A 400-acre Biodynamic farm in central Columbia County, NY

Dairy Herd

hvf_dairy_herdThe 60-cow dairy herd that forms the nucleus of Hawthorne Valley Farm is a mix of mostly Brown Swiss, a little Jersey, and a remnant bit of Holstein. All the cows are mixed-breed; we have no purebreds on the farm. In a sense, our cows have developed into a farm-specific breed of their own. The Brown Swiss-type of cow is typically sturdy, can walk far distances to the outlying pastures, has a calm temperament, and is tolerant of both hot days and cold weather. These cows are known for their gentle dispositions and good nature, which is crucial for a farm that has as many visitors and educational components as Hawthorne Valley Farm does. The Brown Swiss and Jersey milks have a higher fat content and a higher protein content than other breeds’ milks, making it ideal for making our cheeses and yogurts, and all the better for a nice cream line on our raw milk.

cow_winterThe products we make from our biodynamic cows’ milk can be enjoyed with the assurance that our cows are grass-fed on our pastures throughout the spring, summer, and fall. In late fall and winter, they are fed our biodynamic hay and baleage from our fields; limited amounts of certified-organic grain (currently barley) are fed to our dairy cows for the purpose of helping them maintain condition during winter. They are given no hormones or antibiotics and are tended with gentle, caring hands.

All of our dairy cows and bulls are named, and farmers and apprentices know all the animals’ names and personalities. Calves are given names that begin with the same first letter as their mother. Hence, “Hyacinth’s” calves may be called “Heather”, “Hippo”, and “Hector”. By doing this, it allows us to keep track of family lineage and family characteristics within the herd. HVF has a “closed” herd, which means that we do not buy in animals; we raise our own calves for our future herd.

Calves in the Herd

hvf_cow_calfIn 2007, we began raising our newborn calves with their mothers, a practice that is virtually unheard of in the modern dairy industry. Having the young calves pasture with the milking herd allows them to learn about the pastures from the mother cows, even when they are still feeding only on the milk from their mothers’ udders, not yet eating grass. As the calves mature, their stomachs change from having a milk-only digestion process to the full ruminant four-stomach digestion system, allowing the calves to begin eating fresh grass and hay while they are still with their mothers.

Our farmers have noticed the calves that pasture with the milking herd are stronger, bigger, have a healthy coat, and seem generally healthier overall. The herd dynamics, with the calves running and jumping and laying down to rest near the mother cows, have had a positive change in which the herd, as a whole, seems calmer and more settled. While it is important not to anthropomorphize animals too much, honoring the natural life processes of the cow, an animal that has been domesticated for thousands of years, seems to benefit the calves, the herd, and the farm as a whole.