Saturday, August 05, 2006


Can I get a do-over? I'll just say that today involved, at various times, shards of metal, gallons of sweat, battery acid, multiple baths for a certain family member, sizzling copper wiring, and at least half a tank of gas wasted, in a series of unrelated disasters.

But I'm gonna write about something else: Cows. Well, and bulls. And other such-like animals.

I've been amusing myself by researching various types of livestock. Lori's reviewing poultry already, so I thought I'd try my hand at cattle.

Now, it's always troubled me that there doesn't seem to be a singular, gender-neutral word for this animal in English. We tend to say "cow" but that's a female. And besides, it's also used for other animals, like whales, elephants, and moose. And even the plural form, cattle, apparently didn't originate as a term specifically for the bovine realm. Can we just come together and agree on one? I mean, we've had many, many centuries to work this out. Let's stop procrastinating. How about "cattlid"? "Bovus"? "Beefulon"? Hmmm. Maybe I'd better leave it up to somebody else...

At any rate, the thing that appeals to me about cattle is that they can be quite a versatile part of a small farm. They can be used for meat, for milk, and for draft power. They are also generally fairly hardy.

(Of course, yaks trump cattle by adding wool, ridability, extreme hardiness, and better grazing efficiency. Oh, and also skiing, and polo. But unfortunately, I haven't seen too many domesticated yaks around this continent.)

Many of the modern breeds of cattle have been bred for a single purpose - either milk or meat. Draft power is mostly lost to the march of Progress. And we're approaching a monoculture in large scale beef and dairy operations, with just a couple breeds dominating.

But some of the heritage breeds can still multi-task quite well. The American Milking Devon arrived in Plymouth with some of the first British settlers, and was prized for it's ability to provide good beef, good dairy products, good draft power, and a decent temperament.

The downside of cattle is that they are fairly large, and fairly inefficient foragers compared to some other livestock. They have to graze quite a bit, and much of what they eat comes out the other end. In other words, they need a fair amount of pasture to sustain them.

We have a bit of pasture, but probably not enough to keep several bovines fed. (And don't get me off on a tangent by bringing up grain feeding... I'll just say that from everything I've read, grass fed cattle produce environmentally and nutritionally superior meat and milk.)

With my head in a self-sufficiency space, it seems like keeping only one animal greatly inhibits production of any more generations. And bringing in hay, or a bull, or whatever else, creates a dependency that I'd rather avoid.

So I started thinking small. One of the smallest all-purpose breeds is the Dexter. These guys weigh in at half the size of many standard breeds, and are efficient grazers as far as cattle are concerned. They can reportedly get by on a half acre of good pasture per animal. (That sounds really low, but what do I know?)

Obviously smaller animals provide less total meat, milk, and draft power per head, but pound for pound, they do as well or better than many larger breeds. And they're a lot less intimidating. Some might even use the word "cute."

Oh, and in case anybody is wondering, (is anybody even still reading?) goats and cattle can coexist on the same pasture quite well, since they prefer different types of plants. Mixing livestock is actually supposed to be a good way to break some soil-borne disease and parasite cycles too.

So are we getting some cattle? Probably not any time soon, unless they are of the visitor variety. But that doesn't stop me from reading up on them. And hey, anything can happen. I mean, I was living in the heart of suburbia only last year.

The photos are borrowed from Rural Heritage. There are at least a dozen other breeds of multipurpose cattle out there, many of which I find very interesting, but you may not, so I won't bore you with endless rambling.

But I will leave you with one very startling photo of a breed called Chianina (which I beleive my wife described as "unnatural"...):


At 8/07/2006 12:11 PM, Blogger Suzer said...

O.K., I don't know which would scare me more coming face to face with a bear or one of those Chianina cows. Probably the cow because as your wife suggested, I would assume it was A. either a horrible mutation, or B. sent from hell to destroy the world. Neither bode well for the characters of the story if you watch horror movies at all.

At 8/07/2006 5:23 PM, Blogger madcapmum said...

It's a bit archaic, but isn't the word "kine" the term for cows and bulls both?

At 8/07/2006 7:27 PM, Blogger Beo said...

Would a small breed do what you need? Are you looking for draft? Can you get Jinx a friend and get them trained? Are you looking for milk? Can you milk your goats? Meat? Manure? All the above?

Can't wait to see the battery acid/metal shard post...

At 8/08/2006 7:59 AM, Blogger ~Lori said...

In your description of yaks, the word "ridability" for some reason came across to me as "ribaldity" when I first read it. I don't even know if that's a real word. But the idea of going looking for an animal that would bring ribaldity to the table made me snort my coffee.

You know, the bottom line is, we need about 20 more acres.

At 8/08/2006 8:10 AM, Blogger e4 said...

suzer - I think you and my wife are on the same page...

mad - "Kine" huh? Good to know.

beo - We do milk one goat and hope to have at least two in milk next spring.

Getting a second donkey would inhibit their livestock guardian duties because they'd just hang out with each other. Not that he's really integrating into the herd anyway...

As far as what we're looking for... At the moment I'm interested in draft power on a small scale.

Versatility is always a plus for me. I tend to adopt Alton Brown's kitchen philosophy that multitaskers are strongly preferred over unitaskers.

At this point, it's just an intellectual exercise though. I'm trying to educate myself in as many different areas as I can manage.

Lori - Yep, we've adopted the motto of farmers everywhere: "Just a few more acres..."

As for ribaldity... that would be something!

At 8/08/2006 10:56 AM, Blogger madcapmum said...

No, I was too tired yesterday. "Kine" is plural again. So, next I vote for "kin" as the non-gender-specific singular.

At 8/08/2006 9:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grammer and symantics aside, your first paragraph sounds like a wonderful way to spend a day to me. I love the smell of cooking insulation in the morning!


At 6/01/2009 1:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That cow would really scare the **** out of me if it came up on me unexpectedly!


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