Keeping A Family Milk Cow: Daily Routine And What To Expect

Aleene, our Jersey cow, enjoying the sunshine

A family milk cow is a super idea! Maybe, even a dream you’ve had for some time now.

What’s holding you back? Here’s a look into daily life with a family milk cow so you can see if she’ll be a good fit for you and your family.

A family milk cow daily routine consists of twice a day milking, feeding and watering and turning her out to pasture (in acceptable weather).

When thinking about adding a family milk cow to your life, be sure to keep an open mind! Your cow needs a routine, for sure.

How do you know if you’re ready? My guide “Are You Ready For A Family Cow?” will walk you through the things you need to have figured out, including feeding needs and daily care, before you get your cow.

But it doesn’t have to be my routine (or anyone else’s). You work out what suits you, your family and your cow the best.

What To Feed Your Family Cow goes over your feeding options to keep your cow healthy and milking well.

An additional bonus to a cow having a daily routine is that you will be spending time with her in a very predictable way.

You will learn her normal way of acting. This is the key to successful animal husbandry.

Reread those last two sentences. The value of spending time with your cow can not be overstated, seriously.

When you know her normal, now you can notice any unusual behavior and catch any potential problems early on, while it’s easy to fix.

What I’m trying to get you to see is that the routine care of your cow has tons of value for you, as well!

How To Choose A Family Cow shows you the specifics of what to look for and what to avoid when considering a cow as a candidate to be your family cow.

Family Milk Cow Routine

Hand milking routine for an inside cow

For a cow kept inside, like during the winter months, this is a likely twice a day routine:

  1. Feed and water your cow
  2. Pitch out her stall, if needed
  3. Morning milking
  4. Let her out (if the weather is acceptable)
  5. Take milk to house
  6. Clean the pail

Feeding and pitching can be switched, if she is already standing.

If she is still laying down, she’ll poo when she stands (trust me on this one). It’s just a cow thing!

How do you know if you’re ready? My guide “Are You Ready For A Family Cow?” will walk you through the things you need to have figured out, including feeding needs and daily care, before you get your cow.

Managing Cow Lactation Cycles, an article on thecattlesite.com, is a more in depth look at the lactation curve, which is illustrated in an easy to read graph.

Hand milking routine for an outside cow

If your cow is outside overnight, your twice a day routine will change a little and probably look something like this:

  1. Make sure she has water and pasture
  2. Milk the cow (tie her outside or run her into her stall)
  3. Take the milk to the house
  4. Clean the pail

For our cow, Aleene, we just milk her out in the field. She usually will stand still.

On the few days that she’s feeling a little feisty, we use her twine collar to tie her to a fence post or anything else that will keep her still for a few minutes.

When the milking is done, we just untie her and she goes back to grazing.

She’s well behaved, so I’d say 90% of the time she’ll stay put for milking, so we don’t have to bother tying her to anything normally.

If your cow will stand, milk her wherever it works for you. If she’s more of a mover, you’ll want to put her in her stall and tie her for milking.

Milking routine using a portable milker

If you are using a portable milking machine, your routine will change a little.

The cow will do the same whether you are hand or machine milking. Using a portable milker:

  1. Get the cow into her stall with feed as an incentive
  2. Pull out the portable milker (it should not be kept with the cow!)
  3. Plug it in (most are electric)
  4. Milk the cow, then turn her loose into a roomy pen or outside
  5. Put away the portable milker pump
  6. Pour milk into the container you’ll take to the house
  7. Wash the milk pail, hoses and inflations (hot water in the barn makes this easy, if not, all this needs to go to the house)

Using a portable milker will take more time, overall, for milking your cow. The time actually milking will be shorter than with hand milking!

The part that gets you, time wise, is getting the milker out, putting it away and cleaning the equipment.

Don’t skip the cleaning time! Any part of the milker that touches milk needs to be cleaned, every milking.

Pay special attention to any non stainless parts, like gaskets, hoses and inflations!

Cost to keep a family milk cow

I just finished an article dedicated to outlining the costs and potential income for your family cow, Is Having A Family Milk Cow Affordable?

This article has budgets and price breakdowns in each section so you can figure out your costs for your area.

How do you know if you’re ready? My guide “Are You Ready For A Family Cow?” will walk you through the things you need to have figured out, including feeding needs and daily care, before you get your cow.

Can you have just one cow?

You can have just one cow, but she would prefer having friends. If one cow is absolutely all you can have, consider keeping her with friends like sheep or goats.

While we do have a few other cattle, our cow Aleene, seems to like to hang out by herself more often than not.

She can roam as she pleases and seems to like her own company.

Occasionally, she does hang around with the goats. Usually, she just does her own thing.

gallon of real milk from our Jersey family milk cow, Aleene 
the cream line is starting to form
Real Milk from our cow, Aleene. As you can tell, we strain the milk into gallon and half gallon sized glass pickle jars. Of course, you could buy new glass jars if you prefer! Be sure that you use glass (not plastic). If you look closely, you can see the cream line starting to form.

