Family Milk Cow 101: Chapter 3

If you’ve just found us – Welcome!  If you’re looking for information on finding a family milk cow, we hope to help you with that.  This is the third part of this month’s article, so if you haven’t read the first two yet we encourage you to start at Chapter 1.

Chapter 3:  The Animal

After you know that your facilities are ready and that you know how to take care of your cow, it’s time to bring the RIGHT cow home!  So many cows to choose from, how do you know which one is right for you?  Here are some questions you’ll need to answer to help you make that decision.

Do you want a registered animal?

Registered animals will cost more – but if you sell off calves, that cuts both ways, and you’ll have a guaranteed market, too.  Figure out if you’ll have a market for unregistered or composite animals.  Breed associations can be a great source of information & other members will often be quite helpful to the beginner.

2 year old Dexter cow with steer calf
2 year old Dexter cow with steer calf

Which breed is best for you?

This depends on several things.  Do you only want milk, or do you want to raise some of the calves for beef?  A dual purpose breed will do both nicely.  How much space do you have?  Mini breeds only require about ½ acre of pasture per animal, but you’ll need much more for a large breed.  Minis also tend to be more easily managed.  Do you want horns or a naturally polled animal, and what about the temperament behind those horns?  Some breeds are just naturally more handler-friendly.  Are you already familiar with cattle?  If not, you’ll want a docile breed & a crash course in cow behavior and handling.

How much milk DO you want?

Mini Jersey cow and her new calf

This will directly affect what kind of cow you get.  A good Dexter or Mini Jersey cow will produce plenty for the average family while also nursing her calf.  A full size dairy breed would probably drown you!  How often do you want to milk?  It is possible to leave a calf with the cow, so that you don’t have to milk every day, but then you’ll want a cow with a smaller udder that will not be easily damaged by a butting calf instead of a large-uddered dairy breed.  A low volume cow may become a frustration, if you have to milk every day and only get half a gallon it hardly seems worth the effort & clean up time required.

How will you breed your cow?

Do you want to keep a bull as well, or will you use AI?  If you keep a bull, you’ll want a small, docile breed and still want to “beef up” your fencing.  If someone near you has a bull of your breed, you may be able to get your cow bred that way.  If you prefer AI, there are several things to consider.  You need to decide what bull you want semen from & get it shipped.  You need an AI technician – your vet will probably be able to do this for you.  However, if you only have one cow, AI can prove to be quite difficult (as it did for us), as you may not see any signs of heat to know when to breed.  The vet can administer hormones to do synchronized AI, but you only have about a 60% chance of pregnancy this way & 100% chance of a big bill.  A solution to this is to keep 2 (or more) cows, if you have enough pasture, then you can watch for heat behavior.  You have to check your cows a couple times a day though, because they stay in heat for only about 12 HOURS.  A live bull is much better at that job!

What about pasturemates of other species?

Cow, Sara, peacufully sharing dinner with horse buddy, Marker.

Cows are herd animals, and therefore are much happier with company.  If you don’t want two cows, or if you already have other animals at  home, cows can be happy with other species as pasturemates.  But you’ll want to ask the seller if the cow has any experience with the kind of animals she’ll have to share her home with at your place.  You’ll also want to consider her temperament if she has horns, especially if your other animals are smaller, like sheep or goats.  Also think about whether or not your other animals have ever seen cattle before & how they may respond.  Then when your new cow comes home, keep her in a pen or corral for awhile so everyone can get acquainted safely through the fence & keep your eyes open for any potential problems before letting her out with her new herd.


1 thought on “Family Milk Cow 101: Chapter 3

  1. Thanks for the helpful articles! Keep them coming! We found a nationally-known vet that specializes in AI and embryo transfer about 2 miles from us, and Sara is there now to be bred by AI to Red Wing, a K-Heart Dexter from Colorado who is homozygous polled. We’re really hoping for a heifer, even though that would set our beef production back a year, because we’d like to keep her, since he’s such a nice bull. Sara has such a nice personality! We have been able to combination bucket-lead and halter-lead her to and from our field which is a ways downhill from the barn. She gets on and off the trailer great, and is not aggressive with her horns. She also doesn’t object to me following her around taking lots of pictures! 🙂 You can see them on my blog


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