two is one and one is none

Lots of such maxims recur often to our minds when we are farming.  This one is a reminder to build in redundancy when it comes to necessary tools, but it could also, it occurred to us recently, be applied to other things as well.  One spouse seems to us an adequate number, but how about lactating dairy animals?  Some people wonder why we keep multiple low-production cows instead of one higher-producing animal.  After all, it is reasonable to suppose that three or four cows require more in the way of maintenance ration than would a single big, say, Holstein.  Forget for the moment that to get such high production numbers you would have to feed quantities of grain, something that should, at best, form only a small part of a ruminant’s daily intake.  Even if we could find a single cow to produce all the milk we want on less grass than multiple cows require, would we be better off?  Lately we’ve been more than usually aware that such ain’t necessarily so.  We can think of several reasons:

Size:  A single high-production cow would need to have a larger body weight than her lower-producing sisters.  Bigger cow means greater soil compaction, as, no matter how big or small she is, all a cow’s weight is supported on just four relatively small hooves.  Better on our steep acres to spread the load out on eight, twelve or even more hooves.

Impact:  With just one cow there’s no herd effect, no shoving, stomping, or carelessness.  Bossy can take her sweet time going around the paddock and eat just those plants that most appeal to her.  She’ll never feel a sense of urgency about getting hers while the getting’s good, because it’s all hers, and she knows it will wait until she has time to give it her attention.  Consequently, favorite forages may be grazed heavily, and less-preferred plants go untouched.  More cows means more haste, more indiscriminate gobbling, more plants stomped, and more (and more spread out) cow pies.

Numbers:  More cows means more calves.

Diversity:  And consequently greater genetic variation, which translates into more chances you’ll get an exceptional individual, one which does particularly well on your land, under your methods.

Security:  We are particularly aware of this one when somebody is in heat, or goes lame, or does anything else that causes a drop in milk production or otherwise makes us worry.  Where there are three cows producing your eight gallons a day (or what have you), one lame foot, or one case of mastitis, or one imminent calving, does not jeopardize your whole milk supply.

We might have titled this one “Less is More”; or perhaps “Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket”.



2 thoughts on “two is one and one is none

  1. A lovely post, worded as only you can.
    Coming from an IT background, where redundancy is king, I’m a terror for having two or even three of everything, spades, hammers, saws, power tools of various purpose. But I had never thought of it with animals, even though we have done much the same with our goats, albeit through forced adoption.
    I suppose it’s also true of crops, far better to grow a multitude of crops just in case of the failure in one, a lesson that the industrial mono culture farmers will no doubt learn as a more unpredictable weather fails to follow the instructions of the latest Monsanto packaging.

    1. you’re not kidding!  Shawn and Beth Dougherty The Sow’s Ear

      Check out our new book, The Independent Farmstead Library Journal starred review: ” A solid choice for those embarking on a serious animal-based hobby or enterprise, aspiring homesteaders, and sustainable farmers who already have basic knowledge of animal husbandry and agriculture. The authors’ blog provides a nice supplement.”—Amanda ­Avery, Marywood Univ. Lib., Scranton, PA   Modern Farmer Magazine: “Expect clear-eyed advice on rotational grazing methods, improving soil fertility, and much more.” Booklist:  “As mortifying and implausible as creating one’s own self-sustaining farmstead might sound to most city folk, the Doughertys, who embarked on their own farmstead 20 years ago, make the venture entirely feasible—even ennobling in the face of climate change—on as little as a half-acre of land. In a conversational style that is both welcoming and reality-based, the authors offer a big-picture plan—selecting property, sourcing water, building soil, choosing ruminants (chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, or cattle)—that is fully supported by a level of detail both practical and comforting to anyone new to the idea. Some examples: milking techniques for cows and goats, what grasses or fencing to consider for which animals, slaughtering techniques, watering tanks, and using paddocks for livestock. Highly recommended for libraries where such farmsteads are even remotely possible.”

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