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Why Do Cattle: Eat Dirt, Stampede, Bellow And More

Brown Swiss heifer at the county fair. These are calm and easy going cattle.

Sometimes cattle can be seen doing a few unusual things, like eating dirt or staring at people. What are they up to and why?

All cattle, regardless of breed, have certain behaviors we see them doing, like eating dirt or bellowing, that make us wonder what exactly are they up to.

Life Of A Dairy Cow is an article going over the daily routine of a cow, if you are interested in learning more.

Cattle huddle to feel safe

For cattle everything is a group activity.

Cattle feel safer in groups since they are more protected from predators when they are all together.

Frequently, cattle huddle tightly together to block the wind or to be warmer.

This is the same thing as people standing in a crowd, some get all of the wind the rest don’t get any since the first few rows of people blocked it out.

Understanding Flight Zone And Point Of Balance is an article on that goes over low stress handling techniques for cattle, sheep and pigs.

Cattle eat dirt for the nutrients

When cattle eat dirt they are wanting to get some nutrient that they can tell is in the soil that they instinctively know they need more of.

Quite commonly cattle lick the spot where a salt and/or mineral block used to be since it dissolved into the soil below where the block was placed.

If they want more of the mineral and the block has not been replaced, the best way to get the mineral is to “eat” the dirt in that spot.

They are not eating the dirt to get the dirt. They want the salt or minerals and the only way to get the salt or minerals is by eating the dirt as well.

Why Do Cattle Need Salt? goes over the unexpected benefits of making sure your cattle have access to salt any time they want it.

Cattle are a special kind of herbivore called a ruminant.

Herbivore means plant eater. Cattle do not eat meat.

Ruminant means they have a specialized digestive system that allows them to live on forages alone and they chew their cud.

Other animals that are both herbivores and ruminants include sheep, goats and deer.

Looking for more information? Check out my article Why Does A Cow Eat Grass for a more in depth explanation.

horned cow eating hay on ground
A cross bred cow of ours eating hay. She has horns that are short, since she is mostly a Jersey and Milking Shorthorn cross.

Cattle do not have four stomachs

Cattle have one stomach. Just one.

This whole four stomach thing is a prevalent misunderstanding of cattle basics that is unfortunately all over the internet.

Here’s the scoop: cattle have one stomach that is divided into four sections. The sections are rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum.

Think of it like your house or apartment.

You have one place that you live (the house) but it has different rooms within the house that you consider to be separate sections like kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and so on.

Even though the rooms are separate they are still in the same house. Just like cattle have one stomach (house) with multiple sections (rooms).

The amazing thing about having a four compartment stomach means the cattle can use plants for energy that animals with a simple stomach can not use for energy.

This ability is the reason why cattle are versatile and valuable in many areas where transporting feed into the area is not a feasible option for most of the residents.

Cattle Grazing: Using Grass To Feed Your Herd goes over why cattle are all star grass eaters and how they can be used to get the best use out of your land.

The herd of cattle face the same direction

Cattle are all groupies. They love to be part of the herd and function as such. Partially, it is a safety thing, but it is also a food thing.

When one cow or steer finds something tasty the others will want some of it too. Think of kids and candy, any one that sees the candy wants a piece or two.

If given enough room cattle also tend to make a loop around the grazing area in search of the best grass and tasty regrowth.

They will have a route that they walk to check everything out. They are all facing the same direction because they are all walking the grazing route.

Cattle bellow to get noticed

Generally, cattle that are bellowing are upset, frustrated or just plain begging for snacks.

If cattle are used to being fed at a certain time and you are late they will bellow.

If they know it is feeding time and you choose to feed other livestock first, cattle of course think they should be first, they will bellow.

If they see you roaming about the barnyard and are feeling like you should refresh their hay supply (whether they actually need it or not) they will bellow.

This is just like your dog wanting more treats, it’s not hunger she just wants the treats.

Sometimes, when a cow or heifer is coming into heat she will bellow, there’s nothing weird or wrong, it’s just hormones.

When a calf has been weaned or separated off of the herd it will bellow. This is why cattle bellow at the sale yard.

It is confusing and new, so they are trying to figure out what is going on. Cattle like routine, not change (unless the change is new food then they are all in).

When you split the group to keep certain cattle inside the barn and let others out, the ones left inside will bellow.

Individual cattle have personalities

All cattle are individuals with their own personalities just like cats or dogs.

Overall, breeds seem to have common personality characteristics like some breeds tend to be more high strung than others, while other breeds are known for being calm.

But not all individual cattle of a certain breed will act exactly the same. For instance, some cattle like to be around people and some don’t.

Your dogs (or any other pets) do not all act exactly alike in any situation.

Dogs of the same breed all have distinct personalities even when raised by the same people. This is true for other pets and cattle as well.

two black market steers at the fair
These are two market steers at the fair. The one laying down is resting and chewing his cud.

Cattle sleep every night

Yes, cattle sleep every night. Cattle like to lay down to sleep.

If a cow has her eyes closed but is still chewing her cud she is not asleep she is just very relaxed.

Cattle prefer certain areas of the barn or pasture to sleep in.

Most cattle will pick a place that is comfortable, so sheltered from any wind if it is cold or where they can catch a bit of a breeze if it is hot.

Cattle need to sleep with their feet down hill from their bodies and the head up hill, obviously nothing to worry about here if your land is flat.

Feet down hill makes it so she can easily get up in the morning. What does it matter where her feet are compared to her body, you ask?

With her feet uphill or her head downhill she would run the risk of bloating, which is potentially fatal.

Cattle like to lay down to sleep

To get a good night’s sleep, cattle need to lay down.

Cattle can sweat

Yes, cattle do sweat. Sweating cools the body of cattle, just like for people.

Without a reliable method of cooling down in hot weather cattle could not live in many of the areas where they are currently the most popular.

Cows have a great sense of smell

How good is a cow’s sense of smell? Pretty darn good.

Cattle can smell odors coming from up to six miles away!

Cattle don’t smell their way to water

While I have heard of cattle being able to smell water before, I do not know of anyone with proof that cattle can smell their way to water when they are in an area unfamiliar to them.

Cattle naturally will wander about scoping out an area and love to follow trails that are cut into the dirt.

Since most animals that would be tracking up a trail would also need water, it makes sense that a trail will lead to water.

I can not find confirmation that they can “smell” the water, it seems to be more a case of if it’s good for all those other animals (that made the trail) I bet it’s going to be good for me too.

How can you tell if a cow is happy?

A happy cow is relaxed and chewing her cud. If she is standing you will see horizontal ridges along the lower part of her stomach called “happy lines”.

These are raised lines, kind of like a stretch mark, that show up when a cow is chuck full of good food, meaning she has everything she needs to eat and that makes her happy.

Cattle are not native to the U.S.

The cattle of today are descended from ancient cattle first domesticated in the “fertile crescent” of modern day Iraq, Jordan, Syria, and Israel.

The animal domesticated was an auroch, which is a huge wild bovine 1.5 to 2 times the size of modern cattle.

The first cattle, as we know them, were brought here in 1493. Cattle are not native to the U.S.

Cattle are not color blind

Cattle can see some color so they are not color blind.

However, cattle can not see much in the way of color and definitely not the colors that we see. They see black, gray, white, and muted blues and greens.

What about the red cape waved around by the matador in a bullfight? The bull can not see the color, it is the motion of the flag and the matador that are getting his attention.

Any color flag would work here, red is just the traditional color used.

Jersey cow eating grass
Our Jersey cow eating grass. Jerseys are active for dairy cattle, but would be calm compared to most beef cattle.

Cattle activity depends on the breed

Depending upon the breed some cattle are more active than others, but all cattle like exercise and room to move around.

The best way for cattle to grow and be happy is to live a more relaxed life.

There are times in the life of a cow that will be very active like moving to a new pasture, when they get grain or new hay or when they have a calf, but overall low stress is better for them.

This is just like people. We all need a balance between activity, stress and being a couch potato.

Cattle have horns because of genetics

Cattle that have horns got the gene for being horned from both parents. Just like you got the genes for the color of your eyes or the shape of your nose from your parents.

Horns are a recessive trait. Recessive means the trait can be covered up physically (you don’t see it) by a dominant trait.

Recessive is the opposite of dominant. A recessive trait has to come from both parents to show up in the offspring.

Some genes will blend, so they are not dominant or recessive. The results show up somewhere in the middle like parents with different eye colors, the child will have an eye color somewhere in the middle.

Since horns are recessive, it is either all or nothing when looking at the animal.

Genetically the cow is actually half horned, but when you look at her you do not see horns. With certain traits like horns there is no half, the cow either has them or she does’t.

Cattle horns made of keratin

Believe it or not, horns are actually very similar to hair since both horns and hair are made of keratin.

Horns do not make cattle dangerous

We have had feisty polled cattle (no horns) and docile horned cattle. It’s not the horns that make the difference, it’s the attitude.

Any cattle that are dangerous have an aggressive attitude. This can happen with polled (no horns) or horned cattle.

We have had a mix of horned and polled cattle living together and the cow highest up in the social order is rarely the horned one.

Cattle have different vision than us

Compared to our eyesight, cattle have better vision … and they have worse vision than us.

What this really means is that cattle see differently than people.

Part of this is because our eyes are oriented to the front, while cattle and other typically prey animals have their eyes out on the sides of their heads.

Cattle have panoramic vision, meaning she can see nearly all the way around her at once. The only area she can not see is directly behind her.

On the other hand, cattle are very poor at depth perception, meaning a shadow on the floor or an actual hole (like a pothole) look the same to them.

This issue of different depth perception than us is usually only a concern when trying to move cattle through a gate system, since some of the openings that look obvious to our eyes are hard to see for the cow.

If she can’t see the open doorway then she won’t move towards the opening to leave, because to her eyes there is no where to go.

Cattle will raise their heads up and down to try to find the position where they can see best.

Cattle can see at night

Cattle and many other animals, like cats and dogs, have a reflective surface in their eyes that allows them to make the most of even the smallest amount of light at night.

Cattle can see much better at night than we can.

Cattle can kick behind themselves

Yes, they sure can kick behind themselves!

Cattle can also kick to the side.

Cattle will be more likely to kick when they are nervous, hurt, or had a past experience of rough handling.

Cattle have intelligence

Are cattle intelligent? This is a tough one, since the word intelligent can mean different things.

Cattle tend to be slow and determined, so this can be interpreted as not very smart. Cattle also will automatically follow the herd, maybe to do something we would consider dumb, which will also be seen as lacking intelligence.

On the other hand, cattle can be very kind and gentle. They know who their herd mates are and who is new. A cow knows which calf is hers, even in a big, possibly huge, herd.

If you mean are cattle smart like a dog that is really quick to learn new tricks and commands, then no cattle are not intelligent.

If by intelligent you are meaning that the animal has a personality, can make choices, will act differently according to the situation, can recognize people and will learn a routine, among many other things, then yes they are intelligent.

Cattle have a good memory

Cattle know exactly where they need to go to find the best grazing, shelter and water once they have had time to explore a pasture area.

She also knows exactly where her calf is all the time, even if it is out of her sight.

Cattle will also remember and recognize people they have seen before.

With dairy cattle for instance, they know if you are new, since you are not the one who did the milking last night.

