Our Cows ...
What makes our cows special?
Our Guernsey cows are special. There are 1,840,000 dairy cows in the UK, of which approximately 5,000 are Guernseys - that’s nearly as rare as hen’s teeth.
All our cows are named and have their own individual personality, be it good or bad! Each heifer (female) calf is named after her mother to continue the family line, and as in humans, we can normally see a family resemblance. The Marigold family are strong, determined characters, whereas the Sunshines are the complete opposites.
A brief history
As the name implies, Guernseys were first bred on the British Channel Island of Guernsey. They were first recorded as a separate breed in 1700, believed to have been developed from two different breeds brought over from France - Isigny cattle from Normandy and the Froment du Leon from Brittany.
They are now a well-established breed in Britain, the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. In addition Guernseys are also being added to other breed herds to improve the overall quality of the milk supply.
Guernseys vs. other Dairy Breeds
Our Guernsey cows naturally produce milk containing 95% A2 beta caesin (protein).
The Jersey cow, another channel island breed, is smaller and darker in colour, and produces milk with 40% A2 beta caesin. However, the black and white breeds’ milk has only 15%.
Life as one of our cows
When a heifer calf is born in the Spring, she will stay with her mother for 24 hours and receive adequate colostrum within 6 hours, as unlike other mammals, new born calves have little or no immunity. Colostrum is the vital source of antibodies and nutrients that protect the new born calf from disease. The absorption process declines rapidly, ceasing by 20 to 24 hours.
The cow will enter back into the herd and the calf will then go into a straw pen with other calves of a similar age, where she is fed her individual dam’s colostrum via a teat twice a day for another 3 days. There is evidence to suggest that this is more beneficial to a calf than pooled colostrum.
Between day 5 and week 10, she will be fed twice a day on warm milk with access to clean water, straw and concentrates to promote rumen development. She is free to play, socialise and initiate bonds within the group which are evident many years later within the herd.
After weaning, she will graze in the outlying fields on the farm. She will have her first calf at two years; and like a human, the gestation period of a cow is 9 months. A cow needs to have a calf in order to produce milk.
When a cow enters the herd, she will be milked twice daily in our herringbone parlour for 10 months of the year; this is called a lactation. 3 months post calving, the cow will be mated again, resulting in a natural cycle of a calf every year. After these 10 months, milk production will have ceased and she will begin the 2 month dry period of rest.
Milking times on our farm are typically 6am and 3pm. In the summer, the cows graze outside day and night. As the days shorten and the weather becomes more inclement, the herd stay in straw yards by night, and graze by day until such time as the grass and soil structure would be damaged if the cows remained outside full-time. Generally, the cows remain inside from December to February, when they start to go out by day once again.
Whilst indoors, the cows are fed a diet of home grown grass silage; a form of pickled grass.
Antibiotics are only administered on the advice of a vet to individual animals for welfare reasons; and never a blanket treatment across the herd which is so often the misconception with modern agriculture. Likewise, cows produce their own natural milk production hormones and, unlike the United States, it has always been illegal to supplement in this country.