I get asked a lot of questions about hand-milking a cow. The most common one is, “How much milk do you get?” The second most common is, “How many times a day do you have to milk her?”
I thought I’d answer a few basic questions in this entry to give you a picture of how it works for me. Obviously, there are lots of different ways to go about taking care of a family milk cow, and even what a “family milk cow” means, but here is how my family does it.
When Sienna doesn’t have a calf on her, I milk her twice a day. I try to time my milkings as close to 12 hours apart as I can (within reason). It usually works best for me to milk her between 6 and 7 a.m. and again between 6 and 7 p.m. Of course, life is very busy, and sometimes I have to milk her earlier or later, depending on what is going on. When there isn’t a calf on my cow, milking is a huge commitment. You have to make sure you or your back-up milker is always available for each milking. More on that later.
Currently, Sienna gives me a little over a gallon each milking. (At times, it has been more, but more on that later, too.) Two gallons of milk a day is a lot. However, that’s the amount I count on and plan for. Since fresh milk doesn’t keep very long, I have to have a plan for all the milk, so it doesn’t spoil or get wasted. My family doesn’t go through 14 gallons of milk a week obviously, so I share the milk with about six other families. And I’m not above begging people: “PLEASE take some milk! I have too much right now!!” Or, “Got milk? I DO! Have some, have lots!!”
I also get asked how long it takes me to milk. Actually squirting the milk into my bucket doesn’t take that long. I timed myself one time, and it took me 10 minutes. However, if you factor in the other steps such as measuring out feed, putting Sienna in the stanchion, washing off her teats and udder, letting her out of the pen at the end, walking back to the house, straining the milk into the jar, and washing the bucket, that adds about 20 minutes. I usually allot for 30 minutes from start to finish, but I can do it a little faster if I hurry.
When I do have a calf on my milk cow, milking is much easier. First, I don’t have to milk her. I can leave the calf on her, and it will take all her milk. (There is an exception to this rule when she first freshens, and the calf is a newborn. More on that later, too.) When I do have a calf, it is lovely not to be so tied down and actually be able to plan trips, etc. When I want milk, I separate the calf from its mama for 12 hours (usually overnight), milk my cow in the morning, and then put the two back together for the day.
For those of you who have more questions after reading this entry, you’re in luck. I plan to provide a lot more detail and info later on. But, if those details would bore you, I think this article about the basics should answer the main questions without dwelling on the minutiae.