Dairy cattle will be more relaxed for a person they know and feel comfortable being around during milking.

Cattle stampede because they react first, then look

Once again, the basic nature of the cattle feeling most secure in a group is at the heart of this behavior.

Cattle count on the other animals in the group to be looking for changes or happenings that could be threats just as the individual cow herself is looking around to monitor the area.

When one cow sees a something she interprets as a threat (or just a big surprise) she does’t know what to think of it and they run from the threat.

Once the group gets going they all are running because the animal beside them is running so this is a self perpetuating situation for a little while.

Sometimes the cattle just feel really high energy and they run around a bit, like your cat just zooms across a room once in a while.

You will see high tails and the cattle kind of bucking around as they run. These gals are just feeling feisty.

This is not the same as running out of fear. The playing around “stampede” will not be as intense or as long lasting as a stampede that is fear induced.

You can not outrun a cow

You can not outrun a cow. The best thing to do is to not put yourself in the situation where outrunning an animal is necessary.

For the most part cattle are not aggressive towards people, it wouldn’t make sense for a farmer or rancher to keep an animal that spends it’s day trying to kill him.

But there are individual animals and specific situations where cattle can hurt you.

Most cattle do not like dogs, some bulls are much more territorial than others and moms with babies are always on alert.

Going into the pasture or pen of an animal means you went to the animal’s home and are willing to accept responsibility for your actions.

Cattle stare to figure out what they see

Cattle are herd animals that stay alive by noticing anything unusual and you are something to be noticed.

They are not staring because you are a person.

They are staring because you are something new to their environment and they are curious about anything new.

Calves wag their tails, cows swat flies

Young calves that are nursing will wag their tails as they are drinking milk, from their mom or from a bottle.

Adults and weaned younger stock really only wag their tails to swat flies off their backs.

Sometimes cattle that are just relaxing, laying down and chewing their cuds will flick the end of their tail.

Cows can sit, but normally don’t

Yes they can sit, but it is not a position they are normally in. If she is sitting like a dog, she can not stand up directly from that sitting position.

In order to stand up the cow rocks forward on her knees, pops up her rear end and then stands by straightening out her front legs.

To lay down she goes in the opposite order.

Cattle are natural, not GMO

Yes, cattle are natural. Any animal that came from parents that can mate with each other and reproduce all on the farm (no lab coats needed) is natural.

If you are leaning towards that fact that cattle and other domestic animals have been selected for traits that would not have been helpful in the wild, like high milk production in dairy cattle, that is still natural.

Higher milk production could have happened on it’s own with out selecting specific breeding stock. Granted, it is unlikely but it is possible.

What would be unnatural is using genes from other species that are spliced into cattle (or any other plant or animal)that could not have gotten into the cattle without major human interference.

For example putting genes from insects into plants. This is real look up glowing tobacco plants, a tobacco plant with firefly genes spliced into the plant.

This type of unnatural gene modification can only be done in a lab, not on a farm.

This unnatural gene manipulation is how GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) are made.

GMO’s can only be lab “created” they can not be found in nature or as a result of natural breeding of livestock.

Cattle breeds are commonly crossed

Yes, it is very common for cattle breeds to be crossed on purpose to produce a hybrid (a mix) of the two parent breeds.

These crosses are very popular as range animals and with cattle enthusiasts, alike.

Cattle will also readily cross breed on their own. Bulls and cows don’t care about breed.

A cross bred animal with grow faster and be more vigorous than a purebred peer.

But since it is crossed, it can not produce purebred offspring, which is only an issue if you want to raise purebred cattle.

For most situations, crossbred cattle will be more adaptable and easier to keep.

Every cattle breed has specific characteristics

Each cattle breed has traits that it is know for, some are helpful to farmers and ranchers, some are not.

Characteristics of each breed are inherited from the parents and define one breed of cattle from the next.

These traits could be physical like color or size, or things you can’t see like attitude or feed conversion (turning feed into growth).

For instance cattle with a big hump on the back of the neck and dangling skin are generally some sort of Brahman cross.

Cattle that are black, well filled out, polled (no horns) and produce nicely marbled meat are likely an Angus cross.

Cattle do not predict the weather

For the most part, no cattle do not seem to have the ability to predict daily weather.

They do not seem to communicate with their behavior how deep the snow is going to be or whether or not it will frost tonight.

However, there are a few situations where they somehow seem to know what is going to happen better than the weather reporter.

For instance, if it looks like it is going to rain and all the cows come running to the barn, or crowd the fence wanting to get inside, then the rain will be hard and they don’t want to be out in it.

If it looks like rain and the cows just sit out on the pasture and chew their cuds, or keep on grazing, then it is likely to be a gentle rain and they are happy to stay out in it.

Resources:, University of Missouri-Columbia, and

Related Questions

Do cattle like to be petted?

That depends upon the individual. Some cattle seem to love and actually seek human attention others would just rather be left alone.

What foods do cattle like?

Cattle like to eat grass, hay, grain, and fermented forages like haylage.

Do cattle eat their own poop?

Cattle do not eat poop, their own or anything else’s poop. Cattle are actually very clean eaters.

Once feed or hay gets muddy they will not want to eat it, so no way are they eating poop covered food.

12 Crested Chicken Breeds: Fun Birds For Your Backyard

Golden laced Polish rooster at a local county fair

Crested chickens (or chickens with afros) are real lookers! Just about anyone would enjoy having a few of these around, but how do you decide which one to get?

There are a lot of choices here, let’s look into these cool chickens!

There are 12 common chicken breeds with crests. Standard crested chickens are: Polish, Sultan, Appenzeller Spitzhauben, Houdan, Crevecoeur, and Brabanter. Crested bantams are: Burmese, Polish, Bearded, Houdan, Silkie and Brabanter.

Crested chickens are eye catching birds for sure. There are multiple breed options and size and color choices.

Crested chickens come in both standard and bantam sizes (see the bottom of the page for specific definitions of each).

Click here for my article on calm chicken breeds, if you want to choose your new chickens by temperament as well.

Generally, crested chicken breeds need more predator protection than most other chickens because the crest of feathers blocks out some of their vision.

Additionally, all breeds with a full crest need a special waterer so they don’t get their crest feathers wet (or frozen) when drinking.

Polish rooster for sale at an auction
Crested Rooster at a poultry sale

When you have decided upon your breed of choice, read my article How To Choose A Chicken Hatchery

Standard Size Crested Chickens are full size

Standard BreedsMain characteristicsMain purpose
Polishmost popular crested breedeggs
Sultanall white rare breedenjoyment
active, free ranging birdeggs
Houdanfamous for flavormeat
Crevecoeurfast growing rare breedeggs
Brabanterhas a beard and blue legs meat
Silkiefrizzled feathersenjoyment

Standard Polish chickens lay white eggs

Origin: The Netherlands

Size: standard

Eggs or meat: Eggs 2-3 eggs per week, eggs are white and small to medium in size

Physical Characteristics: big poof of feathers on the head in both males and females, (poof is rounder in hens and more wild and messy looking for roosters), clean legged, v-comb, upright body carriage

Colors: golden laced, buff laced, white crested black, silver laced, white crested blue, black, white, cuckoo, black mottled, and white black crest

Temperament: friendly but can be jumpy since they can’t see so you can surprise them with unexpected movements

Availability: at most hatcheries

When it comes to crested breeds of chickens the Polish (also called Dutch Crested) are the most popular and your best bet as far as availability.

The Polish chickens come in a variety of colors and tend to be calm.

We had a small flock of the white crested black variety.

They are a fun chicken to have around and relatively easy to catch since they can’t see through the feathers very well.

The white crested black Polish are more high strung than the other Polish breeds and they tend to lay more eggs than the other varieties.

At least in our area, the Polish chickens are a popular breed for the kids to show at the county and state fairs, since they come in a variety of colors, have a unique look to them and are calm.

As far as the colors go there are three main differences, body and crest the same color, crest white and differing colored body or black crest with a white body.

Our local hatchery, Meyer Hatchery has a good selection of crested breeds of chickens, click here to see their catalog. (Scroll down for pictures.)

Sultan chickens are a rare breed

Origin: Turkey

Size: Standard but they are very small birds

Eggs or meat: Eggs 2-3 eggs per week, light brown shell color and small to medium in size

Physical Characteristics: crested head, beard, muffs, feathered feet, blue shanks (legs) and a fifth toe

Colors: white

Temperament: very friendly and easy going

Availability: at most hatcheries

Sultans are a calm, friendly little chicken that got it’s name from the fact it was the bird loose in the castle gardens owned by the sultan of Constantinople.

While Sultans are certainly a small chicken they are not a bantam, they are a standard chicken.

Sultans weigh around 4.5 pounds and have loads of feathers.

While all chicken appreciate a stroll around your yard pecking for snacks, Sultans should mainly be kept in a clean, mud free area to keep their feathered feet clean.

If you are interested in helping promote a rare poultry breed, Sultans are one to consider.

Rare breeds did not remain popular as agriculture got more industrialized.

Rare breeds make wonderful pets and need more poultry enthusiasts to raise them to secure the population of these birds for the future.

Appenzeller Spitzhauben

Origin: Switzerland

Size: Standard, a small to medium size chicken

Eggs or meat: Eggs 2-4 eggs per week, white, medium size

Physical Characteristics: has a crest of more upright feathers and a v-comb

Color: silver spangled is the color available in the U.S. but the breed also comes in black spangled, blue spangled, gold, and gold spangled

Temperament: active and adaptable

Availability: at most hatcheries

The Appenzeller Spitzhauben has a smaller crest than a Polish chicken, but the crest sticks up more, rather than looking groomed and fluffed.

Spitzhauben chickens are an active, alert breed adapted to life in the mountains of their home country.

This makes them great as free range birds but not so good in confinement. They love to roost even making it into trees!

Interestingly enough, the Appenzeller Spitzhauben is the national bird of Switzerland.

Houdan chickens are famous in France

Origin: France

Size: Standard

Eggs or Meat: meat-they are a table breed but also a good layer of large eggs

Physical Characteristics: large heavy bird, clean legs, fifth toe, full crest, three clump beard, and a leaf comb

Colors: black mottled, white and lavender with the black mottled being the color variety that is by far more prevalent

Temperament: very docile and make great show chickens

Availability: rare and not commonly listed with all hatcheries

Houdans were the main table breed of France in the nineteenth century. These birds are fast growers and massive looking with a full crest.

Since they are a calmer breed it is best to not let them be completely free range or they will become lunch for a local predator.

Houdans tend to be broody (like to sit on eggs) but they are too heavy and tend to break eggs.

For best results, put fertile eggs under a lighter breed of chicken to do the brooding for you or into an incubator.

Crevecoeur is a rare chicken breed

Origin: France

Size: Standard

Eggs or Meat: meat-table breed

Colors: black, white and blue

Temperament: placid and easily tamed

Availability: rare and not available at all hatcheries

The Crevecoeur is a calm, fast growing chicken that is rare outside of France. They are also good layers of large white eggs.

Crevecoeurs need to have shelter from the weather and predators, but will do well foraging about your grass on nice days.

Crevecoeurs are a rare breed in the U.S. and need more people to raise them.

