Can I Talk you out of a Milk Cow?
Eight things to consider before buying a milk cow. It’s a great idea to really think about what you are getting yourself into before you buy a cow! Caring for a large animal and commiting to milking her is a big resposibility. Do you think I can talk you out of it?
Keep in mind that I am writing this tongue in cheek…sort of! I will be the first to say that I love having a milk cow…most of the time. However, there are some things to consider before you jump on the dairy maid bandwagon. I am going to be honest here. There may have been some storybook pictures in my head when I dreamed of having a milk cow. Perhaps you have those too? Here, let me rain on your parade a bit. Below are 8 things to consider before buying a cow.
1. Cows produce milk only if they have had a calf.
I know this is basic biology. However, if you do not have a plan in place you may find yourself with a pet cow. Both cows we have purchased had recently had a calf, therefore they were both “fresh” meaning they had milk. This is a great way to start, especially if you have never bred a cow or if you have no experience with calving. However, she will not be fresh forever. You will need to either rent or buy a bull, or artificially inseminate her. This could be easier said than done.
We have owned a bull in the past to remedy this problem. This comes with benefits and pitfalls. Dairy bulls can turn mean on a dime, out of nowhere. This is something to take seriously. When a bull is all worked up and ready for action, he will plow through or over the fence…easily! Then you have the dreaded call from the neighbor, “Hi there Jennifer, are you missing an aggressive bull?”
We have also tried the artificial insemination route. UMMMM….yuck. If you have never witnessed this, just know that they make rubber gloves that go all the way up to a person’s shoulder for a reason! This is tricky because you need to know your cow, you need to read her behavior and you need to act quickly when she comes into heat. The thing is, you may need to call a local farmer to come do this for you, and guess what? He may not be able to drop everything at his farm to come help you at yours, and you may miss the “window” for when she is ready. Also, when a cow is in heat she is not always cooperative. You will read more about this in the section on “Stubborn Eyes”
We have never rented a bull, simply because we have not been able to find one to rent. We live in the middle of beef cattle territory. Finding someone with a Jersey bull that they are willing to rent has proven difficult. It is also a bit intimidating to think of having someone else’s bull on your property.
2. More than just basic fence is required in order to separate the Mama from the calf.
We have been successful in sharing milk with the calf. This means that we milk some of the time and the rest of the time the cow is on pasture with her calf and he gets the milk. This is nice for when you want a day off, or when you need to travel.
With all systems though, there are some trials with this. For one, there needs to be two areas in place that are securely fenced, and that have a source of water. Gates between these two areas are ideal as well as some sort of shelter in each area. Fence and fence work is expensive, like, oh man I could have bought a lot of milk with all that money expensive!
3. Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat nor gloom of night…
Okay, so that’s the postman’s motto, but guess what? It will now be yours. A cow must be milked, otherwise she will either dry up or get an infection. You really don’t want either of those.
I actually prefer milking when it’s cold over when it is hot. When it is hot, there are flies. Lots and lots of flies. Please refer to the section on POO. How about rain? You know–cold rain like right before it freezes? Sacrifices of comfort will have to be made if you desire a cow.
4. Hope you like to run, because cows can get “Stubborn Eyes”
I recently saw this “stubborn eyes” phrase on an email from Justin Rhodes http://www.abundantpermaculture.com It describes the cow’s attitude so well. What do I mean? Well, remember how I was telling you that a cow must be separated from her calf so you can milk her? This means you will be moving the cow from one area to another. Please erase from your mind the Tasha Tudor pictures of the little girl leading her gentle cow through a beautiful meadow. You may be able to achieve that someday, but not before you find yourself chasing her or her calf, cursing the day you ever brought them home and proclaiming that you are becoming vegan and that you hate milk anyway!
Please also note that she may escape the pasture where you placed her, and this will never happen at a convenient time. Remember the section on fence? You will most likely come home from an evening away and find her standing in the middle of your driveway. It will be dark and you will be tired and the baby will be crying. Alas, the cow must be moved back to where she belongs, and you will need to figure out how on earth she ever escaped? All the while she will be staring at you or staring away from you with “stubborn eyes” Those are the eyes that you will dread. This means you had better lace up your running shoes because things are not about to go your way!
Stubborn eyes are the worst when a cow is in heat. She wants nothing to do with you, or being milked or following a bucket of feed. The neighbor’s cattle is what she desires. Your lovely cow will be completely unreasonable and she absolutely will not listen. The grass in front of her is now delectable, the best ever; like oh my goodness I have to eat all of this grass right now! Now, you will need your running shoes and a team of helpers.
5. Cows poo
Okay, another obvious statement. My husband accuses me of actually thinking that my cow would never be dirty. As if she would really look just like the storybook pictures. Ha ha. Perhaps I was a bit naive. Cows poo out of their backside, and it doesn’t always land in a neat little pile behind her. She doesn’t have the foresight nor the desire to stop what she is doing, lift her tail out of the way and make sure her legs are going to stay clear. No, she just lets it go and many times it hits her legs, her udder and her tail. This may sound like no big deal, except you will be the one that will need to clean this off before you milk her.
Poo attracts flies. Flies irritate the cow. The cow uses her tail to swat the flies away. Poo is covering the tail. The cow spreads the poo. Poo, flies, flies poo. It is a vicious cycle.
6, Cows have tails
Are you beginning to think I am a master of stating the obvious? Well when it comes to a cow’s tail, one must understand that it is a weapon. In the last section we covered her using her tail to spread poo. What I didn’t mention is that you will position yourself toward her back end when you milk her…within reach of her tail. In the summer she will be swatting the pesky flies with her tail and she will not care one iota for your head. She may even seem to delight in hitting you in the head with her poopy tail. Certainly she isn’t doing that on purpose…is she?
