Want to Keep a Family Milk Cow? Here’s How

"Having a cow" is not as far-fetched as it might seem. More homesteaders are opting for a milk cow, which can offer a lot more than fresh milk.

by Candi Johns
PHOTO: Shutterstock

“When you have a cow, you have it all.” We’re far from the time a family milk cow was a staple in the front yard, but this age-old saying is as true today as it was 100 years ago. If frothy milk, churning butter and homemade ice cream speak to your soul, the family milk cow should be in your future.

Adding a milk cow to a homestead or farm might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. The family cow is making a comeback, and she has much more to offer than fresh milk. Whether you have always dreamed of pails of fresh milk or you’ve never considered adding a cow to your operation, the family cow is worthy of consideration.

Regardless of the breed, the family milk cow is probably the most satisfying addition for the self-sufficient enthusiast. A closer look at the beautiful family cow unveils her true worth. Indeed, she is more than milk: She is a friend, a provider, a holistic life, a self-sustainer, a garden nourisher and even an income.

Income Potentials

A family milk cow can be quite a profit center.

Dairy Returns

You can sell fresh dairy products in many areas. Check with your state for restrictions and details. Many home dairies sell extra milk, butter, cheese, soap and other products from fresh milk.

Even the milk you don’t use can create income. Raw, unprocessed milk is a rich food that can be fed to many other animals on the farm or sold for animal consumption. Chickens, dogs and pigs all thrive on fresh milk. Using or selling extra milk can greatly reduce costs on the farm.

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Candi Johns

Cash in on Calves

Milk cow owners eventually end up with some sort of cow/calf operation. It’s a perk that comes with the deal. In order to continue producing milk, a cow must calve somewhat regularly. Each time she calves, she begins a fresh lactation cycle. From this point, a cow can be milked a year or longer.

Some folks continue milking for more than a year from a single lactation cycle; however, most diary cow owners prefer to breed the cow each year. This provides a fresh milk cycle and a new calf each year. Those calves are an excellent source of income. You can use them to provide meat for the family or sell them for the same purpose. In the case of heifers, you can use or sell them as milk cows.

In addition bestowing to the annual calf, she can also raise orphans or bottle babies. This is yet another celebrated attribute of the gentle milk cow. She is eager to mother. A family cow takes care of her own calf, and many happily accept orphans.

Recoup with Compost

Cow manure is big business these days. Finished cow manure can be found in bags sitting on shelves of most garden centers. A family milk cow usually provides all the manure a small farm can use. Compost is the fuel every garden needs to soar, and it can also be sold for profit.

Supermarket Savings

Many of us raise our own eggs and grow our groceries in the backyard garden, but few of us enter the family cow arena. Dairy products can be expensive, especially if they are organic, raw or cultured. When these are produced on the farm, it decreases your grocery bill.

Supermarkets can be wonderful things, yet perhaps it’s even better if you don’t need to visit them. A satisfaction comes from providing sustenance from your own land. The family cow brings the dairy aisle into the home by providing milk as well as the basis for cream, butter, ice cream, buttermilk, cheese, whipped cream and yogurt. The home dairy teaches lost skills. It brings the rich nutrients back to your milk-based foods and nourishes the family.

Superior Dairy Products

Farm-fresh dairy goods are naturally filled with probiotics and vitamins and are extraordinarily healthy. Consuming fresh milk and dairy products contributes to great health. Not only is the milk local, it’s as fresh as it can get.

With the family cow, you can enjoy unpasteurized, unhomogenized, unprocessed diary. Fresh milk fills your gut with natural probiotics. Grass-fed dairy products are also an excellent source of omega-3s and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid, a highly sought-after fat known to promote heart health and fight disease).

When a milk cow is a part of your homestead, the whole family knows that milk comes from a cow, butter comes from cream and buttermilk comes from butter-making, among other treasured truths. Dairy products such as sour cream, yogurt and cheese are demystified, and making them becomes part of regular, simple activities. Churning ice cream can be the most delicious way to spend a hot summer afternoon.

Allergy sufferers can rejoice, too. Drinking fresh milk daily has been compared to a natural allergy shot. As the cow grazes, she consumes grasses, pollen and local allergens. When you drink the milk from her, you receive small doses of those allergens. This limited, regular exposure can decrease one’s reaction.

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Milk Cow as Companion Piece

The Jersey, Dexter and Brown Swiss breeds are all known for their sweet dispositions and mild manners in the milking parlor. If you would like fresh milk and a friend for life, the Jersey is hard to beat. Her nature is loving and kind. She is a natural mother eager to adopt an orphan or bottle baby. She is gentle around children.

