Below is a list of basic but important reminders for new dairy cow owners that I hope helps you if you’re a new cow owner or a soon-to-be one!
I wrote this list of reminders for new dairy cow owners a few weeks into bringing home our three dairy cows, because I figured I’d forget these basic but important things months and years down the road!
And I’m glad I wrote them down, because now I get to share them with you.
My journey as a new dairy cow owner
I was brand new to cow ownership- like so new that I’d never even touched a cow before bringing mine home!
So I searched the internet for anything I could find on cow ownership and what to expect. And watched countless hours of youtube, read and reread several “cow” books, and looked over every single article and post I could search up online.
Still, some things surprised me as they happened with the cows in those first few weeks. And some things I had read about showed themselves to be so true and I was grateful I had learned about them previously.
So here is my personal list of 30 basic & important reminders for new dairy cow owners; some that I wish I’d known before hand, and some that I was happy to know as we walked through those first few weeks with our dairy cows.
Take a look at these reminders for new dairy cow owners below;
1: they’re stronger than they look
I learned this one right out of the gate- literally.
Online and in videos you will see dainty jersey cows being milked in flowery fields alongside a graceful woman.. or a dexter casually munching on hay while a husband and wife tag team the milking…
What you see much less of online is a protective momma cow defending her babies against strangers, or a cow whos never been hand milked and is not afraid to show how mad she is.
So let me be the one to tell you if you don’t know (like I didn’t), cows are very strong, they can kick faster than you can blink, and a tail swoosh in the eye is paiinnnnn.
I’m not saying all cows will do these things, just be prepared for it if they do!
2: you don’t have to be so gentle
I started out handling our cows like I would a dog or maybe a goat. And quickly realized that a pushy cow is like a pushy horse- bad news.
I also learned a cows skin is tough, including their milking area. And you don’t have to be as gentle as you might think.
But always remember to show any animal the respect all of God’s creatures deserve.
3: they are messy
I gotta say; hands down, pigs are cleaner than cows.
Shocked? Me too.
Cows will poop ANYWHERE. It doesn’t matter to them if it’s in their bed, on their food, in the water trough, or on eachother. They have no hesitation to go to the bathroom wherever they feel like it.
4: calves are rude
I learned this and heard it many times in my research and education. And I’m here to confirm and remind you that calves are SO rude.
5: if a cow doesn’t want to- it won’t…
Ain’t that the truth… From loading into trailers, being milked, moving out of the way… If a cow doesn’t want to do it, they just won’t.
6: don’t expect clean milk at first
If you’re new to milking you’re probably going to get stuff in the bucket while while milking. Or, since you aren’t used to it yet, you’re hands might get dirty again and again (losing balance and plopping your hand in dirty straw, petting the cow, grabbing the dirty end of the tail etc.
Just focus on mastering how to milk. And bonus, nearly all farm animals love milk, as well as gardens and compost piles! So your milk will never be wasted if you need to dump it.
7: focus on getting the milk out, not getting it in the fridge
Our cow wouldn’t even let us put a bucket under her for almost two weeks of milking. So we milked onto the ground.
Her calves sure loved to lick it up after we left!
When you have major troubles with your cow always remember; get the milk out. That’s it.
8: the mother bucket
The mother bucket is my life saver!
If you have a trouble cow who likes kicking the bucket, peeing or pooping while being milked, or moves so much the milk ends up getting contaminated a lot- then you need a mother bucket.
A mother bucket is a big bucket you keep off to the side, and you dump into it frequently from the bucket your milking into.
This prevents a whole bucket from being spilled over by the cow. Or if something gets in the milk bucket and contaminates it, you only have to dump that portion and you still have all the clean milk in the mother bucket.
9: cows don’t smell like horses
10: everything is a scratch post
A scratch post to a cow means bent and broken things for you. Or a cow that could get hurt or escape the enclosure by accident.
As I mentioned above, cows are strong. They can bend a T bar that’s two feet into the ground so far over its deemed useless. Trust me, I know.
11: bug spray will save you
If you live in bug country do yourself a favour and buy a good quality bug spray, or make one yourself.
Have your bug spray on hand and spray your cow down before you set up to milk (to avoid contaminating the milk).
If your cow is afraid or gets angry about being sprayed down I would suggest putting them into the stanchion first, giving them a treat to eat while you spray them down, and then once your finished you give them another treat.
Treats help them remember that when they go into the stanchion they get something good. And whatever happens in the stanchion, they always get something good afterwards too. This prevents the cow from being afraid of the stanchion.
12: keep talking so they learn your voice
We talk non stop around our cows so that they learn our voice. In the beginning they were so terrified of us and whenever we talked I could see they hated it. Ha!
But with constant talking, humming, singing etc. they learned our voices and grew more and more comfortable around us.
13: when they say your hands will hurt, they aren’t kidding
Be prepared. Take your tumeric, apply your oils. Do whatever you need to do to ease the pain that’s coming to you.
Im serious, it’s gonna hurt.
And if you have joint problems and arthritis like me, it’s going to hurt way more.
I’ve read everywhere that you get used to it, but with some things (like the joint pain and arthritis) it just doesn’t get better. That’s why I adore that my husband is so involved and my kids are just chomping at the bit for me to let them milk!
14: everything in your life will smell like cow, old milk and hay
Dawn dish soap, baking soda, and vinegar are your friends in the laundry room. Use these paired with cold water washing to get the smells out.