According to The Livestock Conservancy website Crevecoeurs are among the rarest of chicken breeds so are the most in need of new enthusiasts.

Brabanter chickens have blue legs

Origin: North of Europe

Size: Standard

Eggs or Meat: meat

Physical Characteristics: blue slate legs, “shaving brush” crest, and a three clump beard

Colors: black, white, blue laced, cuckoo, golden black half moon spangled, silver black half moon spangled, yellow white half moon spangled, golden blue half moon spangled and lavender

Temperament: agreeable and placid

Availability: rare and not available at all hatcheries

The Brabanter is a rare chicken with a full beard and an upright crest. They are very calm so do not need much room in their run.

Since they have a smaller crest than some of the other breeds, they do not need a special waterer.

Silkie chickens are popular

Origin: China

Size: Standard but are a small chicken

Physical Characteristics: fluffy soft feathers, low to the ground, dark skin, muscles and bones

Colors: many colors including: white, black, multiple penciled partridge, multiple penciled silver partridge, gray, cuckoo, red, buff and blue

Temperament: friendly and easy to tame, great for kids

Availability: easily found

The Silkie is a fun and surprisingly hardy chicken that is easy to have around.

We have a few of these birds and they just roam about basically taking care of themselves.

Silkies do not fly, which makes them very easy to fence.

They are not great egg producers but they are amazing brooders. These gals love to set and raise chicks.

Another plus for Silkies is that while they definitely have plenty of poof, they do not need a special waterer.

Chicken Breed Chart is a PDF from MSU showing a good number of breeds, all with pictures, egg laying ability and care recommendations.

Bantam Size Crested Chickens are not all true bantams

BreedMain characteristicBantam or Miniature
Burmeseeasy to tame hensTrue bantam
Polishcalm and availableMiniature
Crested Beardedthree clump beardTrue bantam
Houdancalm and kid friendlyMiniature
Silkiefrizzled feathersMiniature
Brabanterblue legs, hard to findMiniature

Burmese Bantam is a true bantam

Origin: Burma

Size: Bantam

Physical Characteristics: feathered feet, low stance, lightly crested head, three clump beard and a high set tail

Colors: black is the only recognized color, with white, black tailed yellow and golden necked black up and coming (just not perfected yet)

Temperament: calm and trusting, hens are especially easy to tame

Availability: not available at all hatcheries

The Burmese bantam is a vigorous and fertile breed with fast growing chicks.

Since they have feathered feet, they need to be kept inside unless their run is dry, but they definitely like to roam your grass.

Polish Bantams are miniatures

Origin: The Netherlands and the United Kingdom

Size: Bantam

Physical Characteristics: same as the standard Polish

Colors: black, white, laced blue, cuckoo, black mottled and buff

Temperament: placid, easily startled by unexpected approach

Availability: at most hatcheries

The Polish bantam has a calm manner. It needs some tending since the crest will make it easy to catch for you as well as any predators.

All Polish need a shelter and limited foraging, to keep their feathers especially the crest, looking good.

Crested Bearded Bantam is a true bantam

Origin: The United Kingdom

Size: Bantam

Physical Characteristics: large full crest with round shape, blue legs, three clump beard and no visible comb; there are also frizzled varieties

Colors: golden black laced, silver black laced, yellow white laced, black, white, laced blue and cuckoo

Temperament: pleasant to be around, hens are trusting, tame and placid

Availability: not available at all hatcheries

Houdan Bantam is a miniature

Origin: The United Kingdom in the 1940’s

The Houdan Bantam is not a very popular breed.

This one will be hard to find birds, but worth it if you would since they are calm and kid friendly.

For the full breed description see the standard size Houdan section listed above.

Silkie Bantam is a miniature

Origin: The Netherlands

Size: 21 oz. (half size of the normal Silkie)

The remaining characteristics are the same as the standard size Silkie listed above.

Brabanter Bantam is rare

Origin: The Netherlands

Brabanter Bantams were first shown in 1933 in the Netherlands. These birds are normally not frequently seen outside of their home country.

See the standard size Brabanter description for the details of the breed.

Standard Size Chickens are bigger

Standard size chickens are the full size birds that most people will have in their coops.

Standard chickens are mainly egg layers or meat breeds. The meat breeds are also commonly called table breeds.

A few varieties of chickens are in the middle not super star layers or amazing meat birds just in the middle for both, which is called dual purpose.

“Bantam” Chickens are miniatures

Many chicken breeds have a look alike, smaller version commonly called a bantam variety.

Actually, the proper name for a small version of a large chicken is diminutive, miniature or dwarf fowl.

These “bantams” look just like the bigger standard size chicken just in a smaller package.

Bantams are very popular with both chicken enthusiasts who like to participate in poultry shows and hobby raisers.

We have a few running about the barnyard. They take care of themselves and tend to be great setters!

For example, in this article there are standard size Polish chickens and “bantam” size Polish chickens.

Since these birds come in two sizes, the small variety is actually a miniature form of the larger breed, not a true bantam.

To keep things simple, the article refered to all small size chickens as bantams whether or not they fit the specific definition.

True Bantams are special breeds

True bantams have no large variety, they are only the original small size chickens.

Resources: The Complete Encyclopedia Of Chickens by Esther Verhoef and Aad Rijs, My Pet Chicken website, Cackle Hatchery website and the Meyer Hatchery Catalog

Related Questions

Do Polish chickens lay eggs?

Actually, in all breeds of chickens the hens lay eggs.

Polish chickens are not known as great egg layers, but the white crested black Polish lay the most eggs of any Polish chicken variety.

Are Polish chickens aggressive?

Polish chickens are usually quite calm and docile, especially the hens.

How Much Land Do I Need To Raise Sheep?

black ewe lamb with her newborn white baby

Interested in raising some sheep, but not sure how much land is required for your flock?

Let’s look into some things that will help you decide how to figure this out and get started raising sheep!

The amount of land needed to raise sheep can be an average backyard to as much as multiple acres per sheep, as is the case with range sheep.

As with many aspects of farming and livestock, the number of animals of any sort that you can keep per year varies year to year and place to place.

Some years are very productive and some years not so much.

Small Acreage Or Backyard Sheep is an article I wrote specifically for anyone thinking of grazing or raising sheep on a smaller scale.

Sheep are backyard friendly

The way I always look at the “how much land” question is: do you mow your lawn?

You have enough room for backyard sheep:

  • If you use a riding lawnmower
  • If you take more than a few swipes with the push mower
  • If you have space for a large size dog kennel in your yard, the kind with a chain link fence area
  • If your neighbors have goats
  • If you have an acre or two (or more)

With backyard sheep, you will need to buy hay when the grass growth does not support the needs of your sheep.

Some people would have hay available all year, others only when the sheep need it.

The rest of the article is more focused on people with a few acres or more of land to work with.

How Many Sheep Do You Need? goes over how to figure up the sheep you can have based on your land.

Forage grown per acre determines number of sheep

Of course, grass growth varies from year to year. An average of the grass production over the past ten years or so will give you a good idea of what to expect.

But where do you get the average of your grass production? You don’t, exactly.

What you do have is the average for hay production for the year for your area and hopefully for your farm specifically.

ewes with lambs in a summer pasture
Ewes with lambs eating summer forages.

Use hay yield numbers to calculate forage for sheep

Use the average hay yields for your area to figure up the amount of grass that your land is likely to grow.

All grasses are not necessarily hay grasses (some species of grass that are good for the animals to graze are not the best for hay), but it is a good place to start.

An example of this is bluegrass, it’s just too short for hay but it grows well throughout the year and our sheep love it.

Find the hay yields from your area to start to figure this out.

Be sure to compare grass to grass

Be sure you are looking at the same, or close to it, species of grass as you have in your pasture.

Do not compare to an annual or alfalfa, that will give you misleading numbers. Compare to a perennial grass.

It is common to grow plants other than pasture plants for hay to get higher yields from that acreage, for example by planting oats and peas or using corn for silage.

These annuals (plants that only live one year) will grow like crazy but not come back next year.

Of course, you can plant annuals for your sheep, as well. They are great for out of the normal growing season sheep forage. Just don’t use the annual numbers to compare with.

Using the wrong numbers will give you inaccurate results for your sheep if you accidentally use these figures instead.

Determine sheep per acre for your area

Let’s do a few examples of the math to figure all of this out and give you a good idea of how to determine the sheep you can raise.

If your hay production is a total of three tons per acre per year then you will have 3 tons x 2,000 pounds in a ton=6,000 pounds of hay per acre.

Next, we figure up the sheep days per acre. That is the amount of sheep your acre can feed for one day.

If your sheep are eating 4 pounds of hay per day per sheep that 6,000 pounds of hay per acre will feed 1,500 sheep for one day. (6,000 divided by 4=1,500)

That’s 1,500 sheep days. I know this “sheep days” thing is a bit odd, stick with me here. It will all come together shortly.

Since you will be feeding your sheep for more than one day, we need to reduce this number down to the days in your normal growing season.

The growing season is the time when the grass or other forages have available to replenish themselves in a year.

The growing season is how long you could expect to be able to keep sheep out on growing grass.

So take the 1,500 sheep days and divide by the days in your growing season.

Here our growing season is 180 days so take 1,500 sheep days divided by 180=8.3.

You ended up with 8.3. 8.3 what? 8.3 sheep can be fed off of that acre for the year using these numbers.

Do the same type of math for your area to get sheep days, then sheep per acre for you.

Feeding pastured sheep in the winter.
These are some of our sheep eating hay in the winter. Even though we graze the flock through the growing season, we always buy hay in the winter.

Sheep need to eat all year, that means hay

While feeding hay is not mandatory, most folks do not have the grass to feed their flock year round, so use hay or other forages to fill that gap.

Choose High Quality Hay gives you a checklist of things to go over the next time you are buying hay for your flock.

It is important to remember that a year is 365 days long and your sheep will definitely want to eat all of those days, but you just figured out summer forage production and eating.

This means you will also need to consider that for the other part of the year (the non growing season) your animals will need to eat stored feed like hay.

If you are fortunate enough to live in an area where there is a high likelihood of grazing the full year adjust your numbers to divide total forage production by 365 days as opposed to the 180 I used above.

Forage yields can and will vary

If you are newer to livestock and farming in general you may not be aware of the variability of grass or any other forage growth in a given year.

All of the numbers you will be able to get to use as a basis for your calculations are based on averages. This is not reality. No year is ever average.

Then what good is all this math? You have to start somewhere.

A good guess is better than a total lack of planning, even when you have to adjust the plan as you go through the year.

Sheep can eat more than grass

Good news, there are many options of how to take care of your sheep and your land.

You may have more grass than you need

If you are one of the lucky ones you did the math and now you know you will likely have more grass than your sheep will need. This is great!

You can choose to have the sheep just graze over the whole area and then mow once in a while to keep the weeds down, easy but wasteful.

A better way that will get you more use out of your land year round is to divide off at least some of your pasture and keep the sheep completely out of it.

This can grow to be used as hay or kept for winter pasture.

If you are unfamiliar with sheep being outside in the winter, you will be surprised at how much grass they will eat.

Even if they need to dig through some snow as long as they have shelter from the wind.

Your sheep numbers match grass grown

If your sheep numbers came out right on or you will be purchasing the number sheep to fit your pasture, you also have a few options.

