Baby and Delia have been with us for one month. We are getting to know each other quite well - and Baby is a very friendly and extremely playful cow ( a bit disconcerting when she starts leaping around like a frisky lamb!) . They expect a treat or titbit whenever we visit, and come running towards us at the sight of the pink trug - usually containing some hay and barley, or chopped apple or carrot. They are a lovely pair and have attracted several complimentary comments from neighbouring crofters.
Since they have been with us, they have eaten almost 3/4s of an acre of good grass. we have been very taken with Joel Salatin's approach to raising cattle, and grassland management - allowing the cattle to behave naturally - as they would in the wild. So in essence that means imitating the wild herds which would roam over the land grazing an area, fertilising it, and then moving on - allowing the grass to recover before they return the following year. This is achieved by using electric fencing, and moving the cattle every day to a new strip of grass, or salad bar, as he calls it.
We have been trying out this system on our smallholding. We have just over 3 acres at present, but have access to the common hill grazings around the township too. Our plan is to let Delia and Baby graze off this one acre field, and then put them on the common grazings until October. We are currently cutting our back two acre field for hay, and we will let that grow up again to allow them to graze as long as possible once they come back down.
The girls love having their new salad bar every day, and tuck right in. It seems to be a simple and effective system, so far, but we will see how it goes. Ideally we should let the hens on to the ground, following the cows - and that may happen next year if we increase our flock.
We have decided not to milk these ladies. Delia is ten years old, and has never been milked before, and Baby is a Dexter/Belted Galloway cross, so not a milk cow. What we will do is to breed from both, using a Dexter male, and hopefully one of their daughters - probably Delia's, will be our milker. How to achieve this state of affairs has caused many roundabout discussions, furrowed brows and questioning of neighbouring cattlemen. There are no Dexter bulls on the Western Isles - so a long trip in a trailer, and a 3 hour ferry ride is not our favoured option. AI, though not ideal, seems, at the moment, to be the most practical solution to get us started on the Delia dynasty. We shall see...
But for now, we keep moving that fence, strip by strip, learning everyday.
And hopefully we'll have a few skills to pass on one day.