Guide to the Family Cow

There's a lot to learn about caring for a cow. MOTHER teaches you what you need to know.

| May/June 1972

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    Adding a cow to your family homestead is an exciting endeavor.
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    Teaching a new calf to drink from a bucket.
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    Housing your cow.

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Back when the white man was "conquering" the North American wilderness, the first amenity added to the newly cleared land was often a milk cow. This was a giant step toward self-sufficiency and it's a telling commentary on the state of American agriculture that there are no milk cows at all on seven out of ten U.S. farms today.

Considering that one or two of the remaining three farms are commercial dairies, the family milk cow would appear to be practically a thing of the past. It's even possible to go one step farther and say that the self-sufficient family farm has nearly disappeared from the American scene right along with the one-cow family and the pool of cow-care knowledge that every small farming community once had.

It's ironic, I suppose, that bedrock information on keeping a family cow should be increasingly hard to come by now that so many young folks are eager to add a milk producer to their new homesteads. The modern dairy industry's methods, equipment, research data—even the animals themselves—are geared toward mass production and seldom fit the needs of the one-cow family.

True, a really dedicated modern homesteader can dig out the excellent extension service publications of the 1930's . . . and much of the timeless down-to-earth data from those booklets is summarized in the article "Keeping A Family Milk Cow" in an earlier issue of MOTHER. Get that issue of this magazine and read it as I won't repeat the information (benefits, economic analysis, breed comparisons, etc.) here. Rather, I'll pick up where that guide leaves off, try to point out problems of cowkeeping today which were not appreciable a generation ago . . . and suggest ways around them.

Family Cow Problem Number #1

One of the principle (but seldom mentioned) hangups faced by today's family farmers is that very few of the interested young adults moving "back" to the land from the cities have ever dealt with a cow before. On the other hand, the youngsters who have grown up in agriculture and are still in the business are, by necessity, so commercially oriented that they're either full-time dairymen or have long-sold the farm cow and get their milk from a carton. In other words, the old reservoir of "word of mouth" family cow lore—which even the 1930 manuals assumed that everyone already knew—has dried up.

So the primary bind a beginning cowkeeper working "by the book" encounters is that the first chapter has been omitted from the old literature and the first ten chapters—how to squeeze, how to make Bossy stand still while the squeezing is going on, that sort of thing—are missing today. A man can't learn to run if he doesn't know how to walk . . . or milk a cow if he doesn't know why and how to keep one.

Shirley SIKES
7/2/2011 10:01:17 PM

Thank you for the information. I found the information interesting.

shirley bradbury
5/29/2011 7:59:56 PM

Good article, but it desperately needs editing. I assume this was scanned in, hence all the typos and weird "words". Parts of it are hard to read.

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