from a normally lovely bovine.

I do not allow small children in the cow yards for all of the above reasons , plus some I didn’t touch on.  It is just insane to think a small child is safe around an animal who may not even see the child , inadvertently crush or kick the child, and which could step on the child top to bottom without effort, or which may view the child as a threat or as unwelcome in her space.  Those things aside, if a small child is standing next to a cow or calf and a fly bites the animal, that reflexive response by the bovine to jump and kick at the fly is a direct and unpredictable threat.  The ability of even a smallest calves to knock a child down and kick or step on him in completely innocent curiosity or play is a credible and serious threat.

Do I allow my own grandson to pet calves and hug them? Yes.  With direct supervision and in a controlled environment with me standing directly over them.  My grandson is not allowed to be in the parlor unless the cows are locked in the stanchion and he has to step out of the area before I release them.  Why? Here’s why: A while back I allowed him in for the process, sitting on a stool behind me.  A well trained  cow who had recently calved was walking out of the stanchion , made an effort to go around me as I habitually stood between her and my grandson while she was exiting and attempted to ram him with her head.  I guess she thought of him as an intruder and a threat to her calf who was waiting outside for her.  Thankfully, I was able to block her, but I took the brunt of her head in my forearm and shoulder as I ducked over him in protective mode.

I blame social media heretics and the ill conceived magazines geared toward the Ag hobby world for this proliferate trend of thinking of the family cow as we do the family dog. ( one in particular seems to have made it her mission to put a cow in every yard)        The propagation of the idea that ANYONE can and should own a family cow, whether you’re capable of providing for the animal’s intrinsic nature and needs or not is deplorable.

I have seen articles on FB and magazines of how to keep a ‘ Backyard cow’ in a garage meant for cars and tools.  I’ve seen the photos everywhere of women in flowing prairie dresses standing with miniature cows on pristine lawns.  This ain’t reality folks and it gives a false illusion of what keeping a bovine entails.  Yes, I take lovely photos of and with my girls, but I also share photos of their challenges and the trials of keeping them in a healthy, stable, humane environment.  There is mud.  There is manure.  There is a difference between neighborhood back yard grasses and carefully cultivated, nutritious pasture grasses; A cow can graze all day and starve on improper pasture. There is lobbying among the herd for dominance.  There is worry and injury to the farmer and the cow.  These ‘ backyard cow’ people don’t mention the bruises they obtained from milking that perfectly behaved Jersey the first few times they laid hands on her udder.  They don’t quote anyone about the wrestling match it was to train her or how they were so sore for days they could hardly sit down from stiffness and pain.  They don’t tell you the cow is not able to engage in her natural behaviors and is generally unhappy about her situation.  No, they don’t tell you the truth; they want to portray the disservice they are doing to these cows as romantic and a journey back to the old ways.  Well, lets look at the old ways.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, family cows were kept for the nutrition the milk provided a family and for the meat her offspring could provide.  It was all very practical.  Yes, the families , I am sure, largely bonded with their family cow, but she was livestock and treated as such.  She was turned out to pasture after her milkings with the other livestock to graze, not kept in a tiny back yard and barn all day.  The grazing was likely not much on the average farm, but it was sufficient and she had the company of goats and other livestock.  Occasionally, she would be walked to a neighboring farm to breed, I know folks who still do this.  Her life was pretty much grazing, milking and having calves.  They treated her like a cow.  And I’ll bet she was happy with that arrangement.

Am I saying you shouldn’t love your cows, pet them or brag on them? Hell no !  I am saying that they are cows, not dogs.  While I encourage you to show love and pride in the cow you own, I do not support inviting the general public in to do so; it’s stupid and it’s unfair to the cow.  I am saying let your cow be a cow, if she also wants to be YOUR pet, that’s awesome.  I am saying don’t buy a cow out of a romantic notion that it’ll be like owning a giant pet that provides milk and keep her in a tiny yard never meant for cows.  And for GOD’s sake, don’t buy a cow you have to keep in a converted garage attached to your  house.

If you can’t keep a cow humanely and properly, admire them from afar.

Basically, let cows be cows and respect them for what they are.

The case for cross bred dual purpose cows


Many modern families are moving toward a more connected and simple lifestyle on the small farm and homestead. They desire to raise their own fresh foods and have a hands on approach to what they put on their table. Be it beef or dairy the goal from their future family cow, both can be accomplished with the addition of a well bred dual-purpose bovine.

There is a common misconception that a beef / dairy cross is undesirable for milk and lends itself less to quality in beef. This is far from true. A well selected and bred cross of beef and dairy breeds gives the best of both worlds without the usual lacks and frailties.

