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One of the first things you will need to consider when you add a dairy cow to your farm is whether you will milk by hand or with a milking machine. It’s a good idea to spend a little time considering the pros and cons of each option so that you can make an informed decision. Your lifestyle, budget, and your cow (or cows) will all have a big influence on which option you choose.

There’s no doubt about it, raw milk is delicious and extremely useful on the self-sufficient homestead, especially if you want to make your own cheese, yogurt, and butter. Whether you decide to milk by hand or with a machine, your family can benefit greatly by having access to raw, farm fresh milk. Here are some key facts about each milking method to help you decide what option is better for you.

Pros and Cons of Milking with a Machine

Using a machine to milk your cow, or cows, makes the most sense for someone who wants to simplify milking and make it fast and easy. Your cow can be taught to go in her stanchion, then you’ll wash her teats, hook up your milking machine, and in less than ten minutes, your cow will be milked. You can even complete some other small chores nearby while the machine does its job.

A milking machine can make your life so much easier if you have a cow with small teats. It can also be a lifesaver if you have a nervous or difficult cow that doesn’t like to be milked. Another benefit is that the milk stays considerably cleaner than it does when you milk by hand into a bucket.

That’s not to say that a milking machine is the perfect solution for any farm; there are definitely some disadvantages. The most notable is that a milking machine can cost you as much as $500 or more. If you’re an average homesteader on a limited budget with only one or two cows to milk, that’s a pretty hefty investment.

Another disadvantage is that, although the milking process itself can be accomplished very quickly with a machine, you’ll need to spend more time cleaning up afterwards. Your machine will need to be disassembled so that all of the parts can be cleaned and sanitized, and then left to air dry. If you are doing your milking twice a day, you will be spending a lot of time on clean up.

Additionally, you should consider the setup of your milking area. Do you have easy access to electricity where you do you milking? Running electricity to your barn could be a huge task. And, you might also want to consider the noise factor. Some milking machines are quite loud. Consider if there will bother you or the other animals in your barn.-

Pros and Cons of Milking by Hand

Milking by hand is the way it’s been done for centuries. For some homesteaders and farmers, doing things the way it’s always been done is part of the experience. To get started with hand milking, all you really need is a cow and a stainless-steel bucket. It couldn’t be much more economical than that!

The process of hand milking can be an enjoyable one, too. Many people love the peaceful pleasure of doing the milking every day. Not only that, over time you establish a solid and loving bond with your cow, which is a sweet reward on its own. And, you really don’t need to have a special setup for hand milking. Anywhere that you can keep clean and comfortable for you and your cow will work just fine.

However, just like anything else, there are some disadvantages to doing all of your milking by hand. For one thing, getting started can be tough on your hands until you build up the right muscles. If you have arthritis in your hands, hand milking could be very uncomfortable for you. When you hand milk, you will need to take extra care to make sure dirt, dust, and insects don’t end up in your milk.

Hand milking definitely takes more time than machine milking, too. Especially if your cow isn’t cooperative. Some cows can be a real pain for milking and from kicking at you to kicking at your milk pail, they’ll try almost anything to get you to leave them alone. Not to mention, one wrong move, and ruined your delicious milk by putting their manure covered foot right in your milk bucket.

The Takeaway

Don’t forget to consider the personality of your cow when you decide, too. Some cows will make it clear that they prefer one method over the other. Some cows may not tolerate the machine, while others may hate having you work with their udder. A little experimentation might be required to figure out what makes your cow the most comfortable.

Before you decide which way to go, consider all the factors that come into play. Maybe you need to streamline your chores as much as you can, so you can get to work. Or, perhaps you plan on selling some of your milk, so it needs to be kept as clean and sterile as possible. In these cases, a milking machine might make the most sense.

On the other hand, maybe the experience of milking by hand is enjoyable to you. Perhaps you look forward to that peaceful time of day with your favorite cow. Or, maybe there really isn’t a good place to set up a stanchion with electrical access. And of course, consider your budget! There’s a tremendous difference in startup costs between these two options.

As with anything else around the farm or homestead, there really is no one size fits all answer to this the question of whether you should use a machine or milk by hand. Spend some time thinking it over and make the best decision for you, your cow, and your farm. And remember, you can always change your mind and try the other method if your first choice doesn’t work out after you’ve given it a fair try!

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The Family Milk Cow: Answering Your Most Frequently Asked Questions

Are you dreaming of adding a family milk cow to your homestead? It is a dream of many homesteaders, and I can see why. Having a milk cow on your homestead brings a multitude of benefits for your family. Imagine having 2-3 gallons of fresh, raw milk from your own grass-fed cow, every single day! If you are a mom, like me, the idea of being able to provide your children with wholesome, grass-fed, organic dairy products, and potentially beef as well, produced right on your own farm holds a special appeal.

Having a milk cow on your homestead is a huge step in the direction of self-sufficiency and food security. Just one cow is usually more than enough to keep an average family in milk, dairy products and grass-fed beef for most of the year. Not only that, the manure that a cow produces is like black gold for your garden, making your garden more productive, and who doesn’t want that?

You might even be able to make some extra money with your cow, too! While many states don’t allow you to sell raw milk, it can be easier to get permitted to sell homemade dairy products such as cheese, yogurt or kefir. If you don’t want to raise your cow’s calves for your own freezer, they can be sold for extra income as well. I’ve even seen folks sell sacks of manure to gardeners in the spring and fall. Trust me, you will have plenty of it!

