How to Start & Manage a Micro Dairy – Step 3: Proper Handling of Cows

| 2/25/2013 4:32:40 PM

I have been known to say that “Everybody loves cows!” In fact, everybody does not love cows. I have been milking cows and farming since I was 13 years old, and over this period of time have come to the important conclusion that some folks are genetically predisposed to enjoy the physical, daily contact with cows (the dirt, the sounds, the smells). Others go to bed resenting the sweet, earthy perfume that extended close contact with bovines can leave behind. In the same way that some people are suited to a cubicle job, some people are better built for this kind of farm work. I put myself in the latter category.

Cow Close-upI like to tell a quick story that illustrates my point. Back in the 1970s, my wife and I ran a small diversified dairy farm in western Massachusetts. We had a neighbor who was a sort of a new-age type who talked about building his own house, that is, until he saw what it took for me to build a timber-frame addition to my own house: “I didn’t realize you have to carry the lumber around!” he said.

For the same reason that my neighbor was not prepared to do the work required to build his own house, some folks are not interested, or prepared, to do the work required to run a Micro Dairy. And this is okay. It is better to know what you are getting into before taking the leap, buying the cows and realizing you don’t actually want to interact with cows every day. In my mind, a person suited to starting and running a successful Micro Dairy would look at manure as a valuable and relatively benign industrial byproduct that neatly fits into the natural cycle of operating a dairy farm. For me and similarly like-minded people, it is not just poop and pee. It is fertilizer, and the more my cows make for my fields, the better.

Understanding the realities of handling and caring for cows or other dairy animals is essential for anyone considering getting into the micro-dairy business. It is not about red-checked tablecloths and strolling through flower-filled meadows. It is about understanding cows and their needs and being able to encourage them to give you what you need. Here are some tips that are the result of years of (hard-earned) experience.

Woman With Cow• Cows need to trust you. They should enjoy being handled and milked by their owner, whether you are milking them by hand or machine. They will sense if you fear or dislike them.

• Cows crave predictability and routine. It makes them feel safe.

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