How to Start and Manage a Micro Dairy, Part 5: 15 Universal Truths for Micro Dairy Owners

Reader Contribution by Steve Judge
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The dairy industry is full of strong personalities. In fact, in the almost 50 years that I have worked in the industry, I have come across some pretty stubborn beings (cows and dairy farmers alike) who bristle at being told what to do. This has, at times, made my job as a dairy-farming consultant difficult, especially given my focus on micro- and small-herd dairies. My message of farming on a small scale is often lost on the more traditional, larger-scale dairy farmers who are focused on maintaining or growing their herd.

Add to this the fact that, like any other business, there are numerous ways to manage and solve the problems on a dairy farm. As the old saying goes, “There are 1,000 ways to run a dairy farm. It doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you do it right.” Of course, what is right is subjective. I can recommend a specific dairy-management procedure to a person, and that person can talk to the dairy farmer down the road who will say, “Steve Judge is out of his mind. This is how I would do it.”

Finally, there is the dairy farmer himself, who was born with a fierce skepticism of outside experts. There is a general feeling that if you haven’t milked dairy animals for a living, you are not an expert about anything on a dairy farm. Generally I agree.

It’s a good thing I’ve got solid ground on which to stand. I have been milking dairy animals for almost 50 years and, in that time, have also owned, leased and managed six different dairy farms. Still, I couch every piece of advice that I give with a qualifier: “If it were my farm I’d…” or “If it were my cow I’d…” That said there are what I consider to be some universal truths about micro-and small-herd dairy farming. Here are my 15 truths in no particular order:

  1. Keep your dairy animals clean, dry and comfortable.
  2. Feed and care for your dairy animals before you feed and care for yourself.
  3. Keep your facility and management plans as simple as possible.
  4. Protect your animals from all avoidable stress.
  5. Don’t spoil your dairy animals. Treat them like respected co-workers or teammates.
  6. Your dairy animals shouldn’t fear you, and you shouldn’t fear them.
  7. Avoid unproven management or equipment fads, especially if they are costly.
  8. Humanely dehorn dairy calves with a cordless gas dehorner as soon as you can feel the horn buds.
  9. Feed your dairy animals for optimum body condition and health, and milk production will follow.
  10. Do not feed your dairy animals solely for maximum milk production.
  11. Extend the lives of your dairy animals in order to increase the return on your investment.
  12. Have your cows and applicable dairy animals checked for Leucosis and Johne’s.
  13. Get rid of any dairy animals that check positive for Leucosis or Johne’s as soon as possible.
  14. People make a lot more money milking farmers than most farmers make milking cows.
  15. Learn how to solve problems without spending money.

Remember, these are my rules. They have worked for me because they help me minimize the human and financial resources required to operate a dairy while maximizing my income and return on investment in the cows, equipment and land. One final truth to keep in mind: If you can increase the average lifespan of your dairy animals by one, two or even three years, you will significantly increase the return on investment. And I should know. I milked one of my cows until she was 17. Her name was Annie – pictured above.

To learn more about how to manage a micro dairy go to

Up next: Part 6: Permitting and Regulations

In case you missed a step in the series they are listed below.
Part 1: The Philosophy of a Micro Dairy
Part 2: Looking Back: Micro Dairy History & the Family Farm
Part 3: Proper Handling of Cows
Part 4: Location, Location, Location