Just letting the sheep have access to the whole pasture is the easiest (but most wasteful) way to graze animals. This is called set stocking.

Set stocking your pasture is easy but wasteful

Unfortunately, set stocking is not the best use of your land as far as pasture and soil health are concerned.

In set stocking animals will continually eat down the regrowth of the plants they like and ignore the plants they don’t like as much.

The pasture will start to look patchy with really short spots and tall unused spots.

This is not getting the best use out of your land and wasting some of your productive ability that you will need to make up for by buying more hay.

Divide the sheep pasture into sections

To get the most out of your land you need to separate off the pasture the sheep have access to. They have a small section at a time, then move them to another section to let the first area you grazed regenerate.

Even dividing your acreage in three or four sections will increase grass production and save you hay money later in the year, since the sheep will have more to eat before they need hay.

Consider rotational grazing for your pasture

The best use of your land is to use a rotational or grazing plan.

This means giving the animals a small section of grass every day or every few days then moving them completely off of that grazed area to new grass.

Keep moving the sheep around in sections until the first section is regrown enough to put the sheep in it again for a second round of grazing.

Use electric fence to section off sheep grazing

I show you how to put up and take down electric netting.

Rotational grazing is usually done with electric fencing since electric is portable and quick to set up.

Rotational grazing will get you the most grass growth from your pasture for the year.

You may have more sheep eating than grass

On to those who did the numbers and found out you will have more eaters than grass.

You still have some options but less room for errors unless you are willing to sell down to the number of sheep you can more easily keep on your land.

If you are keeping the flock size as is then the best use of your land by far is rotational grazing.

Moving the sheep to a new section of pasture daily while keeping them off of what they just grazed will get you the most production from your land.

Set stocking with too many sheep will kill the grass

If you decide to just set stock (not rotate at all) the sheep will eat everything down then continue to nip off the regrowth which will weaken the plants.

This will eventually cause the current plants to die off and be replaced by weeds that can handle this type of management or by nothing, your pasture will just be dirt because of the abuse the area continually takes.

The pasture needs rest periods to regrow! Plants want to regrow as soon as they are eaten off.

If the land is compacted or continually grazed the plants you want to grow in the field will die off. The forages will be replaced by weeds that can handle the grazing/pasture management situation.

A shepherd that is using electric netting with sheep!

Plan to feed a lot of hay to your sheep

Plan on plenty of hay feeding to give your sheep enough to eat since you are short on pasture area.

If you keep the sheep on the pasture at appropriate times then keep them off until the grass regrows you will have at least some pasture for them.

Consider reading my article Do Sheep Ruin Pastures if you are looking for more information regarding having more sheep than carrying capacity of your pasture.

Feeding The Flock is a nice, easy to read article from Penn State Extension going over the feed needs of your sheep.

Related Questions

Do sheep destroy pastures?

No animal, sheep or any other, will destroy pastures on their own, only poor management destroys pastures.

Can sheep and cattle be kept together?

Sheep and cattle can be on the same pasture together. Sheep and cattle together will need different fencing than is you just had only cattle.

Lambing Season: What To Expect And How To Be Ready

ewe with new lamb nursing

The start of lambing season is always a big day! Exciting but a bit scary, too! All of your preparation up until now will get you great results, or maybe not so great.

Since your sheep income for the whole year starts here, let’s make sure we are ready!

To be ready for lambing season, plan ahead. Have all lambing supplies on hand before the start of lambing, have lambing jugs ready to use if needed, have the sheep in an area that is easy to access and plan to spend extra time checking the sheep during lambing.

Lambing season is always a favorite time of the sheep farmer’s year. All of the preparation and planning for your flock will start to show up now.

Unfortunately, now is also when your lack of planning and preparation starts to show.

Many lambs and ewes will get along just fine without any help from the farmer, however, some will not. These are the ewes and lambs that can be saved but, without help, would not have lived.

Turning these potential problem animals into marketable lambs and ewes is an area where the savvy farmer can make the most of the flock. Preventable losses are a disaster for the bottom line.

To dive deeper into the profits (or lack of) in raising sheep consider reading my article Raising Sheep For Profit: Let’s Look At Some Numbers.

The main points on how to be ready for lambing season and what to expect are:

  • Ewes should be in good shape (not fat or thin)
  • Have lambing jugs (individual pens for the ewe and her new lambs) ready to be assembled
  • Have a bucket for water for each jug
  • Have an identification plan ready (marking paint, tags, or tattoos)
  • Pasture lambing will be a bit different (no jugs)

Before lambing season check ewes

Ewe condition is important, not fat, not thin

Ideally, the ewes should be well fed but not fat coming into lambing. Proper body condition is important for ewe health and ease of lambing.

A thin ewe will have a harder time handling the stress of lambing and have less of a reserve of fat to draw from to feed the lambs. She is more likely to get sick and have a harder time recovering if she has any problems.

On the other hand, a fat ewe is a definite problem. Fat ewes will have more problems with difficult births and metabolic problems converting their energy into milk for the lambs.

Lambing jugs should be easily accessable

ewe with three lambs
This ewe just had three lambs. She needs a lambing jug to keep her babies with her and to keep other ewes from trying to steal a baby that is not theirs.

Lambing jugs are the small pen (6 ft. x 6 ft.) you put the ewe and her lambs in the first day or two after they are born.

Being in the lambing jug gives the lambs time to learn to recognize their mom and helps you to make sure the new babies are being looked after.

We use wooden gates that are six feet long to make the jugs. Ours are high enough so that we can barely step over the side.

The bottom boards of the gate are placed so that the lambs can not fit through the spaces between the boards.

We also keep a few wooden pallets and extra cattle panels available for when we need more jugs.

You can use whatever you have on hand of course, but the easiest to use jugs are made with the gates.

You will also need a bucket for water for each pen.

Mismothering lambs is a big problem

Most ewes want to have a lamb to take care of. Lambs can be confused as to who is their mom.

It is common for a ewe that has not given birth yet but will soon to start baaing and looking around for lambs.

Obviously, she won’t find them since they are not yet born but she will find other lambs and try to take care of them. This is called mismothering.

Mismothering is a problem because once the ewe has her own lambs she will be able to tell that the first lamb is not hers and she will not take care of it anymore leaving the lamb without a mom.

Putting the ewe and lambs in a lambing jug keeps them together until they bond so no lambs end up motherless due to confusion.

Have a can of spray on marking paint

An effective tool we use is spray on marker paint to number the ewes and lambs. Marker paint is simple to use and affordable.

It makes a huge difference for us to tell for sure which lambs are with their moms.

If you just have a small number of ewes you might not need the spray.

But lambs look quite a bit alike once they get to moving around and are always harder to tell apart than I thought they would be.

lamb eating hay
You can see the “11” on this guy. It is getting a bit faint, but he has grow quite a bit since it was originally marked on there. He is one of the twins shown at the beginning of the article.

Marking paint is also a help for some one who is less familiar with the sheep doing a check for you.

In the past we always cheaped out here and that was a mistake since the spray is $10 and makes identification so much easier and super quick.

Be ready early, sheep don’t read the calendar

It is also worth noting to look at the calendar and plan on lambs showing up at least a few days before the actual five months are up.

For example, we just finished lambing in an early group of 35 ewes. The breeding window was eight days but the lambing window was 20 days.

Lambs started coming a week before they were due and extending a few days afterward.

When Do Sheep Breed? is an article I wrote that goes over the likely dates of the first lambs born, depending upon when you put in the rams.

The first lambs born will be early

Normally, the first few lambs will be born a bit earlier than your expected start of the lambing season when looking at the date on the calendar.

One or two ewes will lamb then all of a sudden everybody joins in and starts lambing.

Physical signs will show ewes soon to lamb

You can’t for sure but you can give a good guess. Here are some things to look for in a soon to be giving birth ewe:

  • A full udder
  • She does not eat when the rest of the ewes are eating
  • She is the only one standing (or the only one laying down)
  • She repeatedly gets up and down
  • All of the other ewes are chewing their cud but she is not
  • Calling for a baby that is not born yet
  • Calling to lambs that are not hers

The lamb will be “diving” out of the birth canal

Once she is for sure in labor, you will see the water sac hang out.

Next comes the front feet, followed buy the nose, which will be laying on the legs at the knees. The lamb will “dive” out of the birth canal to be born.

As soon as the lamb is on the ground the umbilical cord will break which makes the lamb start to breathe. The ewe will stand and start licking it off.

The licking removes any of the placenta that is covering the nose and stimulates the circulation of the lamb to get it warmed up and working on standing to nurse.

Generally, if you listen you can hear the lamb nurse and if you watch you will see the tail wag when it finally gets things figured out.

Give the ewe time to birth the lambs herself.

If she has been struggling for a while with no visible progress then you need to look into the situation and determine how to help.

Assisting The Ewe At Lambing is an Ontario Ministry Of Agriculture article that has more of the specific details of lambing if you are interested.

Non “diving” lamb birth positions

For birth to go well the lamb must be in the dive position, any other presentation of lamb body parts equals problems.

Lambs can be head only, just one leg, both front legs but elbows tucked back, feet but no head, breech (backwards) two legs but from different lambs, and any other combination you could think of.

If you have two feet (from the same lamb) and the head in line to come out then pull, if not, push it all back in and try to rearrange the lamb.

This is tough but must be done. Once you notice problems, get some experienced help or just call the vet.

Checking ewes and lambs prevents losses

We check our ewes multiple times through the night, especially if it is going to be cold or windy.

You have to decide for yourself how often you want to check your sheep and how much or little assistance you are willing to provide.

Not doing anything to help ever will probably result in some lamb deaths, but this is nature’s way of handling problems.

We prefer to do what we can and just sell any lambs from ewes that needed help or were poor moms.

Only keep what you want to continue doing

As far as potential replacement ewes, anything you do to assist a lamb is likely to be something you will have to do for her lambs should you decide to keep her as breeding stock.

Sometimes you are not in the position to cull (sell poorly performing adults) as heavily as you would like to, for instance if you are building up your flock numbers.

Just be aware that whatever you accept and keep as breeding stock you will continue to get (and have to deal with every year).

Keep ewes with lambs as a group

Pretty quickly you will have a lot of lambs and ewes in jugs. Keep them in the jug for a day or two until it looks like they are well bonded.

Mark them before you turn them out into a group of ewes and new lambs, not with the other pregnant ewes.

We normally keep multiple births together for a bit longer to make sure all the lambs are ready for the bigger area and additional freedom.

More freedom equals more opportunity for a curious lamb to get into trouble, and usually lambs are far better at getting into trouble than getting out of it.

Keep lambs of the same age together

Try to keep the lambs around the same age together.

Once a lamb gets a bit of experience with zooming around and starts to explore the pen area he will inevitably figure out that other ewes have udders as well, not just his mom.

Now he will try to steal milk. This opportunistic milk stealing is normal.

Most ewes will shake off lambs nursing that are not their own, but not always.

For younger lambs, especially newborns the ewe has to hold still so she’s an easy target for a persistent older more capable lamb.

Older lambs will beat out younger ones for the milk, so keep them separate to even out competition.

ewe with her new lamb
This ewe and new lamb will be put with a group of other ewes with lambs.

