Building a Cow Barn – Stage Two

Stage one of the cow barn allowed us a place to keep the cows upon their arrival.  It gave them a place to get out of wind, rain and snow, but the transformation of the lean-to was not yet complete.  Stage two began two weeks after the cows had arrived.

The cattle panel that served to keep the cows from wandering away was removed.100_1266And replaced with a real barn door.  We started by building the frame, installing the hardware and hanging the framed door on the rail.


Next we added the tin, one sheet at a time.


We used the clear plastic corrugated roofing sheets to fill the angled gap above the barn door.  Since this is the south side, the clear panels let in a lot of light and some sun, while blocking almost all of the wind.  With the barn door closed, it is noticeably warmer inside than when it is open.

100_1279Once the barn door was installed, we installed another gate that sits just inside the barn door.  This gate allows us to leave the barn door slid open on nice days, while containing the cows.  And by having a gate at the entrance and another ⅓ of the way in, we can divide the barn into two separate areas.  The smaller area we are primarily using as a milking area for now, but it could also be used to segregate a particular cow when needed.

100_1280The cows are settling in nicely to their new home.  The milk cow is giving us about ½ gallon a day on top of nursing her own calf.  The heifers are becoming used to being handled while Trouble, the steer, lives up to his name.



Building a Cow Barn – Stage One

As noted here, our neighbors talked us into forming a cooperative arrangement regarding cows.  They already had plans for housing them, but once we became part of the equation, we felt we should contribute to the transformation of their lean-to – which had previously housed a horse trailer – into a cow barn.  The lean-to is a basic frame-covered-in-tin building that attaches to the garage and is 15′ wide.  Because cows are big, heavy, rub, lean on things and sometimes kick, and we wanted to both keep them from injuring themselves and preserve the integrity of the lean-to, we started by putting boards between the existing framework, up to the level of the cows’ backs.  In this picture you can see a wall we have completed and one that has not yet been started. 100_1262 Next we added a gate ⅓ of the way in.  The 10′ gate was able to hang on one of the existing lean-to posts.100_1263However we had to add two new posts to hang the 5′ gate and have a post for the two gates to attach to.  The 10′ gate will open to allow a tractor to get in there and muck out if necessary. 100_1264Looking in from the front.  Stage one of the cow barn is almost complete. 100_1265 A cattle panel across the front of the lean-to is temporary.  This is to keep the cows from wandering where they shouldn’t.  We had initially planned for the cows to be delivered mid-February and had only 48 hours notice that they were arriving at the end of January.  Stage one will accommodate the cows until Stage two can complete the transformation.100_1266

Chinese New Year Ram Lamb

This year Chinese New Year fell on Feb 19th and marked the beginning of the Year of the Ram.  Without any planning on our part we happened to have a ewe due to lamb on the 19th so when the alarm went off, I went out to check on her.  Sticking precisely to her due date, she had just delivered her lamb – he was still soaking wet and had not yet been cleaned.  Unfortunately this represented a hazard as it was 17F (-8C) at the time and I was concerned about hypothermia.  I didn’t want to deprive the ewe and her lamb of bonding time by taking over the cleaning but nor did I want him to freeze to death so I grabbed a towel and rubbed him vigorously to dry him as quickly as possible.  I then turned him back over to her so that he could nurse.

Lambs are born instinctively knowing to search for the teat but they don’t always know exactly where to find it.  He started nuzzling around her but every time he got close to the udder, she moved away.  This was this ewes “first freshening” and she was alarmed by the little mouth seeking her teats; she wanted nothing to do with that.  She hadn’t rejected the lamb himself – she was murmuring to him in that special voice ewes use only for their lambs, and she was interested in sniffing him – but she clearly did not understand that nursing is part of the job description.

I let them try to figure it out for an hour or so.  I prefer that animals work things out for themselves and believe that in the long run they do better with less human intervention.  But, after an hour she still wouldn’t allow him to nurse.  He was shivering and I worried about him weakening.  So, I cornered the ewe, holding her still with arms, legs and body, to give the lamb a chance.  Within a short time he had found it and I was happy to hear him slurping as he drank, his little tail wiggling his joy.

I hoped that, having experienced nursing once, the ewe would assume all of her motherly duties but it was not to be.  Over the course of the day I checked on them frequently but had to hold her down each time he needed to nurse.  The only progress we made was that instead of having to pin her in a corner with my whole body, she had relaxed enough to stand still with just one arm holding her in a headlock.  By late afternoon I was concerned that she would never “get it” and that I would wind up having to bottle feed him.  I was not enthused by the prospect, as I trudged down to hold the ewe for another feeding.  So it was with both relief and joy that I got there to find him nursing, his little tail waggling, the ewe nuzzling and talking to him.

This is the first time I’ve had a ewe not instinctively know how to care for her lamb – but now that she has fully accepted her role, she is taking good care of him.  And, after a preponderance of ewe lambs this year, we are thrilled to welcome our own little Chinese New Year Ram.

100_1293 100_1294

Rain Rot

A few weeks ago I noticed that my goat buck’s front legs were a little scabby and bleeding in places.  Visiting family members helped us to lay him down to take a closer look and we debated the possible causes.  Naturally parasites – lice and mites – were considered.  However it was only the front legs affected on the buck and neither the doe nor any of the sheep – who all inhabit the same environment – had similar symptoms.

IMG_0524 IMG_0523We dusted the two front legs with DE (Diatomaceous Earth) in the absence of any other ideas, figuring it couldn’t hurt and it might help.

Unfortunately after the above photos were taken, his legs actually got worse and were actively bleeding (and I forgot to take photos).