7. Cows are heavy and they have hooves.
Have you ever stubbed your toe? Sure you have, and doggone, it hurts! How many nerves are there in that tiny little toe anyway? Just like a cow may seem to hit you with her tail for her own pleasure, she may also delight in stepping on your foot.
Imagine this: you will be sitting there, just finishing up the milking, feeling quite pleased with your full pail of milk (one that she didn’t manage to knock over.) The pail will be smoothly moved out of the way so that you can gather up your things and prepare to move on out. Your beautiful cow will notice that you are wrapping things up and that the bucket is out of the way and she will shift ever so slightly while you are turned to the side and she will place her heavy hoof right down on your toes. You may have a flash of rage and again swear off dairy!
8. Cows die
This one is sad. Unfortunately most people that you talk to that keep a cow are familiar with the death of a cow. Sometimes they get sick and you must spend lots of money to try to save them. After lots of time, money and heartache she may die anyway. Other times, as in our case, the cow just dies suddenly. We found our first cow lying in the pasture one morning. The night before she looked fine. Bloating can happen quickly,perhaps she ate too much clover. It was terribly sad, and it took me two years before I thought I could bear to have another cow. There is risk with any animal, but the loss of a milk cow is truly the saddest.
Even with all of that, I love having a milk cow. If the above has not deterred you, then perhaps you would love to have one too! Just remember as with all things farming, it is not for the faint of heart! I hope you look at these 8 things to consider before buying a cow!
Any questions? How about advice? Leave it in the comments!
Want More Milk Cow Posts?
Another New Life! Caring for a Cow and a New Calf After Birth.
Hi Jennifer! We’ve been thinking long and hard on getting a dairy cow. It’s probably a good five years out (we have two year old and 6month girls). I loved your article, I actually learned quite a bit. You may seem to be the master at stating the obvious to an experienced person, but not to a novice like myself.
I can’t wait to look around your blog and read some more. Your writing is so funny and truly touches home.
We had three goats that were basically our babies before…well human babies. The goats died all at once one day. It’s never easy with animals.
Yes, it can be so disappointing when animals just die. Our greatest heartbreak was our cow, but we have had some pet bunnies that broke our children’s hearts! So glad you enjoyed my article! Thanks for stopping by!
So many true statements here! I LOVE them but sometimes I HATE ’em. 🙂 Thanks for letting me know I’m not alone.
No, you aren’t! They are wonderful creatures, but they can be quite stubborn and unreasonable at times. I have a huge bruise on my foot as we speak from a recent episode!
We had a milk cow all growing up (we lived on a homestead style farm) and it was my job to milk her and make butter from the cream. I totally agree with all your points! The worst was the poo on the tail though, you learn very quickly never to let your mouth open while milking!
I will say though, we always washed her udder with warm water before we started milking (again, poo) and then used a bit of bag balm on our hands while milking to keep from chafing her. I had the softest hands ever from doing that every day!
Another funny thing was that when I grew up and moved away from the farm I hated drinking store bought milk, even whole milk tasted watered down to me (we had a Jersey/Guernsey mix, so lots of cream). I don’t think i’d ever own my own milk cow, but it was a good experience to have as a kid!
I love to hear that! Yes, milking can quickly lose it’s novelty when you are milking everyday! My girls love it at first, and then kind of start to grumble. The boys don’t really care for the chore at all! I’m glad to hear you remember it as a positive experience!! Yes! The udder balm we make gives us nice soft hands too!
Wow! What a wake-up. I’ve been dreaming of a cow for several years. Finally, we bought our farm and have just finished season two (organic cut flowers). I love all things dairy, and have recently started cheese-making. My husband is trying to talk me out of a milk cow, but the way the world is going, I’d like to be more self-sufficient. We grow our own veg, have 24 laying hens and 9 ducks which also lay, so we’ve got most things we need already. We will be starting meat chickens and pigs in the future, maybe not next season. The cow is important to me, but we need to build a structure for her, as our old barn “isn’t for the animals,” so says my husband. I’m torn, as there are so many good and bad points on either side. What I hold dear to my heart, though, is the sparkle in the eyes of the elderly who grew up with a family milk cow. They all agree that there is nothing like fresh milk and butter from the family cow. That keeps me wanting to get that cow!!
I truly am so grateful that we have a cow. This article was a bit tongue in cheek. Yes, she is a lot of trouble, and yes milking is a big responsibility, but if you have space and the gumption, go for it! Especially with our world the way it is now! I have several other articles on milk cows and a video. Just search milk cow and they should all come up. I recently published the ultimate guide to keeping a family milk cow. If you didn’t get my free ebook, you should! I have an article in there on a milk cow as well!
I was wondering what you would suggest having on hand in terms of first aid supplies for a dairy cow. Vet wrap, vertericyn, etc? We’re thinking about getting a dairy cow and I have a general idea of emergency supplies because we have horses but is there anything specifically bovine related? Thanks!
We love Vetericyn. We have used this for everything from pink eye to a torn teet. Some people keep a calcium paste or a calcium injection on hand in case your cow shows symptoms of milk fever after calving. We don’t keep a lot on hand, our vet is pretty good about coming out quickly. We do keep molasses on hand for mixing with water after she calves for extra magnesium. I hope that helps!
Thinking of getting a milk cow next year. Since cows are herd animals is is really okay to only have one
No, I wouldn’t recommend just one. They definitely need a companion. Even if you just keep a couple of steers for meat, that will keep everyone happy!
Enjoyed your post
Thankyou for your honest
And refreshing post.
You’re welcome, we love our milk cows, but there is a reality to the romantic notion!