Frequently Asked Questions About the Family Milk Cow

Does my cow have to have a calf for me to get milk?

Yes. Cows must have a calf to produce milk. However, with careful and consistent milking, many cows will produce milk for years without having to be bred again, so it is not always necessary for your cow to have a calf every single year.

What breed of cow is best for a family milk cow?

There are generally three types of cow to consider; beef cattle, dairy cattle, and dual-purpose cattle. If you want a cow that produces good milk and calves that you can raise or sell for meat, you want a dual-purpose breed. The dual-purpose cow probably won’t produce as much milk as a dairy cow, but that’s ok because you will still have more milk than you need for an average family. Some dual-purpose breeds to consider are Dexters, Shorthorns and Devons.

If you want a cow that is going to produce a huge amount of high quality milk and you’re not concerned about raising the calves for meat, you’ll want a dairy breed. Dairy cattle breeds include Holsteins, Jerseys, Guernseys, and Brown Swiss. Holsteins are the breed that is generally used by commercial dairies. They produce a lot of milk. However, Jerseys are also great producers, and the butterfat content is usually higher in their milk. They are also generally considered to be a very gentle cow.

How much does a dairy cow cost?

The cheapest way to get started is with a young heifer calf. They can be found for $300-500 in my area of the country. The big drawback to buying a young calf is waiting for her to get old enough to breed, and then waiting for her to have her first calf, before you will be able to start milking.

You could also start with an older cow who is ready to breed, is pregnant, or has already had a calf. The price will vary drastically depending on your part of the country, the age of the cow, and if the cow is a proven breeder and milker. I’ve seen adult milk cows in my area sell for anywhere from $900-$3000.

How do I feed my family milk cow?

Most folks with find that their cow does fine on just grass and hay. However, some high producing cows may have a difficult time maintaining their weight without supplementing their diet with some grain as well.

How much space will my cow need?

For a grass-fed cow, it is recommended to have 2-5 acres per cow, depending on the quality of the pasture you are running her on. If you plan to supplement with grain and provide a lot of hay, you can get away with having a one-acre pasture for her if the hay is good quality.

What type of fencing and shelter is required for my cow?

A barn is the ideal shelter for a cow. In climates with a mild winter you can get away with just a 3-sided cowshed. Some folks will tell you that cows don’t need a shelter at all, but in my experience, your cow will stay in much better condition and health if she has decent shelter from the elements.

Cows are generally much easier to fence in than goats. Most cows can be contained in electric or barbed wire fencing. However, if you spend much time talking to cattle farmers, you will find that there’s always that one cow who breaks through the fence all the time. Some experimentation and ingenuity, as well as diligent fencing maintenance, will be required in those cases. You can try adding more strands of wire, or using field fencing, for the stubborn cow who likes to escape her pasture.

What are my options for breeding my cow?

Basically, you have four options for breeding your cow. The easiest would be to have her artificially inseminated. This method will require perfect timing on your part, but once you get it figured out, this is certainly the easiest way to go. The biggest hurdle would by finding an artificial inseminator in your area.

You could also take the cow to someone who has a bull and leave her there for a couple weeks. This would be my second choice, and is a good option as long as you know the other farmer well.

You might also consider having the bull brought to your farm and left there with your cow for a couple weeks. I wouldn’t recommend this method, unless you have excellent fencing and are an experienced cattleman. Can you imagine having someone else’s bull break out of your fence and take off? Yikes!

The last option would be owning your own bull. This would not be a very economical option unless you have many cows you are wanting to breed each year.

How often will I have to milk my cow?

There are two ways to go here. You could take the calf from momma and bottle feed it shortly after it’s born. In this case, you would need to milk every 12 hours. You will probably end up with a lot more milk this way, but it will be more than the average family needs, and it will tie you down to your farm unless you have someone to come milk for you.

Many homesteaders choose to leave the cow and calf together over night, and then pasture them separately during the day. The cow only needs to be milked in the evening with this method. You will still get plenty of milk for your family, probably 2-5 gallons daily, depending on your cow. This method is less of a time commitment for you, is nice for the cow and calf, and might even allow you to get away from the homestead occasionally. I’ve heard of farmers who use this method going away for anywhere from a long weekend to a full two-week vacation using this method. They just let the calf stay with momma the whole time and keep her milked out. It is a lot easier to find someone to come feed and water your animals each day than it would be to find someone to come milk your cow twice a day!

What do I do with the calves?

For some homesteaders, the answer is simple. Raise them up and put them in the freezer. You can’t beat the taste of homegrown, grass-fed beef!

If you can’t bear the thought of eating something that you raised yourself, you will probably have to sell the calves to someone else who is most likely going to raise them for meat, or for the female calves, may be looking to raise a dairy cow of their own.

One thing to consider when choosing your breed of cow is that male calves from a strictly dairy breed can sometimes be difficult to get rid of. They are not great for meat because they are generally boney and don’t fatten up well. Depending on your personal priorities, this will be something to consider when purchasing your cow.

Hopefully this article has answered some of your questions about obtaining a family milk cow for your homestead. I believe that if you have the time and space for one, they are well worth the investment!


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