There are recognized breeds of dual-purpose cattle available: Dexter, Highland, Shorthorns and Simmental Cattle are all examples of easily procured breeds of this type.

While I admire the features of these breeds, as they are breed trait specific, one only gets the benefits of what is in the animal’s direct bloodline, whereas with the intentionally crossbred bovine, one develops the best of the best traits of both breeds.

Of late, there have been numerous studies on the benefits of intentionally cross breeding strong breeds of both dairy and beef. The findings tout the monetary, time, vigor and production gains of such pairings.

Penn State University did a study on cross bred cattle titled “ Crossbreeding is a good idea ; because heterosis is free money’. Heterosis is the emphasis of a value or trait as compared to the parent animal’s value of the same trait. They found that a pairing of breeds that are more genetically different pass more of the heterosis benefit to their offspring than those genetically similar. In example, a Jersey X Hereford would produce a calf of stronger positive characteristics of the sire and dam than a Hereford X Angus would, meaning that the beef x dairy cross would have the best of the parents traits at a higher percentage than the beef x beef breed cross.

According to the FAO ( Food and Agriculture organization) , small countries such as those in Latin America are turning to the dual purpose, cross bred cow not only for family use, but in large operations as well. Their hardiness, disease and defect resistance and ability to maintain and gain being key factors in that movement. The study that the FAO did regarding cross bred , dual purpose cattle was based on the success of these struggling farmers after switching to the cross bred type of cattle. The FAO’s primary mission statement is to end world hunger. They look for the most efficient plan and the least expensive to maintain for developing countries struggling to maintain livestock and feed the hungry. The FAO likes the dual purpose , cross bred cow for this goal.

How do we decide what cross breeds will work for both quality meat and rich milk? We choose two breeds that already provide those things separately and put them together, taking advantage of the aforementioned heterosis.

The American Hereford association actually recommends breeding Jerseys and Hereford for a strong, dual purpose cow. They cite the benefits of the superior beef traits of the Hereford and the superior dairy traits of the Jersey being the perfect combination, or in their own words ‘ the perfect cross’. The Hereford’s feed conversion efficiency, which translates into live weight gain in steers and exceptional weight maintenance on pasture in the heifer and cow make for not only better beef and dairy gains in the Jersey X Hereford offspring, but at a lower cost to the keeper. A quote from the article:

We did some research into Herefords and thought that using the Hereford on our Hereford X Jersey cows could work well. We felt that both breeds had good fertility, easy calving, the Jersey had plenty of high quality milk ideal for rearing beef calves while the Hereford offered high quality, marbled beef. In addition both the Jersey and Hereford were calm breeds and easy to handle,”

In a study by The Hereford Cattle association comparing beef breed traits and characteristics such as feed efficiency and general health and function, the Hereford was number one in all categories , across the board , for a 7 year controlled study of various highly recognized beef breeds. It is suggested that combining that upper tier beef influence with the globally recognized production capability and milk quality of the Jersey cow can result in the finest cross bred , dual purpose offspring.

A separate article by Hereford Cattle Association spotlights a rancher who has made the Hereford X Jersey his standard to much success and global benefit.

In an article on Lifestyle Block, Dr. Clive Dalton also recommends creating your own dual-purpose cow by crossing the Hereford and Jersey:

Michigan State University did a study of long term crossbreeding and the results. Some of these intentional pairings have so consistently produced offspring with similar, hardy traits that they are now recognized as their own breed: The RX3 ( Holstein X Red Angus ), The Beefmaker ( Hereford X Simmental ) and the Florida Cracker. The findings of this particular study outlined the benefits of such pairings:

Calf vigor

hybrid vigor

Feed Conversion


environmental tolerance

dietary tolerance

Overall general health long term

significantly reduced fertility and birth/delivery issues

In all considerations, the hybrid not only excelled as compared to the ‘ true bred’ offspring, but carried all the best qualities of the sire and dam.

Then too, there is an increase of the desirability and marketability of the Jersey steer or bull calf when combined with respected beef genetics. An article on AgWeb outlines a study by The University of Minnesota showing that the Jersey X Beef calves brought up to ten times more than straight Jersey male calves. In their study, they crossed a Jersey with a Limousin and the resulting calf was dubbed a ‘ Beef Builder’.

A study called : ‘ Production comparisons among various two breed cross cow groups’ observes that the Jersey cross is most efficient in calf weight ratio at weaning—the calf weight was highest for Jersey cross calves as compared to their dam’s weight at weaning age.

