Family Milk Cow 101: Chapter 2

Welcome to Hope Refuge Farm and our new website! We want this blog to be a place where you can learn what you want to know about keeping a family cow.  Not that we’re experts yet, but we have learned an aweful lot over the almost 3 years that we’ve owned cows.  We invite you to come learn with us!

If you’re thinking ahead to spring and looking forward to buying that cow you’ve been wanting, before you get too caught up in the excitement of all the pretty girls, there are  some other things to think about.  Here’s the follow-up to last week’s installment.  After you’ve assessed your facilities, you’ll need to prepare for the health & well being of your beautiful bovine.

Chapter 2:  Healthcare

We always like to assume that our animals will stay healthy and be able to survive on the pasture provided them.  But sometimes there’s more to it than that, and unfortunately, sometimes bad stuff happens.  Here are some things to keep in mind.


First & FOREMOST, do you have a vet who is cattle savvy and near enough for emergencies?  If you don’t already have a large animal vet you trust, establish a relationship with one through a simple routine checkup when your new cow comes home – BEFORE something bad comes up.  If you’re not familiar with the large animal vets in your area, ask other cattle owners nearby – they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.  You’ll want to make sure the vet makes farm calls, and that you know what their after-hours/on-call & emergency policies are.  There are some indicators of how well you & this vet will get along.  How well does the vet explain things and answer your questions?  Are you comfortable with the way he/she handles your cow?  Does he/she seem to enjoy the work?  If you don’t like this one, try another.

Peekaboo! Steer calves at the mineral feeder

Nutrition & Feeding:

Hopefully, quality pasture will make up most of your cow’s diet.  But there are other considerations.  Do you have a reliable source of good quality hay for winter/drought feeding?  Know when 1st & 2nd cuttings normally happen in your area, and plan ahead.

Make sure you have space to store enough hay for a BAD year – nothing worse than needing more hay and not having enough barn.  Do you want to feed concentrates or grains?  Fine, but usually not necessary with good pasture.  Any cow will probably enjoy occasional treats, but know if it’s safe first & introduce things in small amounts.  Always make any major feed changes gradually.  Do you have a mineral feeder?  Cattle need free choice access to minerals to maintain their health.

Preventive Care:

Do you want to vaccinate your cow?  Although we want to avoid the hormones, chemicals & antibiotics of commercial milk, we also don’t want a sick cow.  Ask your vet about what is required or recommended in your area & share any concerns you have.  Make an informed decision.  Same with deworming. What to do & what to use?  If you don’t want to use a chemical dewormer (and there are plenty of reasons not to), but your vet highly recommends deworming, DE (diatomaceous earth) can be an effective alternative.  How will you control the flies?  Flies not only spread disease, they’ll drive your cow (and you) crazy!  Here are some options: compost manure/bedding cleaned out of barn & corrals, drag manure in pastures, release fly predators, get guineas, use fly traps, feed DE (kills larvae in the manure pats).

Gestation & Lactation:

The point of all this is a healthy calf & plenty of milk.  Average gestation for a cow is around 9 ½ months, most cows being ready to breed back 30-60 days after calving, with lactation lasting about a year.  Then you’ll need to dry up your cow about 2 months before the next calf is due, so you can start all over.

1 thought on “Family Milk Cow 101: Chapter 2

  1. I loved this well written article and great website. Very informative. Keep up the good work!


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