I’ll admit it… I’m totally prejudiced. Try as I might to get all excited over green beans and squash, I’d much rather talk about milk cows and home dairying. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the gardening aspect of my homestead, but animal husbandry is just more of my thing I suppose… And did I mention that I have a pretty severe brown thumb? Yeah… that might have something to do with it.
I firmly believe the family milk cow is going to be the next status symbol. 😉 And heck, if you don’t have room for a cow, there’s no shame in a dairy goat (or sheep) instead. Regardless of what species you choose, home dairying has got to be one of the most satisfying aspects of homesteading–even if you aren’t as prejudiced as I am. However, since it’s been several generations since the family milk cow was commonplace, most folks have a bunch of questions on the topic.
And that’s not surprising, since most of us (including myself) grew up with the white stuff from the store. I’ve decided to collect all of my most-common reader questions related to milk cows and home dairying in one big ol’ post. Hopefully this will answer any questions you might have on the topic, and prepare you for a dairy animal of your own in the near future. The Family Milk Cow: Common Questions Should I get a cow or a goat? This is a hotly debated topic, and honestly? I think it very much depends on the person and the homestead.
My Cow vs. Goat post will help you to weigh out the pros and cons of each home dairy animal. How much land do I need for a milk cow? It depends on where you live and what type of pasture you have available. Generally, it’s recommended you have 2-5 acres per cow. And even though we have 60+ acres of pasture for our small herd of cattle and horses, we still end up feeding hay during the winter when the grass is dormant.
If you plan on feeding hay year around, you can have a much smaller pen. How much does a milk cow cost? It depends on the cow and location, but dairy cows generally sell for $900-$3000 in our part of the country. The proven family cows cost more, while a first-calf heifer will cost less. How much does it cost to feed a milk cow? This is a tough question to answer… The cost of feeding a cow depends on: a) How much pasture you haveb) What type of hay you are feedingc) How much hay costs in your aread) The type of cow you have A general rule is 30-40 pounds of hay per day, per cow.
(And again, that number can vary greatly). In our area (depending on the year) hay goes for around $150-$200 per ton (2000 pounds). What should I feed my cow? Since we personally are believers in the benefits of grass-fed milk and meat, we feed our cattle a grass-based diet. That means they graze during the summer/fall, and eat hay (usually a grass/alfalfa mix) during the winter. Many dairy cow owners feed their cows grain to boost production.
However, since we aren’t a commercial dairy, I’m not really interested in pushing our cow to maximum capacity. She produces more milk than we need on just a diet of quality hay. What breed should I get? It depends. Holsteins are the primary breed of cattle used by the commercial dairy industry. However, while they produce a very large quantity of milk, it has a lower butterfat content, and the milk may not be quite as nutritious as some of the other dairy breeds.
Our Oakley is a Brown Swiss, so I’m rather partial to them. The Brown Swiss is one of the oldest dairy breeds, and they are known for being kind and gentle. However, many homesteaders favor the smaller Jersey, which produces an impressive quantity of rich milk for its smaller size. Other good home dairy options would be Guernseys or Dexters–a smaller breed that is making a comeback. Will I be chained to my homestead forever and ever if I get a milk cow? You don’t have to be! We practice a share-milking program on our homestead and leave the calf with the cow for a portion of the day.
This enables me to only have to milk once per day (during most of the year), and I can leave for the weekend when I need to. Do you have to breed a cow to get milk? Yes–in order for a cow to produce milk, it needs to have a baby first. Most cow owners breed their cow every single year so they have a fresh lactation cycle. However, you don’t *have* to do this. As long as you continue to milk, a cow can go for several years on one lactation cycle.
But they must have a calf initially to get the lactation going. Can I have just one cow or do I need a whole herd? Cows are definitely herd animals and enjoy the companionship of other cattle. However, there have been various times on our homestead when we’ve only had one cow, and they still seemed happy to hang out with the goats or horses for companionship. How much milk do you get? A lot! Again, the exact amount depends on the cow and what she is eating.
Once we wean the calf in the fall and are milking twice daily, I can usually expect to get 3-4 gallons per day. And if we really pushed her production with grain, we could get even more. How exactly do I get the milk out of the cow? With a little bit of practice! 😉 Check out my “How to Milk a Cow” video for all the tips and tricks. How do I keep the milk clean? I usually brush off any hay or “dirt” bits that are hanging on the cow’s udder or belly before I start.
