The following day was my day off and by Thursday a newer idea had planted in the brain of Mr Gott. Cows. This seems like a rather radical idea when you first hear it but actually makes more sense at the end of the day than buying in milk. They are already set up to milk animals and a milking parlour is not so hard to adapt. They don’t need to buy more than 6 cows in order to have enough milk to be making the equivalent of peak sheeps milk season over the winter and these cows can be bought from a breeder, already in milk a couple at a time. And finally, if it does all go wrong, the cows can be sold at pretty close to the amount for which they were bought while a new vat will depreciate and also could be difficult to shift too.
Of course the other bonus of buying the animals is that we can make cheese from Shorthorn milk too. Why Shorthorn? Because the older breeds of cow are better suited to the older ways of using milk – ie cheese. Modern dairy farming assumes that the farmer wants to sell liquid milk and the more he (or she) can sell, the more he (or she) can earn. So cows are bred to produce higher quantities of milk but at a cost. There are higher incidences of fertility problems both getting in calf and delivering the calves and in birth deformities as well. They are often taller but lean and rangy needing large quantities of food and in concentrated form in order to keep up with their milk production. They can go lame a lot more easily. In other words they are bred to be very specialised for the purpose of giving large quantities of milk. For a farm like Martin & Nicola’s however they need a smaller animal that requires less veterinary attention and certainly less intensive feeding as their animals are largely pasture fed. They also don’t need a lot of milk but do need milk with good solid content. Again the older breeds score highest here too because the cows giving large volumes don’t give the highest fat and protein contents per litre so while the amount of milk is greater, the yield in terms of cheese doesn’t increase in the same ratio as production.
So Nicola and I went to the Great Yorkshire Show on Wednesday to look at livestock and see the sort of cows they’re likely to be buying. Important for Nicola in particular as she’ll be doing the lion’s share of the milking and purely practically speaking, she can’t be milking a big animal. I was largely along for a day out and out of curiosity and the chance to say hello to a few people I know there. Meanwhile after having made the day’s cheese, Martin headed off to Kendal to a local Shorthorn breeder and found that there were cows available from August to November and that they could buy the smaller, plumper, docile and lower yielding animals they want. On Saturday, they ordered the new milking parlour equipment to be able to milk 2 cows at a time through the parlour. There’s no going back now!