A patch of land is nothing without animals. And a woman on a patch of land is nothing without a dog. Visiting children over the past year have been incredibly disappointed in the lack of beasts, hardly believing that Yandoit Creek Farm could be a farm without them. They are right of course, and the neighbour’s herd of agisting cattle and the resident kangaroos don’t count.
So, what dog for the country life? I knew what worked in the city. Twelve years ago I read a snippet in the newspaper about adoption of failed and aged racing greyhounds and liked the sound of them – I got along to Greyhound Victoria and through the GAP program chose a beautiful gentle blue called Aya.
She became a publican in Fitzroy (illegally lounging on my bar’s floor and obscuring various doorways) for six good years before I sold up and she retired to the suburbs when I went to work on yachts. I’m putting this gratuitous pet shot in because the greyhound racing industry is brutal and adopters are greatly needed and Aya is such a slinky poster child for the cause.
I tried very hard to choose another breed this time around – life is short, best to experience as many breeds as possible perhaps? But working dogs such as kelpies and border collies need a job, which I don’t have to give them, and I am also a lazy trainer. So I came around to greyhounds again because they are quite relaxed and affectionate animals who lie down a lot in between short bouts of impressive sprinting.
Through an introduction from a neighbour, I visited a greyhound trainer in Melbourne on my 40th birthday and picked up a nameless black dog straight from the kennel. A “fast runner but unfocused” and therefore useless for the track. The trainer said she’d be a lot of fun. The first name that popped into my head was Lola.
A few months in she is, indeed, a lot of fun. And nothing like my gentle, self-regulating, restrained Aya. Instead I’m getting this:
So, I’ve got the loopy dog. And two months ago, still without running water or the wood fire in place, it felt like the right time to get a house cow. A few neighbours and I had been talking about it for a while, and not keen on doing it alone, we thought one milker between four parties might work well. After a few working bees to get the pens sorted, Pepe and I towed a stock trailer a couple of hours north-east of Bendigo to pick up a pregnant three-year old Jersey and two three-month old heifer calves from the same herd.
Why Jerseys? For milk fat and personality basically. They produce the highest butterfat content and also the most milk per kilo of body weight of any breed. They’re docile, on the small side and good in a hot climate.
The cow committee owns the milker and Pepe and I each got a calf to raise to become house cows for sale two years down the track. Our milker came with the name Lola. Out of a herd of 154, we land the one with the same name as my dog. I can’t have half the farm animals with the same name – could the cow committee please come up with a new one? Not with any conviction, so Lola (Senior) she remains.
What do you know about cows? I didn’t know a single thing but I really want to learn the mysteries of animal husbandry and a cow is a good place to start. As in all things, but particularly with animals, it helps to be relaxed. There’s no fudging it when it comes to milking time however – you either know what you’re doing or you don’t, you can either get the cups on or you fumble, drop them in the dirt and have to start again and risk Lola Snr getting impatient.
Pepe sourced a reconditioned single cow milking machine. Thank god for mechanisation as I have not yet developed the skills for successful hand milking and even if I did I don’t fancy the idea of pulling down endless litres of milk when there are many other things to get done. Right now the whole process takes 45 minutes from luring her to the milking pen to giving her Pepe’s special grain mix (crack for cows) at the end and cleaning up.
As her range of behaviours reveals itself and our practical skills improve to make daily milking easier, the stewardship of this gracious beast feels like a very manageable responsibility. It’s good to be sharing the privilege with friends – whilst pregnant she’s been putting out about six litres of milk a day, which will rise to between 10 and 15 once she’s calved. We have a very loose roster and each milk a couple of days a week at the convenient time of 4pm (no dawn milkings here!) and keep what we get that day.
Too much milk. A fine problem to have. It elevates my morning coffee, I am master of the rice pudding and I haven’t even started on yoghurt, cheese or butter yet. I barter for eggs and I send a lot down to poor friends in Melbourne who are subsisting on cooked supermarket stuff. Occasionally the dog gets a treat.
I did not anticipate how much being involved with a cow would improve my quality of life. The social aspect is really gratifying and visiting children are now satisfied the baby farm is not a fraud. I’ve read a lot around raw milk (the history of which is particularly interesting) and also about the high levels of A2 protein in Jersey milk, which may be better than A1 protein for those suffering lactose intolerance (jury’s out). I’ve got a useful product to exchange and the start of some practical skills. The garden has an endless supply of excellent cow poo. The pasture is kept in order.
I think the best endorsement of our move into dairy comes from the toddler of a chef at work who gets milk off me – when he opens the fridge door in the morning his daughter loses her mind in anticipation – “MIIIIIIIIILK!” Kids know what’s good.