He had time to wine and dine her, and nine months later, a baby was born
authority. Even so, he was now stomping and pawing and flexing his muscles and make dirt holes everywhere, not really threatening, but no longer trustworthy around the sort of visitors I have (that is, people with no animal sense whatsoever). Since I contend nothing is worth the risk of an injury, he went to the abattoir and I was pleasantly surprised at the cheque. My next strategy was to time-share. A neighbour has four cows (which he uses to raise calves) and we decided one bull between us would do.
Actually, due to a fence-jumping incident I won’t go into, we had already tested this procedure and thankfully he had quite liked the resulting Welsh Blackcross calves.
I sourced another Welsh Black bull and he grazed at the neighbours and when the time came, I led my house cow over for a romantic holiday.
Unfortunately female cattiness is rife in the bovine world, and whenever I looked over the fence, his cows were making sure mine wasn’t getting anywhere near their man. She was ostracised and obviously miserable but I figured when the time came he would see her attractions, assert his rights and nature’s urges would overcome all. I have several neighbours who are all fantastic at sharing resources which makes life so much easier.
The commercial dairy farmer next door uses several bulls to service his heifers, up until Christmas. Being a good neighbourly person with lots of summer grass, I offered to graze a bull for him for a couple of months after he had finished with them.
This worked wonderfully. We opened a gate, led my cow through and the bull followed us home. He had time to pay individual attention to my cow, wine and dine her properly and nine months later a baby was born.
But that was the sticky bit. Nine months after Christmas (as many mothers know) is September. Although I originally thought September-october would be a perfect time for calving – warmer weather, less mud and more grass – I was wrong.
Excess grass around calving contributes to milk fever and it was difficult to source foster calves that late in the season. Suddenly, what had been almost free from the neighbours was big dollars and serious travel away. If I wanted to foster two or more sets of calves onto my cow (which I did), I needed her in sync with the commercial dairy farm cycle, so she needed to calve sometime in June-july. Most dairy farmers simply use AI (artificial insemination) and require no bull at all.
They determine when the cow is cycling, put in a call and a technician arrives and inserts the herd with ‘straws’ of semen pre-ordered from a charming bull with all the right attributes. This, said neighbour number three, was the way to go.
The first part of the equation is determining the window when the cow is on heat. Cows cycle every 18-24 days, are ‘on heat’ for about 14 hours, then ovulate 8-12 hours later.
It’s a rather short window to pick up and act upon. Dairy farmers use tail paint (literally a spray can of special paint) or stickers. You put these on the tailbone of
the cow and when she is on heat (oestrus) other cows will mount her and rub the paint or scratch the scratchie. You will spot this immediately and call the AI technician to come and insert the semen and she will become pregnant.
However, in practice my cow did not like the stickers or the paint and would flick at them with her rather long (and I considered both beautiful and essential for fly swatting) tail. This would cause a degree of rubbing and it was hard to tell what was what.
I eventually found a sticker that had a red dye capsule in it, one that would break and therefore be definitive. But then when she did cycle, who was there to mount her? Her bull calf. Could he reach that high? And I had to check her twice a day to catch whether she was ovulating.
The next problem was sourcing the semen and getting a technician lined up. I have a friend who moonlights for extra cash as a technician but try calling LIC and telling them you want one single frozen semen straw.
Neighbour three came to the rescue, providing a book containing pictures of sexy looking bulls groomed to shine and with all their attributes listed (cow porn?) so I ordered a straw along with theirs. They also conned their technician into popping next door with it at the determined time.
I tried this several times. It never worked. I obviously wasn’t getting my timing right, and my cow developed a distinct aversion to strangers sticking their arm up her jacksie. I can’t say I blamed her. While I had a good bail to hold her in, the stress may have contributed to the lack of success.
However, Gallagher has recently released a Flashmate Heat Detector. This
® electronic button “needs significantly less understanding and skill in correctly identifying heats” so I think I will give one a try on my new cow next year.
Method 5: synthesised
My new cow is a beautifully-natured, small, A2 Jersey. She’s raised seven calves this year, and we’ve had enough milk left over to fill the fridge with cheese and cream and milk galore. She is (almost) the perfect house cow and I would love a heifer calf from her.