I also wipe off the udder to remove any dirt or manure. This goes a long way in keeping the milk clean. However, it’s inevitable that you’ll end up with some dirt specks or bits of hay in your bucket at some point–I’m personally OK with that, and I just strain it and call it good. However, on the rare occasion that the cow sticks her foot into the bucket, or a big ol’ clod of manure lands inside, the milk definitely goes to the chickens….
Do you have to pasteurize the milk? Nope. You can if you wish, but many home dairyers (including myself) enjoy fresh, raw milk. Here’s why we prefer our milk unpasteurized, and also some tips for safely handling your raw milk. Can I sell the milk? It depends on where you live. In the majority of states in the USA, it is highly illegal to sell raw milk for human consumption (crazy, but true)… However, there are a few states where you can–so be sure to check the laws first.
Another option is to set up a cowshare or goatshare program, in which participants “own” a portion of the dairy animal and receive milk as part of the benefits of their ownership. This way, no money is actually exchanged for the sale of the milk itself. How much time does it take you to care for your milk cow? We have a small herd of other cattle and horses, so Miss Oakley generally gets lumped in with them.
We feed large bales, so those have to be fed usually on a weekly basis with the tractor (during the wintertime.) Daily maintenance really doesn’t take much time–just filling up the big water tank and scooping poop out of the barn several times per week. Milking usually takes around 15-30 minutes, depending on how full her udder is and how many times I get interrupted by children or dogs… Do I need to have a stanchion in order to milk? Nope! We’ve never used a stanchion or head-catch (contraptions that hold the cow still so you can milk) with Oakley.
If you have one, it can be handy, but not necessary. It took a little work in the beginning, but she now quietly stands tied while I milk. Sometimes I feed her hay during the process, but not always. She’s usually happy either way. Will I have to help her calve? Probably not, but it’s a good idea to be prepared anyway, just in case something goes wrong. Find a large animal vet you trust, and keep their number handy during calving season.
This post will help you watch for all the signs of calving (tons of pics!). Where can I learn more about family milk cows? There are many different resources, but one of my all-time favorites has been Keeping a Family Cow by Joann S. Grohman (affiliate link). I’ve read it cover to cover several times! I definitely don’t claim to be a “milk cow expert,” but hopefully this post gave you a little glimpse into the adventure of owning a family cow.
It’s a lot of work, but totally worth it! I have a feeling that there are more milk cow questions lurking, so look for Part Two coming sometime in the future… More Homesteading Goodness Goat 101: Milking Equipment Home Dairy 101: Cow vs. Goat Goat’s Milk is Gross… Or is it? Goat 101: Milking SchedulesSee Also: Best Cows Milk For Babies
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Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links from which I will earn a commission. It’s the FINAL COUNTDOWN! Dada-da-da! Dada-DA-da-da! Dada-da-da, da-da-da-da-da. (FYI,that took me a full 5 min to figure out.) Get ready ya’ll. Because today we’re gonna have a competition of epic proportions. That’s right, folks. After thousands of years of milk-drinkin,’ we here at Weed ’em & Reap are going to FINALLY make the decision everybody’s been waiting for.
First, read here to see why we drink raw milk. Now, let’s start with some of the pros and cons of each of the contenders’ milk. COW PROS: One of the benefits of cow’s milk is that the cream separates from the liquid. Hence, you get cream. Hence, you get butter. Hence, you get heaven on earth. So yeah, two big thumbs up for that Mrs. Cow. Cow’s milk also is a better milk to “feed the masses.
” While I don’t support commercial farms (CAFOs) AT ALL, even small organic, grass fed, raw dairy farms who have only 50 cows can put out a whopping 300 gallons a day. So, another thumbs up to those amazing cows that produce so much milk a day. Also, cow’s milk knocks goat’s milk out of the park in levels of B12 and folate.CONS: Because the fat globules are bigger (the main reason why the cream separates), cow’s milk is harder to digest.
It takes your body about two hours to digest cow’s milk, even if it’s raw. Not too bad, but a far cry from goat milk’s 30 minutes. The 3rd most common allergy for children is cow’s milk, and there are theories for this ranging from leaky gut side effects to a mutation in the beta casein protein in “newer breed” cows like the common Holstein. But no matter what it is, allergies are definitely something to worry about.
