So we’re trying to figure out if pastured dairy is not only doable, but economically viable on our homestead. Like so many of the other experiments on our place our primary goal is to provide for our family the absolute best tasting, most nutritionally dense, and uterly healthy food posible. Secondary to that goal is minimizing inputs (financial, labor, etc.) while maximizing outputs….basic frugality and convenience. Enter our pasture based livestock production!
Grass grows pretty good here, heck you can’t stop the stuff sometimes! Just harvest it with some animals and you’re all set right!?! If it were only that easy…there’s science, there’s art, there’s a massive learning curve! That’s where we’re at now learning and trying to produce frugally at the same time. Trying to minimize inputs while maximizing outputs is the Holy Grail of homesteading so to speak, dairy production is no exeption here.
What we’ve learned so far: our pasture is not rich enough (i.e. legume rich) for standard dairy breeds even from a pasture based system, cows take a while to adjust to new forage conditions, pastures take a while to develop and recover from abuse and chemical dependancy, we may have made the jump to dairy before our forage base was ready, pastured dairy can be done (we have some friends that are making this happen nearby and we know of pastured dairy on a comercial scale elsewhere).
What we plan to do about it: in the short term we are resorting to purchased inputs to keep our milk cow in good shape (we’ve been feeding a balage product called Chafhaye with good results) not cheap, we’re looking at ways to improve our pastures through various management techniques (i.e. rotational grazing, bale grazing, forage stockpiling, and overseeding), we’re also looking to breed some more hardiness and thrift into the next generation of dairy animals with our devon (milking & red) bulls.
As always we’re looking at a continuous feedback loop, and must observe, evaluate, and adapt moving forward. I found a video from Dharma Lea farms (Maple Hill Creamery producer) documenting their progress in developing pasture and matching cattle genetics for pastured production. Their success, along with our friends progress at 7-U Ranch, have really given us hope and provide inspiration…this video is not our farm, but hopefully someday soon we’ll have this kind of production…it can be done!