Divide the group and move the dividers as needed

We tend to divide the pen using the gates and feeders and move the division line down the pen as more lambs are born.

At first the ewes with lambs section is small, then as more lambs and ewes come out of the jugs (located on the sides of the main pen) we move the dividing line further into the no babies yet section.

A few lambs will be late born

Just like there were some early starters there will also be some late starters.

By now you should have a system that is working for you as far as when to turn out the ewes and lambs.

The last few lambs need attention too

A word of caution, stay vigilant as far as keeping watch over the lambs.

These last few babies are younger, possibly much younger, than the first few.

Newborn late lambs will need some time to get the coordination to be feisty enough to be as fast as the older lambs.

Lambing on pasture is doable

If you are planning on lambing out your ewes on pasture things will be a bit different for you than those planning on barn lambing.

Identification and mismothering are big issues here.

Identification on pasture is more challenging

Use the paint spray to match up lambs and ewes. Once marked, it is easy to tell from a distance who belongs with who.

The paint spray mark will last for a few weeks.

You will still have to catch them again before the mark fades out to put in tags or tattoos.

Be aware that young lambs can get hurt as the ewes try to run from you in the catch pen. Keep this in mind and be gentle.

Here we show you how to tag ewe lambs, true they are a bit bigger than the lambs you are tagging, but the way you work the tagger and the way you put the tag in the tagger is the same.

Tag (or tattoo) the lambs ASAP

If you want tattoos or tags, do them now since lambs get faster than you very quickly. They will be very hard to catch once they are a few days old.

We normally do not tag our sheep. That may change in the future, but for now we manage the flock as a group.

This means that if we wanted individual records we have no accurate way to keep those records since we would be guessing.

If you decide to use tags for your pasture born lambs, they need tagged right away, otherwise they will be too quick and agile to catch.

Thinking that you will remember or be able to tell? To be blunt, not likely. If you want individual identification, get the tags.

Tags Vs Tattoos For Animal Identification is an article I wrote to help you decide between using tags or tattoos on your sheep.

Mismothering of pasture lambs can happen

That (identification) is the easy one, mismothering is more complicated.

We just go out and walk through the flock a few times a day making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be and then we check on ewes that are lambing.

If a ewe lambing starts to look like a group activity (other ewes are interested when she needs to be by herself) then we work on separating them.

This is not an exact science. We just keep working at it until they decide to go with their own babies or we take a jug out there.

Mismothered lambs get left behind

Again, the danger here is a lamb or multiple lambs being with the wrong mom and then not being taken care of when she has her own babies.

Or just a mom with twins or triplets that has a hard time keeping track of more than one baby.

The ones that wander off will miss a feeding (at best) or the worse outcome is that the left behind lamb will get weak and die.

new lamb with black spots on mostly white body
This little lady does not need marked, we don’t get too many colored sheep. Any of her non spotted playmates will need some sort of mark, we use spray on marking paint.

Lambs need some management

Once the lambs are all up and going, we take off tails. Admittedly this is not my favorite job but it has to be done.

If you live in a dry area then you might not need to bother, but here sheep with tails get manure all over their backsides and then they get fly strike.

Fly strike is maggots on the skin, which is very stressful for the sheep. Not to mention, really gross to see. Short tails seems to reduce fly strike.

Removing the lamb’s tail by cutting it

We use a knife and cut off the tail. Pick a cool, clear day so they will heal quickly.

The other method for taking off tails is to use elastrator bands.

Elastrator bands look like really small green rubber inner tubes that you stretch over the tail using a pair of special expanding pliers.

These bands are also commonly used for castration.

Elastrator bands can be put on the tail

The elastrator bands cut off the circulation to the area they are surrounding so that part of the body will dry up and fall off.

This sounds less stressful than cutting but actually it is more prolonged pain for the lamb.

Once you put on the band, the lamb will shortly be rolling around on the ground because of the lack of circulation causing pain.

Creep feeding lambs will help them grow

Consider putting in a creep feeder. This is an area that has special feed just for the lambs.

Sheep Creep Feeder is an article I wrote to show you the options you have if you decide to try it.

Creep feed is just an option, forage only lambs will grow just fine (as long as you keep the parasites under control).

However, lambs with access to a creep feeder will grow faster than lambs with out access to a creep feeder.

The ewes are kept out by making a gate or doorway with openings just big enough for the lambs but too small for the ewes to get in an hog all the feed.

There are manufactured creep panels and creep feeders available to use out on pasture as well. These creep feeders are self contained, meaning they are a box with a lamb only fence across the front.

You can make your own lamb creep area

I saw some fellow sheep farmers hang a gate a foot or so off the ground in a corner and the lambs just wiggle under it to get the creep feed. These guys had beautiful Suffolks and this system seemed to work well.

Our sheep are more scrappy than that and would have snuck right under that gate to the feed (where they would make themselves sick). Unfortunate for us, since that high gate as a separator was an easy, useful idea.

Creep panel are a gate the lambs fit through

We always use a creep panel, which is a gate with lamb size openings.

With a creep panel, the ewes are too big to go through the panel openings to get to the sectioned off area that has feed.

We also try to have some high quality hay in the creep pen for the lambs to start nibbling on.

Creep panels would just give the lambs access to another pasture or pen area.

Related Questions

What time of the year do sheep give birth?

Some breeds of sheep can have lambs anytime of the year, common examples of sheep that can breed and lamb year round are Dorset and Polypay sheep.

Most sheep breeds will lamb in the spring (but not other times of the year) at the same time as the deer are having babies.

Can you have just one sheep?

Yes, you can keep only one sheep, but it will be stressful to the sheep.

Sheep are herd animals and feel most secure in a group so it is always best for the sheep to have more than one.

A Family Cow: How To Choose And Take Care Of Her

Our Jersey cow Aleene. We milk her by hand twice a day.

Wow, is this exciting! Considering getting a family cow is a huge step towards self sufficiency, not to mention a big leap into nutrient dense food for you and your family!

Now, how to choose? What things matter and what things are not a big deal?

Your family cow needs to be easy going, healthy and structurally correct and given 4% of her bodyweight in forage everyday.

5 Best Breeds Of Family Cows shows you my top picks for anyone just getting started with milking!

This article has two checklists and then explanation of those lists and why they are important to you.

You want to get a cow that will work for you and your management style and one that is easy to handle. Not to mention, easy to milk!

It’s worth waiting a few months for a cow to be ready to sell than charging ahead and getting one that will not be suited to your needs.

Let’s look into what you’ll need and what you should be looking for in a cow.

Are You Ready For A Family Cow? Checklist

done!needed for your cowcomments
researchknow what she needs before you start to
look at potential cows, take a hard look at
your schedule and determination level
a cow needs and deserves your full
moneyhigh quality livestock will be worth more
than average or low quality livestock
expect to pay a little more than the
average cost for cattle in your area
place to liveshe will need an area to be milked in
and for winter living quarters, she will
also need shelter out in her pasture from
wind, rain and sun
a friendcows are herd animals, she will need a
friend of some sort, it doesn’t have to be
another cow
hay and feedshe will need hay and grain (if using)
calculate the hay and grain she will need
compared to your barn space available
I’ll go over the things you need to look for in your family cow prospect by showing you what to look for on our cow, Aleene.

Cow Health and Structure Checklist

done!HEALTHreasons and explinations
overallstep back and look at the whole animal
is she pleasing to the eye and generally healthy
eyesbright and clear,
deal breakers: discharge or tearing
noseclean and wet
deal breaker: mucous (like she has a cold)
hairshiny, short and smooth (summer coat)
deal breaker: hairless patches of skin
there are a few likely causes none are good
manurepile should be thick like pudding
deal breaker: runny manure or solid chunks
STRUCTUREhow her body is put together
legsfront: straight and clean (no lumps)
rear: hocks directly above foot (vs off to the side)
front and rear hooves should be worn evenly
toplinestraight across from shoulder to tailhead
dipped down is acceptable but not great
deal breaker: hunched up spine
girthview at front or rear (not side): big, round belly
deal breaker: flat sides (not eating well)
movementwatch her walk
stride should be smooth and free moving
UDDERmostly viewed from the rear
four quartersall four quarters are full and work well
if milking now: check the milk from each one
if dry: do not test milk any teats, just look
deal breaker: non working quarters, huge
discrepancies in udder shape, steep inclines
well divided
from front to back easily seen divide in udder
deal breaker: no division between sides
teatsstraight and long, pointing down,
soft skin, nicely tapered ends, small hole in end
deal breaker: rough or cut off ends, chapped skin
supportudder floor should be above the hocks,
entire udder “up in” the cow
deal breaker: super low udder (like it was glued
on the outside of the cow as an afterthought)

*DEAL BREAKERS* Deal breakers are huge red flags indicating something is wrong. A deal breaker is a problem that disqualifies the cow. If you notice a health related deal breaker leave the farm.

In the charts above, the first chart is for you to use at home when you are considering getting a family cow.

The second chart is for you to use when evaluating potential family cow candidates at their home farm.

Family cows are wonderful!

Congratulations! Deciding to get a family cow is a huge step towards self sufficiency!

Once you and your new cow settle in to a routine you will have a wonderful addition to your family.

Feeding Your Family Cow goes over your feeding plan for your best milker!

Our family cow is a Jersey

We have a Jersey named Aleene that is a wonderfully calm, easy going cow.

We let her just mill around the barnyard and she goes where she pleases, for the most part.

She is restricted a little in that she can not go in any area that has feed, since she will pig out and make herself sick!

When she is hungry she eats grass or hay when she wants to lay down she picks her favorite spot and takes a break.

We have a few other cattle, kept separately

We have a few other cattle but we keep Aleene out of their pasture. When she is in with them she will, of course, wander off with the herd.

This makes tracking her down at milking time difficult, especially when it is dark.

Plus, if she is in with the others at milking they will come over and investigate the situation during milking.

This usually means bothering the person doing the milking and pushing around on Aleene. Frustrating and wasteful, since the milk usually spills.

cattle eating hay off of the ground
Two of our other cattle, eating hay with the sheep. These cattle and the sheep are kept separate from Aleene. She can go visit and stand by the fence, but can’t get in with them.

The family cow is not the boss out there.

If Aleene were the bossiest cow, milking her with the others might work because they would respect her space.

As is they push her around, proving that at least according to the other cattle she’s definitely not the bossiest!

Determine if you are ready for a cow

A family cow is a serious time and money commitment to your own health and well being as well as the health and well being of the cow. Are you ready for it?

You don’t get holidays off (neither does she)

The cow will need you when it is hot, cold, your birthday, when you are sick and when the kids had you up the past three nights because they are sick.

No last minute vacations, or spur of the moment stay over night outings, your cow needs you.

Also, consider that getting a helper to watch your animals when you leave town is much harder when you have a cow to milk. It’s not that milking her is hard, it’s that most people don’t know how to do it.

We love cows and are stay at home type people, so this is not a big deal for us. If you like to travel around, heavily consider how you will handle your cow’s care when you are gone.

Cows love routine

If you are not normally a routine kind of person you will need to be once you get your cow. Cows love routine and dislike disruptions to that routine.

For her own health, and to keep up milk production, she needs to be milked at the same time or very close to it every day, twice a day for about ten months.

Are you willing to make it happen?

