The Backyard Cow is for: “those people who want to keep cattle on a small scale, be it for household dairy or recreational purposes (or both).” It is written with the homesteader in mind. Does that sound like you? We’ve had beef cattle before, but until I read this book, I didn’t see any way I could ever keep a milk cow. Not enough space, not enough time, not enough knowledge.
But author Sue Weaver has changed my mind. I now know that a cow does not take a lot of space or time. And with this book at my side, I’d have just about all the knowledge I’d need. As the author points out in the preface, most everything written about cattle is about managing herds of cattle, not the individual milk cow or steer for riding or field work.
The Backyard Cow: An Introductory Guide to
Keeping a Productive Family Cow By Sue Weaver
The Backyard Cow An Easy and Fun Read
The Backyard Cow book is like a treasure hunt with both large chunks and wee tidbits of information. The main text itself is very interesting, thoroughly covering all the cow basics. But scattered throughout the book are additional little sidebars: anecdotes, quotations, poems, legends, and song lyrics about cows. The effect is a presentation of academic and scientific facts with a touch of playfulness.
Everything You’ll Need to Know
The table of contents indicates the three main sections of the book: Meet the Cow, Have Fun ‘Til the Cows Come Home, and Care for Your Cow. Three appendices explain Restraint, Clicker Training, and even Emergency Euthanasia. A cow glossary, resource list, and index complete the package. From cow breeds and history to behavior and purchase considerations, “Meet the Cow” covers it all. “Have Fun” includes details on how to milk a cow, ride a steer, and raise a calf. There are recipes and instructions for several homemade dairy products which must be delicious made from fresh milk.
“Care for Your Cow” tells readers all about breeding and birthing, shelter, feeding, and health care. Picture this! Illustrations include sketches, diagrams, and delightful historical black and white photos. Line drawings demonstrate how-to steps for tasks such as milking a cow and tying a slip-knot halter. About halfway through the book readers are treated to an inset of 16 pages of beautiful full color photos of cows in fields, cows with children, and homemade dairy products. Right from the first pages of this book, I was on a learning curve. I usually think of breeds as having specific purposes, but that wasn’t always the case.
Inside the World of a Dairy Cow
Weaver explains, “Historically, most breeds were dual- or triple-purpose cattle…Herefords were developed as much to serve as brawny oxen as they were for their meat-making ability.” A beef breed with a dairy background makes a great family cow, producing sufficient milk while bearing calves that will provide good beef for the table.
You mean cows can talk? I’ve watched cows and thought they didn’t have much going in the social department. Yet Weaver explains the bovine communication system and even provides a code translation. She tells us how each group of cows has a hierarchy, with the “top cow” getting first choice at everything. There will be other “leaders” with specific roles: perhaps one will lead the way out to pasture each morning, and another will direct the trek back to the milking parlor at the end of the day. Fascinating!
But the book’s big surprise for me was the chapter on riding steers. A plodding steer provides a leisurely trail ride or even a way to get from one place to another. Who knew? Weaver indicates that steers are in some ways easier to train and ride than horses. She has used her equine expertise to develop training methods that she explains in detail. One thing that was not a surprise to me was this quotation, a little Lithuanian proverb: It is difficult to teach a cow to climb a tree.
Have You Considered a Dairy Cow?
Oftentimes, people can be turned off by the amount of work (and milk!) that cows have a reputation for. However, with the right breed and cow, this is often not the case. Dairy cows can be a very manageable part of many homesteads. If you have any questions about milk cows, or wonder if you could ever keep one yourself, The Backyard Cow is a must-read. All the basics are there, along with much more! If you have a smaller plot of land, you may consider miniature cattle breeds.