At SpiritGrove Farm we are inclined to agree with the findings of the various studies on cross bred bovines. We have had several here and have been impressed with each one for their personalities , appearances, qualities of meat and milk and abilities to gain and maintain weight on pasture. They seem to have less birth / rearing issues as indicated by recent studies and their production and quality of milk and beef have not disappointed.

It is recommended by all studies that to produce the best results with the top gains of genetic influences, one should pair a beef bull of sound breeding and genetics to a dairy cow of the same genetic appeal. We have done both here: Hereford bull to Jersey Cow and vice versa. I agree with the finding that beef over dairy is the best combination for primary beef production but my experience has been that a dairy bull of astute and exemplary breeding over a beef cow produces offspring with a greater milk production capability, while maintaining a high quality of beef; it just depends on what you’re looking for in a cross bred bovine.

  Here at our farm , we have further found that for the small farm, using miniature bulls of impressive genetics over thoughtfully cultivated Jerseys or Herefords , even standards, produces some added benefits–We keep a miniature Hereford and two miniature Jersey bulls for these effects:        Smaller calf size which lends itself to easy delivery, better weight maintenance of the dam through pregnancy and post calving, less risk of milk fever* that Jerseys are prone to due to their high production levels & propensity for difficulty  with maintaining weight and nutrients while in lactation– the smaller mini sired calf  puts less draw on the dam’s physical resources post calving.                                                                                                                           

There is also the benefit to the buyer of a thoughtfully cross bred percentage miniature bovine that requires less space on the small farm and does well on a variety of grazing situations.       

 * Milk fever is caused by a consumption of calcium from the tissues of the cow by the demand for milk production exceeding her ability to produce ( hypocalcaemia)* . 

There is a rising appreciation  for the dual purpose cow of quality breeding, particularly with a miniature influence. Multiple registries and other official entities in the mini bovine world, devote time and space on their pages to what is commonly referred to as the J-lo, Jey-Low or low line beef over Jersey cross. The lower cost and vitality, which parlays into ease of keeping is one of the appealing factors for the small farm or homestead. The dual purpose bovine does well on pasture and requires less cost to feed. They also can provide the obvious, both meat and milk for a family in a single animal or herd rather than keeping two separate breeds and possibly, two separate bulls. They are excellent candidates for organic, grass fed farmsteads. You can garner rich milk from a cross bred cow, but don’t necessarily have to milk them on a regular , twice daily schedule as they, with the mini genetics in the mix, are generally not heavy producers. And their offspring are just the cutest…there is that factor.


The bottom line is that the cross bred, dual purpose family cow is great for the bottom line, in all factors. I have spotlighted the Hereford X Jersey in this article because that is what I believe to be the best cross based on the information I have and the experiences I have with that pairing. This two breed cross works best for my intentions for my herd and provides my buyer and myself with excellent beef and dairy.

It is not the only superior cross out there.

Tammy Marr

SpiritGrove Farm

  • Any links to studies not included herein came from fee related resources, subscriptions or text books.

Other materials and resources:

Dairy and Beef cattle by Thomas

Animal Science and Technology by Miksell / Baker

The Future of Animal Farming by Dawkins

Grass Fed Cattle by Bennett

Farm Animal Well Being by Ewing /Lay & Von Borell

National Agriculture Library / USDA

Agricultural Sciences – SCIRP Journal of agricultural sciences

Some truths I’ve found in farming



I am often asked even by close friends why I farm. The question is occasionally prefaced by a laundry list of all of the hard work, financial strains, difficult decisions and tough situations farming entails.
Each time, I answer simply, ‘ because I love it.’
I state that with emotionally tethered sincerity. I love farming.
Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it is rife with heartache and strain. Indeed, there are days you can’t picture yourself getting through in one piece and there are more sleepless nights than one can anticipate.
It is most assuredly hard, dirty work, trudging through manure laden mud at times that is so deep it fills your boots and sucks them off; I joke that decades from now, someone will buy this farm and find so many pairs and singles of footwear lost to mud, they will believe an entire colony of same sized farmers lived here.
Farming is demanding; of your time, your finances, your emotions, your body, your mind and your beliefs.  Yes, your beliefs. You will find renewed faith in some long held convictions and a loss or evolution of others. You will not be the same person in spirit or thought 2 years into farming of any kind that you were when you began.
Farming alters every aspect of your life and processes–neither body , mind , habit nor schedule is untouched. You will become stronger, require less sleep, require more silence and stillness.
You will no longer make long term plans to ‘away’, your schedule and availability are at the whim of  influences you respect as being beyond your planning and control. You will connect more, but socialize less.
You will be more capable and self-sufficient. You will learn to stand alone and act alone in the scariest and most physically demanding moments, because you have no choice–lives depend on it.
You’ll learn to appreciate your own company and savor alone time.

