How to Choose and Have a Family Dairy Cow

Do you want to have fresh cow's milk to make butter and cheese with without having to take a trip to the grocery store all the time? This article is for you, and ideal for those who want to have a family milking cow for themselves and their family.


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    Choose the dairy breed. There are many breeds to consider in order to have your own family milk cow. Make your choices based on the amount of feed you're willing to spend on, quantity of milk produced, the size of your farm, temperament, what's available in your area, what size of cow you can handle, among other things.
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    Consider purchasing a mature lactating dairy cow. This is the easiest way to start the home dairy, rather than buying a heifer that you must raise, train and breed before you get any milk out of her. Purchase of a yearling dairy heifer will mean you having to wait at least a year until you get some milk from her. You are much better off getting dairy cow that's already trained, is gentle, easy to handle, and milk.
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    Do your research on what cattle are currently available for sale. Avoid auction barns if you can if you don't want to rescue a cull dairy cow that may have health problems down the road you don't want to deal with. Consider possibly buying a mature cow right from a dairy farm willing to part one of their good cows, or from a small-time dairy.
    • Make sure she has been vaccinated recently. If she hasn't, check with your local large animal veterinarian for a vaccination schedule you should have for your cow.
    • You will need to determine if the cow you purchased is bred or open (not bred or pregnant). This way you can decide if and when to get her bred next or if she needs to be bred at all. Dairy cows can still be lactating regardless if they are in calf or not. If the seller does not know if she is pregnant nor how far along she is, get her preg-checked either via rectal palpation or blood-test. A veterinarian can do this for you.
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    Purchase the cow. Once you've made your decision on whether the cow you've picked out is good for you and your farm, then it's time to spend the money and bring her home.
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    Keep up with routine milking and feedings. You can choose to milk her once a day or twice a day; it's your choice. Feed her the same time you milk her, but if you want you can choose to split the feedings to twice a day to break up the amount of feed she needs to be given per day. Fresh clean water and proper mineral needs to be made available to her at all times.
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    Have a breeding schedule for her. You may want to consider times to give her a rest for a couple months before she calves and times when it's best to get her bred. She should be bred two to three months after giving birth to a calf. She can be allowed to milk for 10 months or so. Dairy cows can be lactating for much longer, but the optimum milk production you can get from a cow is during that 10 month time period.
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    Maintain shelter. A barn or shed with a stanchion should have been put in place before you purchased your cow. There's nothing worse than having to milk a cow in the rain or out in the hot sun: the cow won't enjoy it, and neither will you.
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    Maintain her health. Proper feed, regular vaccinations, proper mineral and knowledge in how to prevent certain diseases that you cannot vaccinate for (such as milk fever, grass/winter tetany, ketosis, mastitis and bloat) will keep your cow healthy and productive for more years to come.


  • Upon and before first purchase, check to see what kind of feed and mineral the cow has been given. You may want to not change her diet at first because it may cause upset in the rumen, especially if you're suddenly switching from a high-grain diet to a higher-fibre one. The process of change from one feeding ration to the next should be gradual, ideally over a period of 3 to 4 days.
  • Inspect conformation of the cow, especially the structure of the feet and legs, the udder and teats, and the rest of the body like topline, barrel, ribs, hips, etc. It is possible that the cow may need hoof trimming; quite often a good hoof trim will straighten out those feet and legs and make it easier for her to move around. A dairy cow should have a good firm udder with small teats that are easy to grasp for milking (and for the calf to latch on to), and at least two functional quarters to get milk out of.
    • It is the norm for a family or home milk cow to be one that does not have all four quarters functioning, particularly if it's of a cow that was culled from a dairy because she didn't have all four quarters at full functionality. As long as there is milk coming from even just one quarter, you should be fine.
  • It is very important to make sure you have your feed, water and shelter up before you get your first cow. If you already have animals that are not cattle, such as goats or sheep, you may have to just tweak the layout of your corrals and build a stanchion in the barn or shed you already have before you get your cow.
    • Sheep and cattle mineral must be separate. Sheep cannot have mineral that cattle do because it contains too much copper for sheep to tolerate. Sheep can have copper, just not in the kind of amounts that cows need for their bodily systems.
  • Inspect her condition. She shouldn't be terribly thin or emaciated, nor too fat. If she looks very thin, it's highly likely she could have Johne's Disease, which must be tested for. It is a disease otherwise known as para tuberculosis that causes cows to loose condition over time and even cause diarrhea. If she tests positive for this disease, it's highly recommended you pass her over. She's better off slaughtered than becoming someone else's problem.
    • If she's negative for Johne's, then it's likely she just needs some good quality feed to get her condition up again.
  • Keep your veterinarian's phone number on hand in case any troubles arise with your new cow that you weren't made aware of on first purchase.
  • Generally the purchaser would only tell you of her health history if you ask. If you purchase the cow not sight-unseen, you can check her over for things like foot rot, listlessness, abscesses, skin conditions like mange or ringworm, infections or anything of that sort. Majority of sellers wouldn't sell a cow if she's unfit for a buyer to consider purchase. But be cautious all the same and look her over regardless. Check her teeth to see if she still has all her teeth: some mature cows may be culled because they have no teeth left.
  • Also important is to ask about her breeding history. Is she bred or open? If bred, how far along is she? Has she had any trouble in the past like calving problems, vaginal/rectal/uterine prolapse, breeding back, etc.?
    • If she's had a history of vaginal prolapses, pass her on. A cow that has had vaginal prolapses is one that will both pass it on to her offspring and keep having the same issue every year.
    • Breeding back issues may be due to her condition. Thin cows have a slower chance at breeding back than normal-conditioned cows do, and if she's really thin, then that should be a red flag enough. Nutrition can have a higher impact on a cow's fertility rate than genetics!


  • Cows are big, strong and heavy critters. The most docile-seeming cow can still hurt you even when she didn't mean it. Careful about cows with horns, and cows that seem to like to misbehave (head-butting, crowding, head shaking, etc.) when people are around are to be either shipped or taught respect with a halter designed to correct this problem. Even a stout stick across the nose will teach her respect.
  • Some sellers may lie to the buyer in order to best get rid of a cow they don't want. Make sure you ask lots of questions and get as many answers as possible before your purchase. If something seems suspicious about the seller, move on.
  • If a cow doesn't look right, do not buy her.
  • Never buy a cow sight unseen. You may end up with more problems than you thought, and you could possibly get yourself caught up in a scam.

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Categories: Cattle | Eggs and Dairy