Family Cow: Getting Her Bred Back goes over one of the bigger obstacles new folks have. It’s really not hard to find help, you just have to know who to ask. I’ll help you find the people who can help you out here.

You’ll need cash to purchase your cow

As I write this article cattle prices are actually pretty low overall, but for a high quality family cow the price will never be low.

Just like anywhere else you get what you pay for.

An above average cow will be above average in price.

Want a great cow? Plan to spend more than average cattle price to get her. Look at auction results or breed specific cattle sales to get an idea of price.

Your area and current demand will make cost very widely. Especially if you are thinking a special breed that is not very common.

You are looking for a special animal that will be easy to work with and will milk well for you and your family for years to come. Please do not cheap out here.

heifers for sale at the fall dairy sale in Wooster, Ohio
Lovely lineup of calves for sale at the Fall Dairy Sale in Wooster, Ohio. This sale was in 2019 and had multiple mature cows that would be great family cow prospects go through the ring.

Research dairy cows and their needs

Look into dairy cattle as a whole and investigate some of the different breeds.

Start to get a feel for what you might like and what you are looking to stay away from.

You will need stall space for the cow

For example are you restricted on space in either the pasture or the barn? If so a smaller cow will make more sense.

Or maybe you want a bigger breed so you will be able to raise a bigger calf for the freezer.

There are no right or wrong answers here, only what will work best for you and your family.

You will need storage space for hay

Do some basic calculations to figure out just how big of a stack is a month’s worth of hay bales. Where are you going to put it?

Unless you are good at visually estimating space (I’m not) then get out a measuring tape and see exactly how much space you have so you can estimate what it will hold.

Look on the internet for hay. Will you be able to get the hay delivered to your barn or do you need to have a way to haul it?

Ask at the farm supply store about getting hay and straw (bedding). While you are there look around and see what else you might need, like feed pans or buckets.

Your cow needs a place to bed down

A cow is not overly picky about where she lives.

She wants to have a spot where she gets plenty to eat, has all the water she needs to drink and shelter from the elements, mostly rain, snow and wind.

If it’s hot she will want a place to get out of the sun.

Daily Care Of Your Family Cow goes over your routine, you know she loves a routine! And so will you, once you get a system that works for you set up!

She needs a comfortable place to lay down.

A large portion of your cow’s day will be spent laying down chewing her cud.

She will need a comfortable area where she has ample room to easily get up and lay down. She can and will rest out it the pasture.

If the barn will be open for her to come and go as she pleases then the area she has available to her inside needs to be bedded down.

Cattle do not like slippery floors

Cows do not like slippery floors, especially when she is trying to get up, so have plenty of bedding down on the cement.

If your cow will be walking on wet cement consider putting some grit on the cement. We used crushed limestone.

Just scatter a bit of the crushed limestone on the cement to give her traction, just like cinders on a slippery road helps your car tires.

She will need some shelter.

Unless the cold is severe, she just needs a draft free, clean stall or open part of the barn.

In the winter she will grow a thick hair coat to help keep her warm. She will need shelter, even if the beef cattle in your area stay outside all winter.

Most dairy cows need a place to be inside.

This is because a dairy cow does not naturally have the layer of fat insulating her body, like a beef cow, so she can not handle the cold unprotected.

Your cow will need a friend.

Your family cow is a herd animal and being such she will need a friend. This does not necessarily mean more cattle but she does need a buddy.

It could be a few sheep or goats, just a pal to hang out with so she won’t be lonely.

Your cow will eat 4% of her weight per day

close up of grass and clover
A field of grass, you can see the little white clovers coming through, as well.

A cow eats 4% of her body weight in food per day. 4% is a good place to start but don’t get too hung up on this number being exact.

This is an average and just like you are not average neither is your cow. She may need more or less feed, you will need to adjust as you go.

She eats grass and hay

Her food can come as grass or hay. Some people like to feed a little grain.

Your cow has to take in a certain amount of calories a day to maintain her body weight and have energy to spare to make milk.

Look into hay yields for your area (the amount of hay you could expect per acre) and use this number to figure out how much of your pasture your cow will need to eat for the summer.

Grass not eaten in the summer can be eaten in the winter.

If you have extra land and grass, good news on nice days in the winter she will still have some grass to eat.

If you find out that you will be short on grass, then figure out how much hay you will need to purchase while you wait for the grass to regrow.

Grain can be used as a lure (a.k.a. bribery)

We do not generally give Aleene grain but she definitely knows what it is and loves to eat it.

This is handy if you need to lure her into a stall or away from something else, it’s just like giving your dog treats.

Your potential cow should look healthy.

It should be apparent to you that the cow you are considering is healthy. How can you tell? Here are some key areas to check.

  • Eyes
  • Nose
  • Hair
  • Manure

The cow’s eyes should be clear

The eyes of your cow candidate should be clear and bright. No cloudiness or discharge, even tears indicate something is not right and you should investigate further.

Maybe she just has dust in her eye or maybe she is starting to show the initial stages of pink eye. Your cow should have bright eyes, if not this is a deal breaker, go somewhere else.

The cow’s nose should be clean

Just like with people, kids especially nasal discharge means all is not well. Go to another farm if the cow looks like she has a cold.

Your cow’s hair should be shiny

Cows should have smooth, shiny hair in the late spring, summer and fall. In late fall, winter and early spring she will have her shaggy winter coat which is totally normal and healthy.

Look her over for round, rough, whitish patches of skin. This is ringworm, just like people get, and she can give it to you.

Your cow’s manure should be like pudding

If you can get a look at her manure. The ideal pile of manure (yes there is such a thing as an ideal pile of manure) will look like pudding with a small dent in the top of the pile.

Runny manure or hard manure that is in chunks are both bad news and both are deal breakers.

Cow body structure determines longevity

The way a cow is put together determines how long she will be able to live a healthy productive life, this includes her bone structure and her udder structure.

Judging Dairy Cattle is a University Of Kentucky article showing you some things to look for when you are picking out your cow, scroll down there are some easy to understand graphics you’ll want to be sure to see.

No cow is perfect in structure and some small flaws will not matter in a family cow. Here are the basics to look at:

Your cow’s legs should be straight and clean

Her legs should be straight and clean. By clean I mean no odd bumps. Front legs should be straight with equal length toes on each side of the hoof.

The hoof should not be overly long, think like a horse hoof.

Rear legs should go straight down so that the hocks (bend in the rear legs) are directly above the feet when you look at her from the rear.

Hocks being closer together or further apart than straight will make her move her legs in a way that will wear down her hooves oddly.

The hooves on the rear legs will be a bit shorter than those on the front.

Your cow’s topline should be level

Topline just means her back from her shoulders to the top of her tail. Her topline should be level.

Some cows do have a bit of a sag in their topline when they get older, not ideal but if she is otherwise good then okay.

Not so good in a young cow. A young cow with a sagging back shows that she is not holding up well. I would not buy her.

If she has a hunched up back something is wrong. This is the cow version of you laying half dead on the couch when you feel like junk.

If you are still considering her, stop. A rounded topline (hunched up back) is a deal breaker, go some where else.

Your cow’s girth should be full

Girth means measurement around the tummy. Your cow needs a lot of girth so she can fill up on food. This is like a car having a big gas tank so you don’t run out of fuel.

A big full girth shows that she is eating plenty of food so she will have the nutrients available to make milk.

This is especially important if you are hoping to feed grass and/or hay only.

It takes more volume of grass to get her energy needs each day than if you were giving her grain so she has to be able to eat more to make up the difference.

Your cow should move smoothly

Watch the cow move around a bit. Does she move freely and with a full stride?

Are her movements fluid or does her stride have a hitch in it like something hurts?

How does she stand? Are all four feet on the ground? This is normal for a cow.

Or is a leg cocked like a horse would stand? Normal for a horse, not normal for a cow.

Udder structure is critical for your cow

The udder has some special considerations and since the entire purpose of getting this cow is for the milk we’ll spend some time looking into udder structure.

Click here for my article giving step by step instructions for milking by hand.

Your cow’s udder needs built in support

The udder of a milking cow should be up in the cow, as in not hanging way down between her hocks. A cow with a dangly udder is said to have poor udder support.

Any time she moves around her udder will swing and bounce off her legs potentially causing injury as she moves faster, like running.

A cow’s udder is naturally divided in half

While standing behind the cow you will notice the udder is divided in half from front to back. This is good, showing more support.

The halves of the udder should be close to even.

Your cow’s teats should be long

The teats should hang straight down and have some length. This is something to watch out for if your cow has a commercial background.

This bigger dairies are all breeding for short teats. Short teats will cause you problems, go long.

The teat ends should taper nicely and have a small hole for the milk to come out of. The skin should be soft and supple.

Your cow should have four working quarters

She should also have all four quarters working. Being four quartered is not absolutely necessary, especially if you have a milking machine, but it is ideal.

A three quartered cow is harder to milk since one of your hands will do two quarters. A three quartered cow is also significantly less valuable than a four quartered cow if you were to resell her.

Buy a young cow, not a heifer

Deciding the age of the cow to purchase is an area where potential new cow owners start to make mistakes. Consider getting a cow and not a heifer.

A heifer is a gamble.

Choosing a heifer is a big gamble. Since she has never milked before you can not know how she will behave.

Maybe you will get lucky and find an unusually calm one. (It’s not likely.)

It’s more likely you will have quite the rodeo on your hands and regret getting a young inexperienced animal for inexperienced you to try to handle.

Get a cow with some experience.

The new cow owner needs a cow that knows what she is doing.

Everything you do will go more smoothly if one of you has some experience with this whole family cow thing.

Since you are he new one, she has to be the one who knows what is going on.

The ideal cow is used to hand milking

The ideal candidate should have already had a calf or two and have experience with being milked by hand, if you are going to milk by hand.

If she is used to machine milking she may or may not be an easy hand milker.

She should be a naturally calm individual that is in good shape. She also should be bred and confirmed pregnant.

Confirmed pregnant is huge. Just because she was bred, does not mean she settled (conceived). Unless you have easy access to a bull, this is important.

The best time to transport a cow is when she is dry.

The easiest time to move a cow to your place is when she is dry (not milking).

She will be dry for two months before she has her next calf then she will start milking again.

Getting a dry cow means waiting for milk

The down side of buying a dry cow is that you will not be able to test milk her to see how it goes and how she reacts.

You will also be the one to take care of her before and during birth and care for the calf once it is born.

Getting a fresh cow means you can try milking her

A cow that is fresh has just had her calf so she will be milking for the next ten months or so (assuming you get her bred back on time).

A cow that is currently milking will allow the opportunity to try your hand at milking her to see her temperament and ease of milking.

Does she stand still or shift around a lot?

How much effort do you need to put into the actual physical squeezing of the teat? Some cows are easier to milk than others, taking less effort from your hands.

How is teat length? Longer teats are easier to hand milk than short teats.

There is no best breed of dairy cow

Please do not get hung up on this one. The breed of the cow is no where near as important as the temperament of the individual animal.

Commercial cattle will produce more than you need.

Most commercial dairy animals are going to have you swimming in milk. These gals will also take more food to keep on weight.

That being said a lower producing individual or breed of dairy cow will be a better fit for a family cow.