You will accomplish things you never pictured yourself attempting on your own and feel a sense of pride in the smallest of tasks.
You will become self-reliant in most things, but will lean heavily on your mentors and fellow Farm hims and hers when the chips are down, and they will respond with support of all kinds and in whatever way they capable of helping.
You will learn things that allow you a confidence and aptitude in many aspects of living that you never even considered before and that knowledge will change you in many ways you hadn’t counted on.  For example, I can no longer enjoy many meals in restaurants I used to frequent aside from seafood. Knowing the outstanding taste and texture of fresh foods, combined with the mental images of how a lot of Big Ag livestock are treated and the detrimental additives they employ has left a foul taste in my mouth for foods sourced commercially. I am forever altered by farm fresh, humanely raised and processed foods, in health and spirit.
You will develop an affinity and kinship with your charges that allows you to tell they are ‘ off ‘ before they fall ill. You will be able to singularly identify an animal from behind in a herd identically marked, by her udder or her gait. There is an awareness that comes with observant vigilance you cannot fathom without acquiring it for yourself.
You will do and say things that would have made you cock your head before you started farming. You’ll spend an awful lot of time staring at , admiring and even proclaiming admiration of the personal parts of your livestock and of the livestock of others. You’ll say things out loud to your stock like, “wow ! your poop looks great today ! Yay you ! ” You’ll endlessly talk to your non-farming friend over lunch about the bodily functions of your cow, using words like ” mucus” , ” vulva” and ” stool” as you eat your salad and she drops her fork.
You will amaze yourself. You’ll cry from being tired and worried, alone in your barns, but you’ll finish what needs to be done.

You’ll take care of what needs to be tended no matter the weather, the danger, the pain in your bones or the illness of your body. I dragged myself around on a broken and separated ankle for two and half weeks before agreeing to surgery because I was afraid of what would happen to my animals if I was out of commission. I once milked cows while vomiting in a bucket I had next to me, then threw all the milk to the pigs.
From time to time, I shake my own head and ask why I do it, then I remember life before farming, I remember ME before farming and I plow on.
I grew up in a lower class, crime ridden, mid city neighborhood. I hated it.
Worse yet, I enjoyed no stable or loving home life, being alone much from the age of 8 and wishing I was alone much of the time when I wasn’t.
I sought refuge in the one wooded area my neighborhood offered , at the back of the community beside the railroad tracks. Abutting this wooded area was a horse farm surrounded by deep ditches that to me, seemed like tiny streams. I spent a lot of time there as a child and young woman. Every chance I had, I’d take a bag of snacks and a book and spend hours sitting on the bank of the ditch on the neighborhood side, enticing the horses with sugar cubes and apple bits. It was my dream to live there or somewhere like it. It was peaceful. It was full of animals. It sheltered happy people dwelling in a happy home.
Before I arrived at this place, I suffered with many effects of my former life: Depression, anxiety, weight struggles, sleeplessness, anger…
All of those things resolved themselves over time spent on this farm. I didn’t work at them. I just gradually stopped acknowledging them, replacing those negative aspects with positive ones without effort: eating fresh foods, working hard and tiring myself, finding comfort and peace among my cows and peers,living away from the over-stimulation of city life, etc…had an effect on me that no medications, therapies or external efforts could accomplish.
I learned in studying psychology formally that every action we do, every decision we make, has a payoff for us. Positive or negative, there is a subconscious part of our brain that yearns for that payoff. Even negative actions gain us something we may not even realize we want.
Although most people I know living in large towns and cities are living a life of productivity and choice, I have come to realize there are those folks who crave negativity and propagate the  harshness of the modern city, just as there are those who stay only due to fear of leaving it’s conveniences and commercial accessibility.
I did not fully recognize just how much overt negativity and disharmony I was surrounded and bombarded by until I was apart from it.  I feel deeply for those who wish to escape it’s assault on their senses and spirit and are trapped in it like I used to be.
Here, I am surrounded by peace and beauty. No matter how badly a day goes, there is always at least one moment, one happening, one sight, that makes me smile. I have come to feel those moments in my core and appreciate them for the gift they are.
The smallest things fill me with gratitude–the soft moos coming from the darkness as I walk to the parlor, the sight of a bouncing calf, the smell of a tomato as it’s pulled from the vine. These things are the stuff of life. These things are the truest this world has to offer.