Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund
Follow the FTCLDF on Twitter. Click on this button!
Defending the rights and broadening the freedoms of family farms and protecting
consumer access to raw milk and nutrient dense foods.
Email Share

In the Backyard, Not Just a Garden, but Cows

By WENDY CARLSON Published: August 24, 2008

Article from NY Times

WHAT’S a weekend farmer to do once the garden is planted and the chickens are in the coop?

Get a family cow, of course.

With food and fuel costs rising and the demand for fresh, local produce outpacing availability, some amateur farmers with enough acreage and agricultural acumen have opted to buy the cow instead of the milk.

“We moved into an 1870 farmhouse in Lebanon four years ago and the property came with a huge cow barn,” Sue Bergamo said. “We’ve got chickens, put in a large garden, got goats and now we really want to have our own cows.”

Charles, her husband, said, “We’re getting one cow — not a herd.”

Because neither the husband nor the wife knows a heifer from a Holstein, the Bergamos decided to attend a workshop at Local Farm in Cornwall Bridge where other people like them — those new to farming, that is — learn what it takes to care for a cow.

Debra Tyler, who sells raw milk and raises cows at Local Farm, offered the first workshop six years ago. She had founded a nonprofit organization called Motherhouse to teach farming skills and encourage people to have a more intimate relationship with the food they eat and learn how to achieve it through backyard farming.

Ms. Tyler said that in that time, she has taught more than 220 people basic dairy skills. Although she doesn’t keep track of how many people wind up getting a cow, she does receive e-mail messages and photos from those who do, she said.

Many of those who take her workshop are less concerned with saving money and more interested in the farming life and providing their families with the best possible food, Ms. Tyler said.

During one recent session, parents and children practiced hand-milking Lovely, a big-eyed, latte-colored cow that looks like Elsie the cow, the old Borden milk symbol. Later, they learned what to do with the excess milk by churning cream into butter, cheese and ice cream.

“We’re first-generation farmers and that can be very intimidating,” said Ms. Bergamo, who has surfed the Internet for information on caring for cows. “There’s a great Web site with a blog on keeping a family cow; it’s a cyberspace Grange Hall where you can exchange information and ask questions.”

Many of those taking the class want easier access to fresh, raw milk. About 15 dairies in the state are licensed to sell raw, or unpasteurized milk, where it retails for $9 or more a gallon.

“Milk is getting expensive, and you don’t know where it’s coming from,” said Kristine McLaughlin, 39, of Bethlehem, as she waded through tall grass sizing up the cows at the workshop.

Ms. McLaughlin, a real estate appraiser, already owns chickens and ducks, but a cow would round out her backyard farm.

“And from what I understand, these cows are more family-friendly,” she said.

At Local Farm, Ms. Tyler breeds and sells Old World Jerseys, which are smaller, more docile and manageable for small landowners. They produce less milk than other types of dairy cows, averaging about two gallons a day.

Keeping a cow is not cheap. Hay can cost up to $6 per bale, and a cow consumes a bale a day. Then there is the cost of buying a cow. Old World Jerseys range in price from $2,500 to $4,500. “It may not be cost effective for one family, especially if you don’t have your own pasture and mow your own hay like we do,” said Dana Assard of Bethlehem, who has bought two cows since attending a workshop.

Mr. Bergamo commutes to West Hartford where he works as a financial adviser for Northwestern Mutual Financial Network. On weekends, he rumbles along on his tractor, stopping to fix fences and feed chickens.

A stay-at-home mother with four grade-school-age children, Ms. Bergamo considers keeping a cow the next step in developing their nine-acre spread into a family business. The Bergamos agree that caring for a cow is a good way for their children to gain a sense of responsibility and teamwork.

“A cow gives back so much during its lifetime,” she said. “It sustains you.”

Become a Member Benefits FAQs Approval Process Fees Group Discounts Payment FAQs Payment Plans Auto Renew