Republic County student gets up early to put cattle business before school
By Cynthia Scheer Telescope News
By the time the school bell rings at 8:11 each morning, 15-year-old Anna Pachta has already milked and fed cows, bottle fed 12 calves and done a variety of other chores before getting ready for school. The Republic County Junior/Senior High School sophomore’s love of showing Holsteins and caring for orphaned calves lead her to the twicea-day, sevendays-a-week responsibility, and Pachta said she has gotten a life-long lesson in time management.
The story of Pachta’s little dairy farm and “calf orphanage” as she calls it began in 2014 when she showed a dairy cow for a friend at the county fair.
“I found an interest in showing, which lead me to buy these cows,” she said of Blythe, Renee and Socks, whom she purchased in December 2015 from a small dairy in Dorrance, Kan.
The dairy was going out of business, and Pachta selected her cows from a herd of 12 based on age and show quality. The cows were pregnant with Holstein calves, which were born a few weeks after the purchase.
“I purchased about 10 more calves from my neighbors and a dairy from Linn to raise with [the cows’] milk last year,” Pachta said, adding that the cows produce about 4-5 gallons of milk each milking.
“I can increase or decrease their grain and alfalfa ration to let them milk more [or less.”
Extra milk is stored in the refrigerator for a few days in case the next milking comes up short, she said, but her sister’s feeder pigs often benefit from the days the cows produce more milk than the calves can drink.
Pachta said her three milk cows can raise a combined total of 15 calves each year.
“The calves are really the core of my business,” she said. “Milking cows is just a cheaper and more efficient way to raising all of these orphan calves. I don’t think I would be milking cows if it wasn’t for my little calf orphanage.”
Pachta said her neighbors know who to call when they have a calf in need of a mother.
“There’s always someone that has a calf that lost its mom or is weak that just needs a little love,” she said. “Lucky for them, I love giving those types of calves that attention and love they need to keep them alive. Most of my neighbors make me pretty good deals on these calves that they sell to me. This year, one of my neighbors sold me eight calves, which really helped me out since I only had four calves at that time. I have had really good luck on keeping them all alive.”
The calves are given bottles of milk until they are about 200 pounds.
“We keep them on milk longer than most people because we have the milk to do so and they grow faster,” Pachta said.
The calves are also fed a mixture of corn and oats and alfalfa or prarie hay beginning at a few weeks of age.
“When I take them off milk I will put them with the weaned calves from our beef herd and fatten them up a little to sell them at the salebarn,” Pachta said.
“I love putting all the time and love into keeping my calves alive and healthy,” she added. “I only milk the cows so I can raise all my babies cheaper [than buying] milk replacer.”
Milking takes time
Pachta was hoping to take the winter off from milking cows. Her cows were artificially inseminated late last spring for Spring 2017 calves.
“One of [the cows] threw [her] calf in January, so I had to start milking her again,” Pachta said of the early end to her milking break. “Renee had her calf in February.”
Socks is expected to calve in July, Pachta said.
While Pachta said she loves her milk cows, she doesn’t enjoying milking them.
“I love raising all the orphan calves, but milking the cows consumes a lot of time,” she said. “It is also very difficult to go anywhere. If I want to go on a school or church trip I have to have someone lined up to milk for me during that trip. My choices are my brother or younger sister. I love traveling places so it definitely takes this luxury away from me. If I have to be to school early for an FFA contest or some kind of event or when I am gone on a trip, [my older brother] Bryce might milk for me. They are my cows, so I do have the responsibility to take care of them. If I do not ask Bryce to milk in advance, he most likely will tell me no.”
The high school student wakes at 6 a.m. on school days to do her morning chores. It takes about 45 minutes, she said. She begins by milking the first cow. She then pours that cow’s milk into several white calf bottles. She brings in the second cow, and while that cow milks, Pachta delivers the bottles outside to the first group of calves.
She has a variety of calf huts made from things the family had lying around, including pallets.
“When I needed last minute calf pens my siblings, dad, and I had to bring our creative minds to life,” she said.
They then cut holes in the bottoms of fivegallon buckets that are anchored to the pens on their sides to hold the calf bottles while the calves eat. This allows Pachta a hands-free bottle feeding experience. She collects the empty bottles and returns to the milking parlor, which is a stancion on a home-built platform in the lean-to of the barn.
Pachta pours the second cow’s milk into the just empty bottles and returns to the calf pens to finish feeding calves.
After milking she runs hot water through the milker followed by soapy water, then vineager, followed by bleach, and a final rinse. She takes the machine apart every few days and scrubs it.
[Milking cows] has added so many skills to my life,” Pachta said, adding that time management has been her biggest lesson. “It is very difficult to go to school, have a social life, be involved in extracurricular activities, and milk cows every morning and night. My friends are finally starting to understand that before I get to come hang out with them on a Friday night, I first have to do all my chores and then also be able to leave at 7 a.m. to go back home and do chores again. On school days, I have to know how to balance my time on the farm with homework and other school activities. Though I have learned many other skills such as hard work pays off, time management has been the biggest skill.”
Pachta said she hasn’t decided what the future holds for her milk cows, although she is considering ending her dairy farming run.
“I would most likely either keep the cows as nurse cows or possibly sell them,” she said. “[I] haven’t decided that yet.”