15: you will question your decision
Keep this in mind when you face trials in your milking journey.
Like when you’re alone in the dark getting eaten alive by bugs, and the cow just won’t let you milk her.
When you’re filthy, tired, sore, sick, and you have to milk anyway.
When you get kicked in the arm, or tail whipped in the eye, or peed on.
Or maybe when a calf is stillborn, or your cow gets sick.
You’re going to question why you did this and why you’re putting yourself through such agony!
Stay the course my friend. Stay the course.
16: get more jars than you think you’ll need
And bigger jars aren’t always better. My favourites are my 3 ltrs! The gallon jars are great but take longer to cool the milk so I’m mindful to put them in the coldest part of the fridge.
You’ll also want jars for yogurt, creams and soft cheeses, and more!
17: learn to make dairy products AFTER you get the cow, not before
I do not understand why people “practise” making dairy products before they get their cow.
Fun fact: you’re going to have a ton of milk. Enough to practise with, enough to drink, enough to make whatever you want!
My advice would be to use your own cows milk to make your dairy products. The milk comes everyday, and you will learn with your own pure raw milk!
18: don’t feel bad when you dump milk
A few times I’ve had milk that did some weird things in my fridge and since I wasn’t quite sure what happened I dumped the mik into my asparagus bed.
Sure I could’ve done something with it. Maybe a clabber, or cooked it into a cheese or sauce. But I didn’t. I just dumped it and moved on. And I don’t feel bad. Neither should you!
19: find new go-to recipes that focus on dairy ingredients
I’ve been tailoring my recipes to be more dairy heavy now that we have all of this liquid gold. And my baking is SO much better. Like wow.
My recipes up until buying our cows were light on the dairy because it’s so dang expensive here, so I avoid buying it all together.
20: cow math is like chicken math
Well for me at least anyways! There’s just something about cows that I love dearly and I’ll tell you this; there are more cows in our future.
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21: learn cow first-aide
It feels so good knowing I have a basic understanding of animal first-aide, and more specifically now; cow first-aide.
I’ve been building my knowledge for a while now because we don’t have a large animal vet anywhere close to us. So all problems and care falls on us.
I have a few great books that I keep on hand, a vet kit that I have stored away just incase, and my “life line” so to speak of a few people I could call who I know would help me if I needed it.
Here’s a link to the book I’ve recently gotten that so many seasoned dairy cow owners told me to get:
22: I’m so happy I bought a polled cow
As a beginner to dairy cow ownership I’m so glad I bought a polled cow, and I highly recommend them to not only newbies, but to anyone!
23: make sure you have a million buckets
I’m not talking about milk buckets here, but those 5 gallon plastic buckets!
We use these buckets daily around our farm for all of our animals. They’re cheap, sturdy, safe and make farm life so much easier.
24: build your stanchion way stronger than you think it needs to be
Our cow broke down the stanchion after an hour of freaking out in it…. ya….
We are builders and made it pretty strong, and I bet it would’ve been perfectly safe.. if our cow wasn’t so angry with her new life on our farm haha!
After watching her bust every screw, break 2x4s and stomp holes in the base, I learned my lesson. Always build it stronger than you think you’ll need.
This is good advice in general especially if you plan to use the stanchion for medical uses like needles, AIing, and hoof trimming.
25: every teat is different
Different lengths, flow rates, bag sizes, etc. I’ve learned every teet is different.
26: cows can kick with their front legs too
Another thing I learned the hard way! And they are fast too!
27: calves train easier with treats
I might get a hard time for this but I don’t have hours to spend haltering a calf. So if it’ll stand and eat a treat while I put a halter on I’m going to give treats. No shame.
28: you don’t need a barn
Our cows currently have a tarpage open on both sides. They barely go in it and when they do they look annoyed.
Cows are way hardier than we give them credit for!
Do your research on cow breeds and hardiness levels. If you buy right, you’ll have no problems when it comes to not having a barn. A hardy dairy cow can live with no shelter at all and be pleasantly content!
29: strong fencing is crucial for calf separation
It seems like nothing will keep a cow and calf apart.
If there’s a chance they can break a fence, they will do it to be together. And although thats adorable and sweet- its also annoying and can pose major problems.
So build that separation fence STRONG.
30: have a backup milker if possible
Bless my husbands heart. He’s my backup milker.
The guy who I convinced to get the cows, who I promised that the cows wouldn’t be a burden and that I had everything handled. This guy is now the milkman hahaha!
I honestly didn’t want him to be a part time milker but with the tremendous amount of problems our new cow gave us those first few weeks we had no choice but to have him milk with me. And he never once complained or griped about it. (cause he’s the best guy ever)
Also my arthritis really doesn’t like daily milking at the moment, I think due to how tense I am throughout it still and how I hold my arms to milk (always anticipating her to kick me and keeping my face as far away from her hooves as humanly possible). So having him be my relief milker has been AMAZING.
And he actually enjoys it which I think is so funny, cause he wasn’t too sure about it when we were planning to bring the cows home.
You should have someone in your life to be a backup milker. Even if its a pump and dump situation. Because you never know when an emergency will happen that will keep you from milking.
Thanks so much for reading my 30 basic & important reminders for new dairy cow owners, I hope these simple tips help you out on your dairy journey!
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