To ensure I got what I wanted, when I wanted it, I decided it was time to give nature a helping hand. CIDR (Controlled Internal Drug Release, pronounced ‘seedur’) was developed in NZ in the 1980s and is a progesterone-releasing device
inserted into a cow by a vet. I had some concerns regarding artificially disturbing her natural rhythms but my vet assured me it was no different to me taking the Pill, simply resetting her cycles.
It’s all very clinical: injection, CIDR inserted, time calculated, CIDR out, another injection, sexed semen ordered (via the neighbour) and the AI technician arrived on schedule.
All very clinical, costly and useless. CDIRING has a 50% success rate, and while it was worth a crack to get the heifer calf I wanted, it was just as well I had a back-up bull that I ran her with afterwards. She is pregnant, but not by the CDIR method. Part of my cow’s duties is to raise next year’s steak. To save any hassles, I always get bull calves and castrate them so I only have steers.
Now I’m simply going to leave one entire. If I can get hold of a Murray Grey-cross calf, he is the lucky boy. I like their nature and the fact they are naturally polled (no horns). I’ll raise him with the other calves for 14 months, run him with my cow for three months, and come Christmas, sell him off the farm.
It’s simple, profitable, no stress and, so far, 100% successful. This is now my preferred method and what I do even if it is just as a back-up for an AI.
Dipping my toe into the social media arena with Facebook and Twitter took a lot of cajoling and encouragement from my family and friends. Publicising my book How to Make Cheese with Jean Mansfield was the impetus I needed to take that step.
I joined a few online cheesemaking communities and gingerly began interacting with people from around the world. One of them was Chera GunterRenouf, a self-taught cheesemaker from Canada who started a Facebook group called Learn to Make Cheese a couple of years ago.
Chera (pronounced Sheer-ruh) and I became such good online friends, she invited Dave and I to visit her home in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, off the coast of Vancouver, and meet members of the Learn to Make Cheese group. While many are local to Chera, or at least in Canada, a lot of the other 7500+ members are from NZ and all over the world.
It was one of those Facebook moments when I thought “that is never going to happen”. Who gets to travel to the other side of the world to meet fantastic likeminded people who love cheesemaking as much as we do?
The key to the success of Chera’s group is the camaraderie of the cheesemakers, their friendship, cooperation and kindness. We help each other solve issues that arise from cheesemaking. Beginners and experienced cheesemakers interact within the group in a positive way. Some have milking animals, others are very limited in their access to milk but all are enthusiastically learning about cheese.
Chera is the driving force and was also the driver of the Mansfield family when we touched down at Campbell River. Although we had hired a car at the airport, driving on the other side of the road in unfamiliar territory takes a little bit of adjustment.
Flying from Vancouver to Campbell River gave us a bird’s eye view of the topography, its lush green forest interlaced with ribbons of waterways and sprinklings of houses, making it very reminiscent of coastal New Zealand.
Chera chauffeured us around until we were a bit more comfortable with the area. We then took a car ferry to nearby Quandra Island and visited with members of the group who own and milk goats. It was the first time I have seen the enchanting Nigerian dwarf goats, and there were domestic goats and wild deer grazing together in the back garden. Dave opened the door and the quite fearless deer approached to within a metre. The multi-coloured goats included a handsome billy called Qheffner who frolicked in the sunshine, creating a delightful snapshot for our memories.
Canada’s raw milk laws are very confining and frustrating for home cheesemakers. Raw milk cannot be sold or even given away so if you have milking livestock, you can only drink or use the milk within your own household. Homogenised pasteurised milk is the only milk available for sale.
Nevertheless, they are determined and many have their own animals and produce fantastic cheeses. We ate a light and delicious chèvre, an unctuous feta did not last long on my salad of hand-picked greens, and the pinnacle of any home cheesemakers repertoire was a stunning washed rind taleggio-style cheese. They were just a few samples of the levels of sophistication these skilled cheesemakers have reached.
I learned so much and I hope they learned from me too. I realised how lucky we are in NZ to have access to a range of high quality milk suitable for cheesemaking, and easy access to supplies and equipment.
My heartfelt thanks to Chera for hosting Dave and I, and also for what she is doing for the cheesemaking community worldwide. This is a monumental task and one that is giving encouragement, pleasure and satisfaction to so many.
1Add the buttermilk to the milk, stir, cover, and leave at room temperature (approximately 20°C) overnight.
2Store in the fridge, where it will keep for a week.