Keeping Homestead Dairy Cows

Get grass-fed milk and other fresh dairy products when you keep a family cow.

| Summer 2015

With all the hype surrounding food safety and the hassles associated with obtaining unadulterated dairy products, it might be time to take matters into your own hands — with a little help from a dairy cow.

Whether you’re tired of worrying about herbicides, pesticides and bovine growth hormone in your milk, or you just desire farm-fresh, raw milk, read on and you might find that the world of milking — homestead style — is for you.

Keeping a homestead dairy cow is a big commitment that’ll get you one step closer to the self-sufficient life, free of factory-farming hijinks. However, it comes with costs. Aside from the cash investment of an animal and modest facilities, you’ll need to supply daily labor, wholesome feed, and you’ll find yourself tethered to your farm — at least while the cow is lactating. At first, the work may seem excessive and tedious, but it’ll soon dissolve into routine meditation as you develop a bond with your cow.

The Cows and the Calves

Cows produce milk in order to feed their calves. Once the cow has given birth, she must be milked daily or the milk will stop flowing. Individual cows and breeds have varying lactation periods, but count on around 10 months of milk production coupled with a new calf on an annual cycle.

To keep a dairy cow means figuring out what to do with her calves. If you desire beef, you can raise the calf until it reaches appropriate slaughter weight (typically around 1,200 pounds), and then take it to a processor who will kill the animal, butcher it and package the beef for you. If you don’t want to go this route, you can sell or give away the calf as a bottle baby, or otherwise find a home for it.

The Daily Routine

Dairy cows, like most domesticated animals, are creatures of habit. They enjoy a routine, and their happiness depends on it. The happier she is, the more milk she’ll produce on a regular basis. Therefore, your daily routine must be fairly regimented and will consist of feeding, milking, mucking and milk handling.

3/25/2015 10:12:55 AM

Cows are herd animals. They are social animals, inquisitive, responsive and gentle. It is cruel to have one cow--especially when she's expected to give birth to a calf, the only same-species company she'll have, will then be taken from her and killed. ("Finding homes" for male calves is not easy, and is not a reasonable option.) It's a huge commitment to be around to milk an animal twice/day. Also, the question of what to do with the cow when she no longer produces milk was not addressed. Cows can live years beyond their milk production age. Then what? Off to the slaughterhouse with her? There's a lot more to think about here.

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