Physical Fitness

Daily milking provides regular outdoor living. There is nothing like early mornings in the milk barn with a gentle cow and the rising sun. Daily milking and home dairying can also be fantastic stress reducers. Somehow, the pressures of the world seem to melt away when it is just you, a happy cow and milk streaming into a pail.

Milking is also surprisingly efficient at keeping muscles and joints alert and moving. If the trip to the gym never seems to happen, a milk cow might provide the exercise routine you can maintain. To optimize exercise potential, walk to the milk barn, then milk the old-fashioned way—with your hands.

How to Milk a Cow By Hand

Knowing how to milk a cow goes perfectly with growing vegetables and putting up food for winter. Milking a cow is an easy skill to learn. It takes only a few days of regular milking to become efficient.

The supplies needed are:

  • a place to milk (out of the weather)
  • a place to sit (an upside-down bucket works great)
  • a pail to milk into
  • your hands

To milk a cow by hand: Start with clean hands and a clean, dry udder. Squirt the first couple of streams of milk onto the floor or a cup. This cleans out any bacteria hanging out in the opening of the teat and allows the milker to check the milk for any clumps or problems.

To move the milk out of the udder, grab high on the teat near the udder and constrict it so no milk can travel back up into the udder. Then use your other fingers to gently squeeze the milk down and out of the teat through the hole at the end. Once the teat is empty, open your hand and allow milk to fill the teats again.

Continue squeezing out the milk until no milk is left. Once the milk is captured, simply strain it (to remove any hair or debris that might have fallen into the pail), pasteurize it (if desired) and chill it.

Expect the Unexpected

The family cow is simply the definitive showstopper on the farm. Few homesteaders and farmers today still take advantage of the benefits and blessing of the family milk cow. When your classic, bovine beauty arrives, she will probably steal the hearts and attention of many locals and visitors alike.

It won’t take long before the locals talk about your unusual bovine and strangers stop by to meet your newest addition. Generations past will see your precious milk cow and be catapulted back to a happy childhood where milking was a daily chore and clanging milk pails meant homemade ice cream and smiles.

Not long after we brought home our first milk cow, we realized that our cow was different. Neighbors we hadn’t met, locals from town and people driving through all stopped to take a closer look at our sweet Jersey girl. Countless ladies and gentlemen have come by the farm just to meet “the family with the Jersey cow.”

One gentleman made my day when he saw us all in the field with our cow. He pulled into our gravel driveway, climbed out of his truck and introduced himself. “Is that a Jersey cow?” he asked. “Yes sir, she is,” I replied.

“You milk that cow?”

“Yes sir, we do.”

“What do y’all do with the milk?”

I chuckled, smiled and said: “We drink it!”

Then he shook our hands again and told us he was glad we were in the county and asked us to let him know if we ever have any extra butter.

Raw Milk FAQs

If you’ve got questions about raw milk, check out these publications:

hobby farmers real milking cow

Daily Milkings

“Milking one cow is fun. Milking 60 is like prison.” This is what the septic tank guy said as he serviced our system. He was instantly charmed by our Jersey girl the minute he entered our driveway. He said our milk cow looked just like the cow named Belle he had as a boy. He also compared owning dairy cows to prison.

Don’t let him scare you. The family milk cow can be milked once a day. If being married to the farm has prevented you from getting a family milk cow, she might deserve reconsideration. There are several ways to milk once a day, but perhaps the simplest and most effective is to share milk with a calf. It’s simple to do and quite successful.

When the cow gives birth, leave the calf with the cow. Bring the milk cow into the barn once a day, every day, and milk her out. As the calf grows and begins to consume more milk, you might find that your pail is empty. Simply put the calf in a separate field, paddock or comfy barn for a short time (such as from sundown until morning). While the calf is away from mama, be sure it has some hay and clean water. Milk the cow first thing in the morning, and then reunite her with her calf for the day.

When the calf is big enough to consume all the milk, the farmer can take days or weekends off from milking. Just leave the calf with the cow, and they take care of the milking. You always have plenty of milk, and you have some freedom, too.

Keeping a family cow can easily be justified. Her hay and feed bills are well worth the costs, considering the precious commodities she gives in return: fresh milk, sweet calves, glorious manure and friendship for life. The family milk cow is hardly an expense on the farm. Her presence is an asset and a gift to many.

Candi Johns loves cows, keeps redneck chickens, grows groceries and cooks from scratch on her Kentucky homestead. Visit her at FarmFreshForLife.com and learn how to “eat everything and still get along with your pants.”

This story originally appeared in the September/October 2018 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.

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