Choose a cow that is calm and hardy.

The breeds that are listed as being more hardy, able to forage for themselves and have a calmer nature will be your best choices.

Also consider a crossbred cow. Crossbred cows can be real gems.

Family cow breeds to consider are hardy

Good breeds to start looking into are Jersey, Milking Shorthorn, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire, and Dutch Belted.

There are other more rare breeds that would definitely be suitable for your family cow, however rare breeds tend to come with an accompanying rare (high) price.

Click here for an article I wrote going into breeds of dairy cattle that may be suitable for your family cow.

Choose cattle common to your area

Generally speaking, it is best to go with a breed or cross breed that is more common in your area. Drive around and see what the locals have.

Ask to see what other small farmers are doing. Put an add on the internet. Go to the auction and see what normally sells there.

Do not buy your first cow at an auction

Do not buy from the auction unless you have a lot of dairy cattle experience! Auctions are always buyer beware. Since you are new, this is not the place to get your cow.

I’ll grant you that it is possible you will get lucky at an auction, but it’s much more likely that you will get a cow you can’t handle.

Your cow does not need to be halter broke

This is another major hang up for new cow owners. Please do not base your decision to purchase a cow on whether or not she is halter broke.

You do not need to lead your cow anywhere. When we need to move Aleene we just “shoo” her around or lead her in with food.

We do have a twine collar on her for the times when she is uncooperative so we can quickly tie her but normally that is not needed.

Use food to motivate your cow.

Set up your fence so she can come in to the milking shed while still in the fence.

Or train her to go to an area that is comfortable and has a snack waiting for her when it is milking time. The snack part is key to success.

Food is a huge motivator for your cow, use it to make your life easier.

You can halter break the cow yourself.

If being halter broke is something you insist upon having, then work on it yourself. Just tie her up a few hours a day and she will learn not to pull.

If your cow came from a tie stall barn, where the cows are tied by a collar in their stalls for milking, then she is mostly trained already.

Use halter broke as a family cow tie breaker

The only way I can say to use being halter broke as a buying decision is if you have multiple cows to choose from that are all just as high quality and pleasing to you then use being halter broke as a tie breaker.

Otherwise make it happen yourself. If you choose a cow with a good attitude to begin with will train well.

A halter broke cow does not mean a good cow

The reason I’m spending so much time on this is because we have personally seen very nice people buy a cow to milk choosing her specifically because she was halter broke, which she was.

She was a friendly cow and she was pretty.

But she also had structural problems that turned into a serious limp and was not bred back as promised, nor would she breed back at all.

So this means no more milk, since she quickly went down to nothing in milk production.

She had already been milking a while on this lactation so she had to be sold for beef. On top of all that is a very disappointed family.

You need a plan for the cow manure

All cows poop. When she is inside it can seem like all she does is poop. You need to have a plan to deal with the manure.

A good start is plenty of bedding where she sleeps and where you milk her.

You can pitch out piles into a wheel barrel and just add fresh straw, but eventually you will need to clean out the whole area.

Even a cow that spends the majority of her day outside will still manage to do a surprising amount of pooping in where she sleeps.

A compost pile is a great idea for manure storage.

If you smell manure you are losing nutrients.

Keep in mind that if you can smell manure then nutrients are being lost. There is not enough bedding compared to the amount of manure and urine.

You will learn to adjust the amount of bedding as you go, generally speaking if it’s too wet/dirty/whatever for you to sit or kneel there you need to add bedding.

Related Questions

Can you drink raw milk?

Sure, I do all of the time. However, I’m not you. You will need to do your own research and decide for yourself.

How much milk will we get from our cow?

This milk volume depends upon the cow and her stage of lactation, so it varies. We get 3 gallons per day from our Jersey.

91 Facts About Dairy Cattle And Milking Dairy Cattle: Beginner Basics

Brown Swiss cow with Holstein cows on either side. This milking set up is called a flat parlor.

Wondering about the basics regarding dairy cattle?

Terminology and unfamiliar practices used around dairies and dairy cattle can be confusing at first.

No need to worry. This article covers all the terms and ideas you need to know, starting with the absolute basics!

How Much Milk From Your Family Cow? goes over the daily amount of milk you can expect from your cow and how you can be sure to keep her milking well.

Dairy cattle are mammals.

Dairy cattle and many other animals, like dogs and horses, are mammals. This means that dairy cattle start producing milk to feed a calf after the birth of the calf.

An adult female that has had a baby is called a cow.

The word cow is actually a specific term used only to describe a female bovine that has had a calf, so she is a mom.

A younger female is called a heifer.

A female calf that has not given birth yet is called a heifer. She is called a heifer no matter her size, one day old up to having her first calf she is still called a heifer.

Ideally, a heifer will have her first calf when she turns two years old.

When a heifer is 24 months old (2 years) she will give birth to her first calf. At 24 months she will be a full size animal ready to start milking.

She will have a calf every year as long as she is milking.

Most dairy cows perform best on a schedule of calving every year at about the same time of year.

This yearly calving is part of the natural reproductive schedule of a cow.

Having a baby each year is normal for animals, for example female deer will have a fawn each spring.

A cow produces milk after she has a calf.

Once her calf is born the heifer is now officially a cow. She will be producing milk to feed the calf.

The amount of milk she produces will go up.

Her milk production will go up from the time the calf is born until about two months later, then the amount she milks will gradually go down.

An adult male is called a bull.

Bulls are full size breeding age male dairy cattle.

A young male is called a bull calf.

A younger male that is not castrated is called a bull calf. He is called a calf until he reaches maturity, which varies between breeds.

A castrated bull is called a steer.

A steer is a male calf that has been castrated.

Farmers chose to castrate a bull calf that will be kept for meat in order to avoid the aggressive attitude that can come with some bulls.

A bull calf is castrated when young.

A bull can be castrated at any age, but most farmers will castrate when the calf is young since the calf will be easier to hold.

Husbandry Practices For Raising Dairy Steer Calves is a Michigan State University Extension article giving the basic methods of castration for bull calves.

There are six recognized breeds of dairy cattle in the U.S.

The six recognized breeds of dairy cattle in the U.S. are Holstein, Jersey, Ayrshire, Guernsey, Milking Shorthorn and Brown Swiss.

Any cow breed can be used for milk.

All female cattle produce milk once they give birth, so any cow could be used as a dairy animal.

The recognized dairy breeds are cattle bred to be better at producing milk than most other cattle.

The most popular dairy cow in the world is the Holstein.

The Holstein is the most popular dairy cattle breed in the world.

It’s easy to see why-she can produce the most milk of any breed. To milk well she also must be fed well.

In a situation where the cow would have to find more of her own food and deal with a lot of disease and insect pressure the dairy cow for the local family will have to be a breed that is more able to fend for herself.

5 Best Dairy Breeds For Family Cows shows you my picks of the top breeds you should consider when picking out a family cow.

The Holstein is also the most popular dairy cow in the U.S.

The large herds in the U.S. are all Holstein, since this is the breed that will put the most milk in the tank for the farm to sell.

Different breeds of dairy cattle can live together.

Cattle from different breeds can and often do live together. The only concern is the different sized cattle need different sized sleeping and eating areas.

Most dairy cattle are milked by machine.

Generally, cows in the U.S. are milked by machine if the farm sells the milk to a dairy processor.

Grade A milk (the grade used for fluid milk and yogurt) has to be milked by machine.

Dairy cows can be milked by hand.

Some farmers still milk their cows by hand, specifically the Amish farmers that ship milk in cans. Additionally, many family cows are milked by hand.

We milk ours by hand. If you would like to learn more about hand milking a cow, consider reading my article How To Hand Milk A Cow.

Here I am milking our cow, Aleene. She is a Jersey and we hand milk her twice a day.

Cows are milked in a milking parlor.

The parlor is the room in the barn that is dedicated to milking the cows. Most large farms have a raised parlor, this means the cows walk in level, but are actually higher than the people doing the milking.

The difference in levels is so the person putting on the milkers can stand up straight instead of bending over at every cow to put the milker on and to take it off.

Cows get milked two times per day.

Dairy cattle get milked two times per day every day that they are lactating. Some farms choose to milk the herd three times per day, but most do twice.

Milking times are twelve hours apart.

Cows like to be kept on a schedule so they know what is coming up next. Milking cows every twelve hours gives the cow the maximum time to eat and rest between milkings while keeping the milk production high.

The farms that choose to milk three times per day will start milking every eight hours, so at least one milking time is when most people are sleeping.

The building that holds the milking equipment is called the milkhouse.

The small building attached to the milking barn is the milkhouse.

In the milkhouse you will find all of the equipment needed to wash and sanitize the milk lines, run the milk pump and power the bulk tank,

Milk flows by gravity.

When the milk comes from the cow it goes into a stainless steel pipe. The pipe is sloped so that the milk runs to the milkhouse using gravity.

Milk goes to a receiving jar.

All the milk from the parlor flows into a collection jar called a receiving jar. In this jar is a float that rises as the level of the milk in the jar rises.

The milk is pumped from the jar to the tank.

When the float in the receiving jar gets high enough it triggers a pump that takes the milk over head in a pipe to the bulk tank.

The receiving jar will pump many times every milking sending a few gallons of milk at a time into the bulk tank.

The milk tank is refrigerated.

Milk comes from the cow warm since the body temperature of a cow is warm. The milk needs to be immediately cooled to 38 degrees.

The milk tank called a bulk tank can tell the temperature of the milk and will automatically cool it down. Just like your refrigerator turns on once in a while on its own to keep your food cold.

The tank automatically stirs the milk.

In addition to the cooling of the milk the tank will also automatically stir the milk.

This is done with a big paddle that comes down from the top of the inside of the tank. The paddle is on a timer to stir the milk several times eac hour.

The milk needs to be stirred since it is not yet homogenized.

The milk in the tank is straight from the cow and milk straight from the cow will naturally separate, meaning the cream will rise to the top.

The milk you buy at the store has been homogenized so it will not separate.

The milk will be picked up by a hauler.

Every day or every other day (depending upon the size of the milk tank) a tank truck will come and pick up the milk.

A big hose is attached to the valve on the tank and the milk is pumped over to the truck.

The milk will go to a dairy processor.

Most dairy farms will sell their milk to a dairy processor to be bottled or made into cheese or yogurt.

A few farms process and bottle their own milk for customers to buy right at the farm.

Starting to milk is called milk let down.

When the cow starts to milk this is called milk let down. She has learned to let down her milk when she comes into the parlor.

The cow controls milk let down.

The cow controls the let down of milk. Milk let down is controlled by hormones.

If she is stressed or in heat she will not let down her milk as well as she would normally.

Happy cows make more milk.

Happy cows are less stressed. Cows that are less stressed make more milk.

Milk production in dairy cattle is measured in pounds.

Milk production in dairy cattle is measured in pounds. There are eight pounds in a gallon of milk.

Since most dairy cattle are milked twice per day, her daily milk production is for two milkings, one in the morning and one at night.

Milking is called lactation.

Lactation is the word used to describe a mammal producing milk for a period of time.

Lactation periods are ten months long.

Dairy cows tend to do best on a ten month milking schedule. This will keep her productive and at her best health.

Lactation Curve (Milk Production) For Your Family Cow shows you how to plan for the milk you’ll get from your cow.

