For many, the ideal homestead includes about a dozen chickens, a couple of goats, a horse, and, of course, a milk cow. As with any animal, caring for and tending to its needs can add some time to your already busy life. With a dairy cow, that can be upwards of two hours per day – every day – all year long.
Bobbi Frost, co-owner of Harrold’s Dairy in Creswell, Oregon, shared some insights into what you should know before bringing a milk cow to your acreage.
Harrold’s Dairy is home to just over 400 cows and has been producing milk since 1946. Bobbi runs the dairy with her father. She is a fourth-generation dairy farmer and has been full-time at the dairy since graduating from Oregon State University in 2011. Her husband works there as well, and the couple is raising two wonderful girls.
Milking Takes Time
Bobbi loves her job and really likes cows. “When they’re happy, you feel happy, too,” Bobbi said. But it’s an everyday job. It’s not occasional. If you’re asking them to make milk, you have to be there to take care of them. You don’t get days off.”
As you might expect, a cow with a full udder is uncomfortable and unhappy. Especially when you consider that some dairy cows can produce three gallons or more per day. While many experts suggest milking twice a day, it is possible to milk just once with the help of a calf. Simply leave the calf with the cow overnight, then separate them in the morning. By the time you get home from work, she’ll be ready for you.
Whether you milk once or twice in a 24-hour period, Bobbi suggests budgeting one to two hours per day for milking and cleaning your equipment and the cow’s udder. That time does not include feeding, watering, and other care such as vaccinations, deworming, and caring for their babies.
Milk Production Requires Calves
To keep a cow producing milk they must give birth every year or so. Generally, that means that nine and a half months from the date she settles (gets pregnant) she will have the calf and start producing milk (freshen). If you can time it right, the calf will be born in spring when there is plenty of pasture. You can milk for upwards of 10 months or a little more – up until the two months before she gives birth again. She’ll need those months to refresh.
What to Do with the Milk
Once you have a bucket full of fresh milk, quickly strain it to remove debris and allow it to cool to reduce bacteria growth. Straining is easy with a machine, or simply pour the milk through several layers of cheesecloth. If you plan to pasteurize, there are machines on the market that make it easy.
Preparing Your Property
If you own other animals, you’re probably ready to care for a dairy cow. Items you’ll need include a sturdy pen, access to feed and water, and a clean place to milk. You might also need a stanchion to keep her in place when milking, as well as shelter from the elements so you don’t get caught in the rain, snow, or summer sun.
What to Feed
Milk cows need roughage and protein. To increase milk production, you can try adding alfalfa hay or protein supplements to her diet. She’ll also need mineral supplements and salt. Talk with your vet about the amount of feed you’ll need to provide beyond normal grazing.
Pick Your Breed
There are six major dairy breeds, including Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey, Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, and Milking Shorthorn. Holsteins are one of the most popular throughout Oregon and Washington due to their high milk production and temperament. Wherever you live, be sure to investigate the laws in your county around dairy cattle. Some areas require a license when you own more than three milk cows.
Let’s Talk Milk at Coastal
You’ll find everything you need to feed, care for, milk, and breed your milk cow at your Northwest owned and operated Coastal. Stop by and ask about supplements, vaccinations, buckets, and products that can help you raise new calves, too.
Buying any animal requires some careful consideration. Here’s a list of things to ask before you buy your dairy cow.
- Has she been tested for John’s Disease? Staph A? Tuberculosis?
- Has she had the Brucellosis vaccine?
- Has her milk been tested for E.coli, salmonella, campylobacter, and listeria?
- Has she had mastitis? If so, when and how often?
- How many calves has she had and when was the last time she was freshened?
- How much milk does she produce?