Sometimes I wonder how we would do without her, and most times sheís the high point of my day, after my wife of course. Dolly is our Jersey milk cow that we got in September 2002. Cyndi and I discussed the idea of cow vs goats. I just donít see myself as a goat type guy. I figure, what self-respecting ex-cowboy would stoop to goats?? No offense to you goat people. My friends back in Colorado even think itís a step down and backward to get a milk cow and not a beef breed. A cow is a cow, I was raised with cows, so there it is.
If you are thinking about a milk cow for your farmstead, there are a few considerations to think about. I tend to look at things simply because I am a simple man with simple needs. The biggest concern, I believe is, are you willing to be tied down for milking twice a day? I like to be home and like chores. Cyndi and I are fairly self-sufficient and as independent as we can be in today social and economic environment. Having a source of milk, butter, cheese and manure appeals to us. We have pasture and our own hay, a large barn and two wells.
A family cow is generally an easy animal to keep. 2 acres of good grass and fresh water are all a cow could ask for in warm weather. Fencing can be as simple as one strand of electric wire or tape. Once she gets zapped, she will respect the fence even when itís not on. For that reason I like the electric tape. It's high visibility lets her see where her boundaries are. Itís always a good idea to have a windbreak of some sort for her to use. Cows can take cold, but wind and cold together are hard on them.
A cowís diet is important if milking is your goal. High protein and lots of quality roughage should be readily available at all times. A cow will eat a lot and her production will directly correspond with her diet. Alfalfa and grass hay and a lot of water are her main diet. I always give a scoop each of oats and corn at each milking to keep her happy and supplement her diet even more.
Every cow, like people, eat differently or may need a bit more consideration with their particular diet, but generally these guidelines work well.
Shelter is as varied as the people keeping the cow. A shed, lean-to or a barn with a private stall, will all work. Stanchions and head-gates are optional, a simple tie chain or collar work well for the trained cow. I like a stanchion for milking and let her roam the alley and paddock at will between milkings. She gets her hay in the stanchion manger. Some people can milk their cow in the pasture on nice days. It is up to you to determine what you are comfortable with.
Choosing a breed is usually a problem that will solve itself. Unless you require a specific breed for one reason or another, there will be cows available in your area once you start looking. You will be surprised at what you will find once you start networking and getting the word out. We got our cow from a farmer not 3 miles away. He wanted $450.00 for the 4 year-old Jersey and gave us the cow for the price of buying her milk from us until the debt was paid. At $2.50 a gallon, he didnít have to milk anymore and we got our cow and our milk too! It never occurred to me weíd own a Jersey, I didnít know there were Jerseys in our area. I assumed weíd get a Holstein, as there are several dairies around here.
Jerseys are great family cows. They are small, gentle, easy keepers and donít eat as much as the larger breeds. Their milk is richer in butterfat and the butter made from their cream is yellow. Holsteins give a lot of milk and eat accordingly. Avoid buying your cow at a sale barn. Itís a real risk! Shop around and be open to the options of all types of breeds, including the dual purpose breeds such as Devons, Milking Shorthorns and Dexter.
I would also ask around about butter churns, stanchions and any other related items you will need. People will be glad to help you get what you will need. We were given one of our glass churns and got 4 stanchions from a barn that was being torn down.
There are several books available on getting a cow with much more detail then in this short article. The one I consider a must read is: The Family Cow by Dirk Van Loon.
Donít be afraid to commit to keeping a cow on your place. She will grow on you and will provide for your family. Like I told Cyndi, ďIf it doesnít work out, weíll give her back.Ē Yeah right, not on your life!
Paul L. Muller