Each cow gets two months off of milking every year.

Every cow gets time off from milking. Think of it like you getting a vacation from work or school. Cows get a two month vacation every year.

A cow is dry when she is not milking.

When a cow is not milking she is referred to as a dry cow. This means that she is currently on her two months off dry period and will resume milking when she has her next calf.

The dry period helps her rest up before the next calf.

Milking is the job of a dairy cow. The dry period is when she takes a vacation from work to rejuvenate so when she has her next calf she will be at her best.

The average milk production of a Holstein is 23,713 pounds.

This makes her the highest producing dairy breed. 23,713 pounds equals nearly ten gallons of milk per cow per day.

The highest producing U.S. Holstein cow is from Wisconsin.

Selz-Pralle Aftershock 3918 set the world milk production record in 2017 by producing 78,170 pounds of milk in a year.

This is more than three times the amount of an average cow of her breed!

Holsteins are black and white in color.

The Holstein is nearly always black and white. Occasionally, a red and white calf is born but this coloration is relatively rare.

Holsteins are the largest dairy breed.

The average Holstein cow will weigh 1,500 pounds and bulls will top the scales at 2,200 pounds.

Holsteins are originally from the Netherlands.

The Holstein breed is originally from the Friesian region of the Netherlands and a Germany.

Holsteins were imported in larger numbers in 1877 and none have been imported since 1905.

Average Holstein milk has 3.93% butterfat.

Holsteins produce more volume of milk than any other breed but the milk is not as rich.

The average Jersey cow produces 15,593 pounds of milk.

This makes her the one of the lowest producing dairy breed in terms of milk volume.

Jerseys are the smallest dairy breed.

Of the recognized dairy breeds the Jersey is the smallest in terms of weight and height.

Most adult Jersey cows will weigh 1,000 pounds with the bulls weighing 1,600 pounds.

Jersey cow grazing
Our cow, Aleene, is a Jersey.

Most Jerseys are brown.

Most Jersey cattle are any where from light to dark brown in body color. There are a few with spots and some that are nearly black.

Jerseys have a dished face and darker hair on the face legs and tail. Our Jersey cow, Aleene, (pictured above) has the classic Jersey coloring.

Jerseys are from an island.

Jersey cattle get their name from the island in the English Channel, also named, Jersey where they are originally from.

Jerseys have the richest milk of any dairy breed.

Jersey cattle are known for having the richest milk of any of the main dairy breeds.

This means that if you were to separate the milk off into all the parts it is made of a gallon of Jersey milk has less water than the other breeds gallon of milk.

Need A Family Cow? goes over 12 breeds of family cow candidates, the Jersey and a few others dairy breeds, and gives tips on considering them as a good family cow prospect or not. Jerseys make a great family cow!

Jerseys average 5.07% butterfat and 3.82% protein milk.

Jerseys produce the richest milk of all the major dairy breeds. Farmers that want higher component milk will have a herd of Jerseys.

Jersey milk is the most commercially valuable in terms of money per gallon.

Farmers are paid for the milk their cows produce. But all milk is not equal in terms of pay.

Higher component milk (less water per gallon) will get the farmer more pay per gallon.

The average Ayrshire cow produces 17,807 pounds of milk at 4.14% butterfat and 3.37% protein.

This puts her as the third most productive breed, in terms of volume, of the main dairy breeds.

Ayrshires are from Scotland.

Ayrshires are from the county of Ayr in southwestern Scotland.

Ayrshires are red and white.

The coat of an Ayrshire is always red and white. The red is referred to as cherry red when it is a warm red.

Ayrshire cow
A lovely Ayrshire cow ready to sell in the 2019Fall Dairy Sale in Wooster, Ohio.

Ayrshire cattle are known for being good grazers.

Ayrshire cattle are vigorous and strong. They also are good at getting out to the field and eating plenty of grass.

The average Guernsey cow produces 16,290 pounds of milk at 4.77% butterfat.

Guernseys are a wise choice for the farmer looking for a higher component cow, the second highest components of all the breeds, that is calm and adaptable.

The Guernsey is from an island.

Right along side the home of the Jersey is the Isle of Guernsey, which is the home of the Guernsey diary cattle breed.

The Isle of Guernsey is a Channel Island off the coast of France.

Guernseys are tan and white.

Guernseys are fawn (tan) to light orange and white in color. They do not have any black hair.

Guernseys are famous for golden colored milk.

Golden Guernsey Milk is a famous phrase noting the tendency of Guernsey milk to have a golden tint.

This means that butter made from Guernseys is naturally golden in color.

Guernseys are known for being gentle.

Guernseys are a gentle cow that is becoming more popular. They are the second most frequently registered cow in the U.S.

Milking Shorthorns are from England.

Milking Shorthorns are originally from the northeastern part of England in the Valley of the Tees, near Scotland.

An old name for Milking Shorthorn is Durham.

Durham was a name used for the Milking Shorthorns when they were imported in 1783. They were also referred to as Milk Breed Shorthorns.

Milking Shorthorns come in red, white, and roan.

Milking Shorthorn cattle can be any combination of red and white, but never they have any black hairs.

Milking Shorthorns can be all white, all red, red and white in patches of color, or roan which is red hairs and white hairs mixed throughout the coat making the cow look pink.

The average milk production of a Milking Shorthorn is 15,450 pounds of milk with 3.91% butterfat and 3.3% protein.

These numbers make the Milking Shorthorn the lowest producing dairy breed listed.

Milking Shorthorns are easy to keep dairy cattle.

Some farms need a cow to be able to graze well, breed back reliably and easily adapt to local conditions.

A cow that a produces crazy amount of milk also needs a crazy amount of feed. Not all farms have the ability to support super high production cows.

Milking Shorthorn is the least popular diary breed.

Milking Shorthorns are not a common breed. It is rare to see a herd of these cattle but there are a few.

Milk production of a Brown Swiss averages 19,387 pounds at 4.2% butterfat and 3.37% protein.

This level of production puts Brown Swiss at the second most productive cow in terms of volume of milk produced per cow.

Brown Swiss cattle are light to dark brown.

Brown Swiss are always brown in body color with black hooves and nose. The body color can range from light brown, called fawn, to dark brown.

Brown Swiss are from Switzerland.

Brown Swiss are originally from the Alps region of Switzerland and are one of the oldest dairy breeds.

Brown Swiss dairy cattle are famous for having an easy going attitude.

Brown Swiss are quiet and docile cattle that tend to live long lives. They are also a bigger breed and tend to mature more slowly than smaller dairy breeds.

Cows can digest food that humans can not digest.

Cattle can digest food, like grass, that a person can not digest. You could eat the grass or hay but you can not get the nutrition from it like a cow can.

Cows are ruminants.

A ruminant is an animal that has a four compartment stomach and will chew it’s cud. Other ruminants include sheep and deer.

Cows turn grass and hay into milk.

With her special stomach a cow can turn grass and hay into milk. She naturally ferments the grass in her stomach giving all of her intestinal bacteria time to work.

The bacteria break down the cell walls of the plants so she can use the nutrients inside.

Cows do not need grain to milk.

Cows will milk without grain. This is because they are ruminants that can get all of their nutrients from grass. For instance, beef cattle routinely raise their calves without any supplemental grain.

Milk production with out grain will be very low.

Our family cow gives us more than enough milk without the use of grain, but she is being cared for as more of a pet than a working dairy cow.

If we were still milking cows for a living we would be feeding some grain to make sure the cow gets all of the nutrients she needs each day.

Grain for a high producing cow is provides the high calorie diet she needs to be most productive.

Dairy cows are commonly fed silage.

Many dairy farms in the U.S. feed silage. This is corn stalks chopped up with the ear (the part that has the yellow kernels of corn) and put in a pile or silo to ferment.

Fermenting preserves the silage.

Dairy cattle also eat haylage.

Some farmers also make haylage, a wet baled hay that will ferment so it will keep.

Silage and haylage are common in countries that do not have good weather to dry hay so the hay is harvested as haylage instead.

Oatlage is a type of haylage. We mainly feed it to sheep, but as you can see Aleene likes it!

Dairy cows drink a lot of water.

A dairy cow that is milking needs quite a bit of water every day.

She will need to drink 50 gallons each day to be able to digest her food and keep hydrated to stay healthy.

Dairy cow poop is called manure.

Manure is the poop from the cows and calves on the farm. Manure is very valuable as a soil builder and as a way to keep or increase the fertility on a farm.

Manure needs and production for each farm vary.

The farmer needs to be sure that the manure is returned to the land to help improve soil fertility. Too much or too little manure on an area will cause problems.

Cattle are herd animals.

All cattle are herd animals, whether dairy or beef breed. A cow feels more secure in a group of peers.

Many herds use A.I.

A.I. in cattle terms is Artificial Insemination.

In A.I. a technician, or a farmer who has learned how, uses straws of semen to breed cows that are in heat. This involves more time spent observing the cows to tell which ones are in heat.

When using A.I. the farmer is safer in the pens with the cattle, since there is no longer a need for a bull to be on the farm.

A.I. gives nearly unlimited choices of genetics.

The main reason A.I. is so popular with commercial cattle farms, both dairy and beef, is that by using A.I. the farmer can get the best bull for each cow to hopefully improve the herd in the future.

This is especially important if the cows in the herd have a variety of traits or if the herd is made of multiple breeds that the farmer would like to keep separate.

A.I. would also allow the farmer to crossbreed specific cows.

Many dairy farmers choose to cross breed their cattle to make a tougher cow or to try to improve a specific trait, for example Holstein Jersey cross cows are a common choice.

This would increase the components in the milk of the crossbred heifer, however it will also decrease milk volume since the cross will be a little above average of the parents.

Another crossbreeding option that has become very popular recently is to breed the dairy cattle to a beef breed bull. This is what we do.

It gives us the option to use the calf as more of a beef type brood cow if it is a heifer and a nice meatier type steer if the calf is a bull.

Additionally, any crossbred animal has the benefit of hybrid vigor, which is that the hybrid is more hardy and faster growing than either of the purebred parents.

When a cow is done milking for her lifetime she is butchered.

When a cow stops being a productive member of the herd she will become part of the food chain.

22.7% of the meat available in stores in the U.S. is from dairy cattle.

Some of the meat sold in the grocery store is from dairy cattle, especially the ground beef. In the U.S. 22.7% of beef in the supply chain is from dairy cattle.

There are companies promoting beef specifically from dairy cows since they have more flavor than meat from younger cattle.

Most dairy cows will spend their days eating and resting.

The bulk of a cow’s day is spent resting and chewing her cud. She will also spend a good amount of time eating.

A cow chews her cud when she is resting.

When you see a cow chewing her cud you can tell that she is relaxed and comfortable.

Her cud is food she is rechewing.

Cud is food that she is rechewing to grind it into smaller pieces. The bacteria in her stomach can work more efficiently with smaller pieces of food.

Resources:, Canadian Dairy Information Center 2017 Dairy Breeds Comparison Chart

Related Questions

Are beef cattle ruminants?

All cattle breeds, both beef and dairy are ruminants.

What is the best breed of dairy cattle?

There is not a best breed of dairy cattle for everyone. The best breed of dairy cattle for you will depend upon your farm and your management.