I use the phrase “family milk cow” on my blog quite often. So, what do I mean by that term? I take that phrase to mean having a cow that is trained to be milked by hand, thus providing milk for your family. That may seem obvious, but it is not. I have “shopped” for a family milk cow three different times in my life. All of those times, I found the process difficult and tedious. One of the reasons it was more difficult than I think it should have been is because sellers mistake “family milk cow” for “any dairy cow.”
I found lots of dairy cows for sale that were used as “nurse cows.” This is not the same as a family milk cow. The difference? A nurse cow is trained to accept other calves, so you can buy young calves, put them on one nurse cow, and the cow will feed them until you can wean them. This can be great if that’s what you’re looking for. You can usually find newborn calves (especially dairy bull calves) for cheap, raise them, and sell them for a profit. That’s what some people do. However, none of the nurse cows I called on were trained to be hand-milked, even though some were being sold as a “family milk cow.”
I will also put in that it’s not always easy getting a cow to accept a calf that’s not hers. So, kudos to the people who train nurse cows. I have had luck getting one of my milk cows to accept an orphan calf, but it wasn’t easy. She was tied, fed grain, and a stop-kick* had to be put on her while I got the calf to nurse. This lasted maybe three days until the calf started to smell like her (thanks to drinking her milk) and was finally accepted without all the fuss.
The other kind of cow I saw advertised quite often were dairy rejects that had only been milked with a machine. This is the type of cow that I ended up purchasing, unknowingly, the first two times I thought I was buying a “family milk cow.” I was lied to about their training. And that meant I had to train them myself.
If you are wondering… So what? If they were milked with a machine, what’s the big difference? They are used to made-man contraptions being on their udder, so is being hand-milked really that much different? In short, yes. Yes, it is.
The whole process is different, which means they have to learn something new and get used to the unfamiliar. Cows are creatures of habit and are comfortable with the familiar. If it’s new and different, it’s automatically scary.
With the milk cow that I have now, Sienna, I got lucky. The previous owner had raised her from a calf, only hand-milked her, and taught her to stand in a stanchion during milking. I watched this process before buying her. I had learned my lesson. I wanted a cow I didn’t have to train this time around. She was also fresh (in milk) when I bought her, so I had to start milking as soon as I brought her home.
All three of my milk cows have had different personalities and behaved a little different during milking. Sienna is very good as long as she’s in the stanchion and eating. My first milk cow, Tilly, was very good all the time. I could tie her up anywhere, and she would stand like a champ while I milked her. My second milker, Callie, was somewhere in between. I could tie her up to milk her in certain locations, and she would stand fine until her food was gone. Then I would have to stop, tie her up tight, and try and finish milking before she lost her patience.
My advice to anyone shopping for a milk cow are these seven points: 1. Buy a cow that is fresh. Otherwise, you have no idea what you are getting until months later. 2. Don’t just believe what someone tells you. Verify any way you can. 3. Don’t buy a cow that is a dairy reject. They either have production and/or health problems. 4. Test out her training yourself before purchasing. 5. Get a registered cow, so you can verify breed and age. 6. Don’t buy her if she’s ever had mastitis. Test the udder for hard places to make sure. 7. Make sure you actually WANT a milk cow. They are a HUGE time commitment.
*A stop-kick is a metal contraption you put on a cow, so she can’t kick.