GOAT PROS: Goat’s milk is closest in structure to human milk. The fat globules are smaller, which aids in digestion. In a recent study of infants allergic to cow’s milk found that 93% of them were able to drink goat’s milk with absolutely no allergic reaction! The ease of digestibility is also due to the high amount of medium-chain fatty acids (has 35% compared to cow’s 17%). Goat’s milk also contains less lactose (milk sugars) than cow’s milk, which is great because it helps those who suffer from lactose intolerance.
Goat’s milk is slightly alkaline, unlike cow’s milk which is slightly acidic.CONS: Some people dislike the taste of goat’s milk, and we agree that certain breeds of goats can have musky tasting milk. We own Nigerian Dwarfs, which produce a mild taste that’s almost identical to cow’s milk. The only drawback is that they are small animals. Small animals = less milk. Because we get about 1-2 quarts a day from one goat, we need about 2-3 goats to feed our family of four.
Not too bad, but you’d definitely need a lot of Nigerian Dwarfs to “feed the masses.” Read my Guide to Raising and Milking Goats here. SHEEP PROS: While there’s some debate on the actual amounts of fat soluble vitamins in sheep’s milk, they still produce the CREAMIEST milk out of these three. Sheep are famous for the deliciously succulent cheeses their milk makes. They are efficient producers, only needing 100% grass (no alfalfa or grain—just cheap grass!) to produce rich milk.
Like goats, they also naturally homogenized milk. That means smaller fat globules and more medium-chain fatty acids. This aids in digestion, just like goat’s milk.CONS: Sheep are naturally prey animals, which means they have difficulty “relaxing” while being milked. Trying to milk a sheep is difficult, because if you scare them even slightly, their bodies will produce adrenaline. This counteracts the “letting down hormone” oxytocin and the subsequent production of milk.
Boo. Next, let’s go over the nutritional facts. Now let’s do some official taste-testing! Yes, all of it is fresh and raw. Deliciousness.The girl: COW – “Goodish” GOAT – “Good-ish and Bad-ish” SHEEP – “Awesome” The boy: COW – “Good” GOAT – “Sweet” SHEEP – “Awesome” The man: COW – “Good” GOAT – “Good” SHEEP – “Good” The woman: COW – “Tastes like a hoof” GOAT – “Sweet” SHEEP – “Perfect” So, which is best? I’ve thought long and hard over the subject of milk and I’ve come to an official decision for everybody.
Are you ready? I have no idea. Lolololzzz…. Honestly it just comes down to personal preference. You’re probably wondering that if sheep’s milk is so superior in nutrition, why it isn’t more popular? I’ll tell ya’ now: I’ve been milking my sheep, Paula for the last month and that animal is a pain in the rain. Sheep are not friendly. And by “not friendly,” I mean “has given me a bloody nose, knocked me flat on my back, and bruised my hands and shins.
” Personally, I prefer goat’s milk because goats are cheap, easy and fun. (Hey sounds like my best friend in high school!) Seriously though, I attribute the reversal of my son’s asthma to our lovely goat’s milk. The smaller fat globules makes it easier for him to digest. Personally, when I drink goat’s milk I feel like it goes down clear and smooth and light. With cow’s milk, I feel sort of phlegmy and it seems like I am always clearing my throat.
I LOVE BUTTER though, so I would still love to have a cow someday (literally) and the benefit of having copious amounts of milk to make tons of butter. Mmmm, butter. I do love sheep’s milk as well (although Paula’s a brat), and I’d love to get myself a dairy sheep that didn’t hate my guts so I could make some rich cheese. Right now we only have meat sheep, and while you technically can milk them, they aren’t efficient producers and they are basically Satan’s spawn.
I guess overall, there is a benefit to each kind of milk. You’ll just have to decide which works best for you. Above all, I gotta give a shout out for RAW MILK. It is awesome, and nourishing! If you are worried about drinking raw milk or need to search for raw milk in your area, go to Realmilk.com. After our showdown, which do you choose? Sources:http://www.dieteticai.ufba.br/temas/leitederivados/cabra%20e%20ovelha.
pdfhttp://www.milkfacts.info/Nutrition%20Facts/Nutrient%20Content.htm This post is a part of…Small Footprint Fridays