This is part two of a series about getting started with a milk cow.
Before You Buy Continued
There are several things to seriously consider before bringing home a dairy cow. In Part 1, I talked about the time commitment and infrastructure needed. For Part 2, I will discuss dairy breeds and the cost of a milk cow.
The dairy breeds include: Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey, Brown Swiss, Ayrshire, Shorthorn, and Dexter.
Let me first say that you may not have much of a choice here. Sure, technically, there are several different dairy breeds out there. However, depending on where you live, there may not be much variety in your area — there isn’t in mine. The two most prevalent breeds in my area are Holsteins and Jerseys. I was hard pressed to find anything else to choose from, even though I wanted to try either a Guernsey or Brown Swiss the last time I went milk cow shopping. I can give you a quick bit of info on the breeds I mentioned, but I would recommend doing your own research. Personally, I’ve only owned Jerseys. (Well, I did have a Brown Swiss once, but it was a bull bottle calf.)
Holstein: This is usually what people think of when you say “dairy cow.” They make up about 90 percent of dairy cows in America, because they produce the most milk, somewhere around nine gallons a day! This breed is pretty tall. I would also expect quite a bit of genetic management and inbreeding goes on with this breed, since it’s the one owned by the big dairies.
Jersey: This breed is short, docile, their milk has a high-cream content, and they are fairly intelligent. The reason I wanted to try a different breed is that I don’t think Jerseys are very hardy. In my experience, they don’t fight sickness very well and don’t live very long.
Guernsey: Guernsey milk has a high amount of beta carotene, which gives the milk a golden color. They are hardy, docile, and are known to have an easy time calving.
Brown Swiss: This breed is supposed to be the second-most-productive dairy cow. They are also recognized as the world’s oldest dairy breed.
Shorthorn: Originally from England, milking shorthorns are good grazers that are known to be easily managed.
Ayrshire: This breed is known for being hardy and long-living. Originally a Scottish breed, Ayrshires tend to be more dominant.
Dexter: This is a dual-purpose breed (meat and dairy). They are very small and don’t produce as much milk, but they are cold hardy and are known to have easy births.
Let’s be honest here: Buying milk from the store is much cheaper than owning your own dairy cow. What if you want to buy raw milk? Well, that depends. There is a Jersey dairy farm about 10 miles from my house. It charges $8 a gallon for raw milk. We can easily go through 3 gallons of milk a week. Does owning/feeding my family milk cow, Sienna, cost less than $24 a week? Yes, but not a lot less, because feed is expensive. Also, I’m not counting the cost of my time and effort milking her, cleaning containers, etc.
I couldn’t possibly give you good numbers for the cost of everything, because it would vary greatly depending on your own situation. However, I will give you a list of the costs you’ll most-likely need to factor in. Also, I will not include anything I already mentioned in the “infrastructure” section.
The Cow: Buying your milk cow probably won’t be cheap. A purebred will cost more than a crossbred. I can tell you that I paid $1,800 for Sienna when I bought her in the fall of 2017. For a purebred, registered Jersey that was already trained to be hand-milked, was already bred, had only one owner, and was in great physical health, I think I got a really good deal.
Food: This will probably be your biggest expense, and it is on-going. It can include: hay, alfalfa, minerals/salt, and feed/grain.
Equipment: Here are a few items you may want to factor in: a milk bucket, feed bowls, hay ring, water and/or feed troughs, halter, lead rope, milk containers, milk fridge, washcloths, strainers, fly spray, and udder salve.
Health: I’ve had to take my cows to the vet for pregnancy checks, hoof trimming, and antibiotics (when sick). You also have to pay for wormer and any vaccinations or teat treatments they may need.
Breeding: If you don’t have a bull, you’ll probably have to pay to breed your cow to one or pay for AI (artificial insemination).
I will leave you with some good news. Aside from the obvious benefit of glorious, tasty and healthy raw milk and other dairy delights from your cow, you can also benefit from selling her calves. This year, I will sell two calves from Sienna, because she not only raised her own calf but an adopted calf that I purchased for only $20.