However my afore-mentioned wonderful neighbor visited when the symptoms were at their worst, and the buck sidled up to us for attention.  I asked her what she thought and she immediately said “rain rot”.  I was familiar with the term when it comes to horses but had never considered it for the goat!  However on doing some research online, HWA and I learned that goats are indeed susceptible.  One source even suggested a possible cause: copper deficiency.  That made a lot of sense because…….it turns out that keeping goats and sheep together is a challenge.  Goats require a much higher copper content in their diet and a lack of copper can lead to difficulties maintaining a pregnancy.  Meanwhile, sheep can miscarry if the copper content of their diet is too high.

I have worked around this problem by providing loose sheep minerals in an area accessible to all of them, and during breeding season, taking the goat doe aside each evening to give her some grain formulated for goats.  I did not provide the same grain to the buck because he didn’t need it to maintain a pregnancy and is a bully.  Had I set the grain down for both of them, he would have hogged it.

Having determined a possible cause, the solution turned out to be fairly simple: make sure the buck has access to goat minerals daily.  For the past couple of weeks I have offered him a bowl of goat minerals once each day, from which he can eat until he loses interest and moves away.  I did not expect to notice instant improvement so was surprised by how quickly his legs started to clear up.  Already they are no longer bleeding and raw and I think the hair may even be starting to regrow already.  It will take some time before they are completely healed, but I do believe we are on the right path.



I maintain that as livestock go, sheep and goats are pretty easy to raise.  But it doesn’t mean they don’t throw a few curve balls here and there.  I’m sure there will always be something new to learn but hopefully each new thing we learn leaves us just a little bit wiser.

A2 Milk

I talked here about the factors that persuaded us to get cows.  One that I didn’t mention – because I wasn’t certain if it was even going to be a factor – is the difference in the milk.  Namely, the A1/A2 debate.

This is all new to me so bear with me.  I’ve done quite a bit of reading about it and if I understand what I’m reading correctly, it boils down to this.  Among the many amino acids contained in milk, is one that has been dubbed A2.  Several decades ago, the A2 amino acid mutated into what is now referred to as A1.  The A1 amino acid is less digestible and can cause issues for people who consume dairy products.  These people generally assume they are “lactose intolerant”.

Holstein cows – a dairy breed – now primarily produce the A1 amino acid in their milk.  And, the commercial milk industry is comprised almost entirely of Holstein cows.  Therefore, the vast majority of the milk commercially available is A1 milk.

The A2 amino acid is far more digestible than A1.  Typically people who have long believed they are lactose intolerant can drink A2 milk without any issues at all.  In other words, they are not lactose intolerant at all but rather, A1 intolerant.

For several years, we have suspected that HWA is lactose intolerant.  He loves dairy products in all of their forms – milk on his cereal, cheese, yogurt and ice-cream.  However, the frequent unpleasant side effects of eating these foods have led to him largely avoiding them.

When my neighbor initially raised the subject of buying the cows, one of her selling points is that Jersey cows are usually A2 milk producers.  Not only that but any individual cow can be tested, and the cows she was looking at – and that we ultimately bought – had all been tested A2.  Like us, she has a family member who cannot tolerate dairy and she was hopeful that he would be able to drink the Jersey milk.

We’ve been milking for a few days now.  We’ve drunk milk by the glassful, made a small batch of cheese and last night HWA had a large bowl of cereal.  He woke up this morning and pronounced that there “must be something to this A2 thing” because he was suffering no ill effects whatsoever from his midnight cereal snack.

This is good news for him as we are cautiously hopeful that he will now be able to resume enjoying some of the foods he has missed.  And it is great news in general since our one cow is producing enough milk to keep her calf healthy and happy, and supply the milk needs of two families as well.  The argument we have each time we milk is not “Its my turn to take the milk” but “I took it yesterday – you have to today”.

When the Cows Come Home….

Anyone who knows HWA and me at all will remember hearing us repeat often and loudly that we are not interested in raising dairy animals.  Period.  End of subject.

A month ago our neighbor mentioned that she was planning to get a Jersey cow and her calf.  Congratulating her (and at the same time inwardly thinking “Are you nuts?”) I told her I’d be happy to buy some excess milk at some point.  I’d never had raw milk and would be interested in trying it.  Over the next few weeks, her plan evolved from a cow/calf to two bred heifers, until a week ago when I got a phone call from her.  “Would you be interested in buying a cow?”  “Um, NOOOOO!”

You’ve already guessed how this ends so I’ll just jump straight to two days ago, when our cowherd arrived.


The herd consists of a cow with her 2-week-old calf, two bred heifers and a steer who will be sent to butcher once he is big enough.  All are Jerseys (dairy breed).

So how did we allow ourselves to be talked into it?  We’re still trying to figure that out ourselves.  Well, obviously the lure of milk and its associated products – cream, cheese, yogurt and ice-cream – had some effect.  Also, the fact that the milk is raw and organic, and that it will be one step closer to controlling our food supply.  But the main factor that swayed us is that we are doing this as a cooperative with our neighbors, who have also become our good friends in the years we’ve lived next door.  Like us, they have an interest in eating better food in order to maintain health.  And, like us they have land available and buildings that are easily adapted to accommodate cows (who will live next door most of the time).  Rather than each of us owning a couple of cows, we co-own all of them and will share both the responsibilities of caring for them and the milk and meat they provide.  And it is a win-win for all of us for this reason.  HWA and I had always been adamant we didn’t want dairy animals because we didn’t want to be tied to twice-a-day – or even once-a-day – milking.  But by co-sharing none of us will be tied down as much, and each family will be free to travel, knowing the other will take care of things.

Cows – and dairy animals – will be a totally new learning curve for us, but we will share the journey as we take it.