Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Homestead: How Now Brown Cow

  T Bar Jody Rose..a purebred beef Shorthorn with some Milking Shorthorn ancestors.

If someone is thinking of a farm they always seem to think of a good old milk cow. She was probably a Jersey and had a name like Sue or Betty! My first memories of a Milk cow were of cranky old Hereford Shorthorn cross called Rosey!  She had a horrible disposition but her calf had died so my Mother decided to milk her for the household. She was a beef cow but she milked well and her milk had lots of cream so we had butter and buttermilk and thick cream to dollop on our raspberries!

When Rosey got too miserable to deal with my Father surprised my Mom with a lovely Jersey cow called Samantha. The only problem was she didn't  just milk well she milked extremely well. Even with butter making and lots of cream on our desserts and cereal we always had milk to spare. The neighbors got milk, the dogs got milk and even the chickens got milk. Finally my mother decided to get an extra calf for the extra milk. That helped lot.

A milk cow for your homestead can be both a boon and a difficulty. They can produce a huge amount of milk and even feeding her own calf the amount of white foamy liquid can be overwhelming.

After the production issues with Samantha the next cow we got was a Purebred Angus called Karen. Her milk production was just right for our needs. She was quiet and nice to milk and we developed a method for house milk that kept the labor less intensive. We did not take her calf off of her when it was born but we did share the milking with it. We separated the calf over night and then in the morning Karen would be waiting at the gate, ready to be milked. One of us would milk her and then let the calf in with her. We kept them in a small grassy paddock for the day then at night Karen would go out with the other cows and we would lock up the calf.

 Angus cow and calf on pasture [Google Image]

Cows can hold milk for their calves but we always gave Karen her grain when we milked her and she never seemed to hold back, it worked this way for years. The secondary advantage was since Karen was a beef cow she produced very good beef calves for our deep freeze.

The question is do you need a milk cow on your homestead? There are both pros and cons to this decision. I have raised cattle for most of my life, both purebred and commercial. I have milked a cow when I needed to but it has been years since I  had a "dedicated" milk cow. I worked with my cattle and they were almost all tolerant of me milking them. One of my very best Beef Shorthorn cows was quite happy to let me milk as much as I needed if I gave her some grain! My father would tell me he was getting low on milk and I would go and catch "Grace". Then we would have our fresh milk supply for the next few days!

A full time milk cow is probably a good investment if you have a large family that consumes a lot of milk or if you want to make cheese and butter. However there is more to having a cow on the farm than just grass and shelter. To keep a cow in milk she has to have a calf, to have a calf she needs to get bred so a bull is involved.  You have to be prepared for her to be dry [not lactating or in Milk], she has to have a break in production to recover from all the energy it takes for her to produce milk.

Cows are large animals and can have attitude, get sick, fence crawl, get stuck in things or just generally be a pain! You will need to consider the fencing, shelter and pasture she will need. You have to have some sort of handling area if the cow gets sick or needs any kind of treatment from hoof trimming to  deworming. They are also social creatures so you should have more than just one. A bull is a difficult animal to have around for a few cows so is there access to Artificial Insemination, can you learn to heat detect to get her AI'd? Is there a neighbor close by who would let you take your cow to get bred to his bull?

I always enjoyed my cattle and milking a cow is a particularly satisfying activity but you have to be aware there is so much more to it that squirting milk into the barn cats waiting maw's!  Evaluate how much dairy you use now. Will the need for milk drop off or increase in your future?

Are you going to want to learn to make your own butter and cheese?
Who is going to do the milking? Where are you going to store the milk? Do you live  in a mild climate or are you going to have to deal with winter milking?  Will you want to have the milk cows calf for your beef supply. Are you prepared to deal with the issues that entails?

A cow needs grass or hay  so does your homestead have enough pasture for grazing, will you need winter hay for a short time or a longer season. A cow will eat a lot more feed in colder weather. Can you raise your own hay? Are you going to supplement her milk production with grain?

 Cows on winter pasture.

This is just the tip of the "block of butter" so do your homework and look in to all the options of fresh milk. It can be truly rewarding and we know there are tremendous health benefits but we also have to be realistic. Is it something suited to your homestead situation. Happy milking!



  1. I can't tell you how much I am enjoying these posts. Such a wealth of usable information! I have the best of both worlds at the moment - my Jersey, Jasmine, and her heifer, Alice, are housed at my neighbor's dairy barn. We share her milk which is - as you said - abundant!

  2. I am glad you are enjoying my ramblings. It is so good you mentioned milk sharing, that is an excellent option when it comes down to using milk from a Jersey or other milking breeds. One reason I enjoyed milking my beef Shorthorns was they do not milk as heavily as a dairy cow. I do know there is truly no comparison with "Real' whole unpasteurized milk and store milk in plastic jugs!

  3. Great post!! We have only raised a few steers for meat.
    We have the goats for Milk. We have contemplated a Milk Cow over the years. I would love to find a local milk source so I could make our own butter.

    1. Homemade butter is a joy and just makes toast wonderful! Like anything home raised or made it makes you appreciate it more for the effort it takes to actually craft it! It is getting more difficult to find local milk sources with the Government messing in unpasteurized milk and its sale.
      Take care and thanks for commenting.