Last year Grace-the-cow raised seven babies for me: She started with her own baby plus three Holsteins, then I weaned those, sent them to the auction, and bought three Holsteins to replace them. In all that time, I never actually turned Grace loose with the calves: I turned them in together twice a day for a half-hour or so, then separated them. We would have had more freedom to go someplace if I had turned them all out together and left them alone, but I was always afraid one calf or another might not get enough of the five gallons of milk she produced daily.
This year I made up my mind to let nature take its course. We planned to go to McPherson, Kansas, for Thanksgiving with my sister, and turning cow and calves together was the best solution. I will digress here to tell you that the weather turned AWFUL, and freezing rain ensued on Friday when we were supposed to go home. However, the forecast sounded as though it was "now or never", because it was only supposed to get worse over the next few days. So we headed out. Only the first part of the journey was really treacherous. Once we got to the freeway, Cliff's only concern was watching for people who don't know how to drive in a wintry mix. The scariest thing we encountered other than a few cars in the ditch was Cliff's yelling at other drivers who couldn't hear him.
Back to the calves: When we got home I had a look at them. Their flanks were filled out nicely and they were all relaxed in the shelter of the open-faced shed chewing their cuds. The next day I checked on them several times. Sometimes one or two would be nursing, sometimes all of them. Everyone seemed perfectly happy with their new situation.
I won't be trying to raise a second set of calves on Grace as I did last year. I'm making it easy on myself. This seems to be working well, so we can go anywhere we like for as long as we like. In June or July, I will pull Grace's heifer calf off so she will get a chance to be weaned (and gentled!) before her mother has another calf; the other two can stay with her until it's time to dry her off two months before her calving date, and then they will go to auction.
I won't be milking Grace at any time during this lactation because her milk just is not good. It has an aftertaste, and tastes about half-sour by the second day in the refrigerator. I have no idea why this is. I would have thought perhaps mastitis, but she doesn't have that problem. This is one reason I so hated to sell Penny... her milk and cream were wonderful! Freedom, however, sometimes comes with a price, and guess what? It is possible to buy perfectly good milk, butter, and cream at the grocery store. I will admit, though, that I miss the regular twice-a-day chores.