Raising Dairy Cows, Part I

Raising dairy cows can easily provide your family with all the milk, cheese, and other dairy products you'll ever need — even if you only have one cow.

| July/August 1981

Raising dairy cows delivers multiple benefits. Just one "bossy" contentedly chewing her cud in the lower 40—or even in a small backyard plot—can easily provide your family with all the milk, cheese, and other dairy products you'll ever need. In fact, a single cow can actually overwhelm a single household with a super-abundance of delicious white liquid. But the problem of dealing with such excess—especially since extra milk can easily be put to good (and potentially profitable) use—is just the sort of hassle that most self-sufficient homesteaders hope to face!

What's more, milk and its by-products aren't the only goods that a dairy animal will provide. She'll raise her own calf (or calves) each year to supply your freezer with steaks and hamburgers ... and—of course—will also add an abundance of material to the compost pile.

I. Pick the Best Cow You Can Find

I've said it before, but I'll stress this point once again: If there's any one livestock-raising commandment that is of prime importance, it's the rule that you should always pick the very best animal you can find. When you realize that—poor producer or not—you'll have to milk (and pour feed into) a hungry hay-burner twice a day, seven days a week, for the next 10 to 15 years, it should be very evident that you want to start with a good cow.

If you haven't been around dairy cattle much, it's best to have an experienced herder (preferably not a person who's trying to sell you an animal) give you some pointers on making a good buy. As an alternative, you can also learn a good bit about cow-choosing by simply sitting ringside at a local fair or cattle show, and matching your discerning eye against that of the judge.

Naturally, the critter you select should be healthy. Look for clear and bright eyes, a shiny coat, a clean and moist muzzle, and "cowlike" feces (not firm, but also not ... well, you've probably seen normal cow pies before) ... and be sure that the animal has no limps, lumps, or cuts.

Remember, though, that a quality cow will look a lot different from a beef-bearing steer. A good milk maker will appear angular, having prominent shoulder tops and hip bones. Her ribs will show, but they shouldn't stick out. She'll have a large chest area with plenty of room for lungs and heart, and her belly should look as if it could easily hold a 55-gallon drum's worth of food.

5/30/2013 10:08:25 AM

Very good article.  To the above people that choose to be over run by disease (over abundance of mice, rats etc.) and give their children up to predators that will soon over run their world if they can't be killed. Please take your veiws to a peta site, that is the only place you are understood.  

Michelle Christensen
3/5/2013 10:34:44 PM

Great article! We have had a milk cow for 4 years. We love the milk, the return to the simple life, and the whole experience of raising cattle.

Anjali Sharma
11/13/2011 7:34:59 PM

@Jen for Ohio... " part of that respect is understanding that animals were put on this earth to provide humans with food." What? How does that make sense? Part of respecting animals is knowing you're going to kill them? What? I've been pure vegetarian my entire life. In highschool I was 1st in perseverence (running) out of all my classes in all 4 grades and 2nd in speed in grades 11 and 12. So don't tell me that you NEED to eat meat to survive. Ignorance infuriates me.

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