Getting started with a Dairy Cow

I found this post in my Que., not yet published. I wrote it back when we lived on the farm. I hope you enjoy it!

Meet Violet! She’s our new cow. Isn’t she beautiful? We’ve had her 2 weeks now. For a long time, we wondered about getting a dairy cow, but it was a steep learning curve for us. First off, we’d never milked a cow. Second, we didn’t know where to buy the equipment we needed. Third, we didn’t know how to care for a cow (and that’s a big animal to have suddenly die on you!). We’ve been learning a lot. Let me share with you what we have learned! (& I have to give credit to the people who sold us Violet, by the way..I didn’t come up with all of this on my own. :))

Learn how to milk from an expert.

By expert, I mean, someone who’s been doing it for at least a few years. We were lucky enough to have friends who wanted to teach us their business so that we could take it over. If you don’t know anyone who milks, there are plenty of Youtube videos about milking a cow. Start watching & learn!

Learn how to purchase a cow.

I wrote a post about Choosing a Dairy Cow. It’s important that you Avoid Scams When Buying Dairy Cows, and that you learn how to Choose the Perfect Milking Cow.

Buy a milking machine.

Unless you want to milk your cow by hand, you’ll probably want to buy a machine. Our machine looks like this:


You can find machines like this here. The benefit of using a machine is that the milk never touches the air. This makes the milk taste fresher and last longer.

Use an “inline filter”.

Inline filters are cheap, easy, and they filter the milk as it is pumping into the machine. It fits perfectly into the tubing of the milk machine, and then you don’t have to strain the milk during pouring.

Decide what kind of bottles you will use.

The people we purchased our cow from used plastic bottles, because then there is no chance of anyone getting sick from a bottle that wasn’t cleaned properly. Many of our customers prefer glass (as do we), so we are considering a switch. Plastic bottles, because they are a consumable, come with a monthly expense. Glass bottles take a large initial investment, but no monthly expense after that. Some people we know mentioned that when they were washing glass milk bottles for customers, they had the dishwasher running 5 times per day. Consider that, and then potentially purchase a commercial grade dishwasher! 🙂

Buy a funnel.

You’ll need a funnel to get the milk into the jars or containers properly. Don’t go cheap here. Pouring milk from a huge, heavy stainless steel pail is not easy. You want to have the most efficient tools available.

Buy white wash cloths.

You’ll need several white wash cloths. My husband uses 4 wash cloths per milking, for cleaning the udder. White wash cloths make it so that you can see the dirt coming off of the cow. Warning: the wash cloths will yellow. My solution? I fill a plastic bucket with water and some Biokleen Oxygen Whitener and keep it in the laundry room. The wash cloths go straight into this bucket. I do a load of wash cloths and towels every 2-3 days and I add another scoop of the oxygen whitener to the washing machine.

Set aside 2 containers for washing the cow.

You’ll need 1 bucket or dish full of warm soapy water (get a good, natural dishwashing soap for this) and 1 bucket full of plain warm water, each time you go to milk the cow.

Get a good, long stirring spoon.

You’ll need to stir the milk before you pour it into individual containers, otherwise all of the cream might end up in one bottle. 🙂 Make sure to get a good quality, stainless stirring spoon.

Make sure you have extra fridge space.

Really, you need quite a bit of fridge space! At least 1 empty fridge entirely devoted to milk, for 1 cow. 🙂

Get “teat dip” and “teat cream.”

The teat dip is really iodine. We use a spray, right before and after Violet is milked. The teat cream is like lotion for her teats, so that they don’t get cracked (think infection! That would be bad.).

Put up fencing.

We have basic single wire electric fencing. You can learn more about wire fencing in a book like this, or by asking questions to other farmers in your area.

Buy grain, hay and alfalfa.

We originally had the ideal that our dairy cow could survive on grass alone. We’ve learned that this simply isn’t true, in Oregon. She needs grain to meet her nutrient needs. We give her a little grain at each milking, and we are able to use 100% buckwheat for that. She also needs hay and alfalfa (the better the alfalfa, the more milk she will produce ;)).

Buy probiotics.

When you purchase a cow and put her on your land, she will be exposed to new bacteria, and her gut needs to adjust. Help her out by giving her a dose of large animal probiotics in her feed, each day for a few days.

If you’re planning to sell, learn about your state’s raw milk laws.

First, check out the State by State Review of Raw Milk Laws from Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund and then google your state’s laws about raw milk. You need to know if it’s even legal to sell raw milk in your state & what kinds of requirements there are. In Oregon, we can only have 3 dairy cows, 2 milking at a time (1 dried up), and we cannot advertise our milk.

Get customers!

Share your farm information on RealMilk.com. If you can legally advertise in your state, post on Craigslist. Ask friends to spread the word!

Keep reading and learning!

Read the following blog posts:

Keeping a Family Cow

Finding, buying, milking, and living with the family milk cow

and books:

The Family Cow

Keeping a Family Cow




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