Choose the Perfect Milking Cow

Follow these simple guidelines and pick the perfect milking cow that’ll suit your family’s dairy needs and provide an opportunity for profit.

  • Jersey milking cow
    Your cow will provide years of good company and good milk.

  • Jersey milking cow

When we finally escaped from the city and settled into our homestead, we knew we wanted a milking cow. We longed to enjoy hot biscuits dripping with fresh butter and thick, yellow cream over sugar or berries from the garden. But having never met a cow face-to-face, we didn't know how to choose the perfect milking cow. What would have been as natural as breathing to a country-raised homesteader was an unmapped area as far as we were concerned.

During the process of our cow quest we acquired information from many sources, including books, neighbors, pamphlets obtained from the county agent and, after we found her, from our cow. We hope that getting all of this information together might be a help to those of you whose dreams also include a cow.

We discovered that you should choose a cow based entirely upon the number of people in your family and the amount of milk you can feasibly process. Basically, a person should choose between a smaller cow who eats less and produces less milk (but probably more than enough for the average family), and the larger breeds who eat more and cost more to feed, but who also give much larger quantities of milk. The first group consists of Jersey cows and Guernseys while the second group includes Holsteins, Milking Shorthorns, Brown Swiss and Ayrshires.

We decided on a Guernsey because we have a small family. Both average around 800 to 1,000 pounds, produce milk with high butterfat content (richer milk) and both have a reputation for being gentle family cows. Being absolute greenhorns, we felt that this last point was very important as we foresaw a long future with our milk cow. We finally settled upon a soulful-eyed Jersey, but if you have a boisterous family or if two or more people will be doing the milking — which can be very upsetting to a cow — you may opt for a Guernsey as they are slightly calmer.

The main disadvantage of the above breeds is that they will not produce a top calf to raise for beef. Even when Jerseys and Guernseys are bred to beef bulls, their calves will never get as big as one of the other breeds, and the fat will be yellow. Yellow fat tastes the same, but some people don't like the appearance and it will affect the sale value of your calf. In our area, calves which are obviously part Guernsey or Jersey bring only half the amount that a Holstein calf will bring. Your cow will be producing a calf yearly, so think about what you're going to be doing with the "bonus."

If we had decided on one of the larger breeds, it would probably have been a Holstein, whose weight can range from 1,200 to 1,600 pounds. The upside is that Holsteins produce large amounts of milk — at least 6 gallons a day as opposed to a Jersey’s or Guernsey's four gallons. Their butterfat content is lower but you'll still have plenty of cream for butter, ice cream and coffee. If you can use 24 quarts of milk daily, then a Holstein might be for you. In addition, their calves make fine eating, too.

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