How many years can she milk for?

A cow doesn’t start milking until she has her first calf at around 24 months of age.

Once she has a calf, she will milk for about 10 months then have another calf every year for the next 10 years or so.

Take good care of her and more is likely, Aleene is 14 and going strong!

Ideally, your cow will breed back every year to have a calf around the same date each year. This is the ideal situation, not always reality.

Normally, if your cow gets bred back a few months late, it’s not a big deal.

The times when late breed back is a problem:

  1. If you are counting on grass based milk production and your cow will be dry for two months during the summer grass.
  2. If you are not willing to have a longer than normal dry period.

Number 1 is self explanatory, she must be milking during the grass growing season to produce grass based milk.

She won’t be dry all summer, of course, but low producing then not producing for a substantial part of it.

If grass based milk is important to you, keep breeding back on time top priority.

Number 2 is more wishy washy, since this depends upon the cow.

Some cows start to dry up naturally. so that by 10 months or so into the lactation, she wasn’t milking a whole lot anyway.

Other cows will milk though the year, without being bred back at all.

You just keep milking her and she keeps milking. This won’t last forever, of course, but some cows will go for 1.5-2 years between calves.

This is not a good plan, usually a cow with such a long lactation will dry up very quickly when bred and you will have a really period of no milk until she calves again.

Confinement farm dairy cattle

Cows in an intensive, highly productive dairy operation would not be around this long, they average more along the lines of 4-5 years.

I won’t take too long online to find this information.

Don’t let this number worry you! With the care and individual attention you will give your cow she will be able to be a productive addition to your family for years to come!

For winter feeding, consider oatlage or haylage for your cow. Of course, grass is best-when you have it! For the times when you don’t, take a look at oatlage or haylage.

What to feed your cow

The best thing to feed your cow is grass that she gets herself, on pasture. No need to make this complicated!

Your cow is a ruminant and like all ruminants she is made to thrive on grass and other forages.

Your cow should eat for a few hours a day and spend the rest of her time laying down, relaxing and chewing her cud. This is super important!

She needs to tank up (eat all of the grass) then spend hours on cud chewing. This is the way a cow is designed to eat.

When your cow is full, she will lay down and start up the cud chewing. That’s a full cow and a full cow is a happy cow!

In the winter, or when the grass stops growing in the heat, you will need to provide hay. Any nice hay will work.

Be sure there is some chewability to the hay, meaning get first cutting if you can.

Second cutting is too fine to use as the only hay, but could be added in, just not the only hay.

You can tell where you are at with her digestion by looking at the manure. If the pile looks like pudding, you’re perfect! If you’re feeding too rich of a ration, the manure will get runny, not good! She needs more roughage (chewability).

Best cow for a family

I hesitate to answer this question, since so many people tend to focus on breed. Don’t do it! By far, the most important characteristic of a great family milk cow is her attitude!

5 Best Breeds Of Family Cow shows you our top 5 most likely to be a great cow to have candidates!

How do you know if you’re ready? My guide “Are You Ready For A Family Cow?” will walk you through the things you need to have figured out, including feeding needs and daily care, before you get your cow.

The prettiest cow for sale that day, the special rare breed you drove hundreds of miles to get, etc. are all going to make you crazy (or seriously regret your decision) if they are difficult on a daily basis.

Pretty fades real quick when she is a pain to deal with.

Please save yourself the hassle and get a cow with a great attitude.

There are so many wonderful cows that would be great as a family milk cow, don’t spend you time with one that isn’t beginner friendly.

dairy heifers for sale at a fall dairy cattle sale in Ohio
A group of sharp looking dairy heifers, for sure! The first few are Ayrshires and the last two are Milking Shorthorns. Get a cow with a great attitude. I love the flashy colors too, just make sure the great looks go with a super friendly attitude!

Acres needed per cow

The acres needed per cow varies widely with each region of the U.S.

In our area, most people with a good size lawn, like 1.5-2 acres could easily support a cow.

The way I have always looked at it is if you need a riding lawn mower to mow your lawn, you’ve got plenty of space for backyard livestock.

An alternative option: the common acreage listed for a horse is a good guess for a cow (in some areas this is easier to figure out than cow acreage).

The smaller the acreage, the more you will need to use management to give your cow maximum grazing.

This means moving her to new spots regularly, probably daily, and keeping her off of the grazed places to give them time to regrow.

Bigger pastures, more than one day’s worth of grazing, should be divided into sections with water access.

Keep her off of the previously grazed sections until she is rotated in to eat them again.

This will be a little more work each day, but will give you much more pasture growth for your efforts!

How do you know if you’re ready? My guide “Are You Ready For A Family Cow?” will walk you through the things you need to have figured out, including feeding needs and daily care, before you get your cow.

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