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Buying a Milk Cow: What to Consider Before Buying

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So you’re thinking of buying a milk cow to bring home as the family cow. But, have you given thought to all that decision entails?

We searched for what seemed like forever for a family cow. Then, one day I saw her in a Facebook group. We had to act fast because around here they sell like hotcakes.

We finally found what seemed like the perfect cow. She was in milk, freshly calved and the calf came with her.

We were excited… to say the least. Or, I was at least. 

I had done very little research on owning a family cow, and barely asked any questions other than if she had been milked and if the little calf that was on her was a heifer or bull.

Three short months later I had learned a whole lot more about dairy cows and what you should look for and ask about.

Our Family Cow Adventure

We didn’t know what to look for when it came to buying a family cow. I knew I wanted a Jersey, and I knew I wanted to milk her.

I had all these grand ideas in my head of how it would go down and look.

Thankfully, some questions you can ask aren’t very detrimental to the cow’s overall health like age. But, when it comes to saving your pocketbook there are a few others you might want to ask.

Believe me, I wished I had known these.

Now, before I continue, I want to preface that we no longer have our family cow. We opted for goats instead. I’ll be writing about Cows vs. Goats in another post.

About Our Cow

Mayfield was a great cow, but she came with a hefty feed bill I was not expecting. I had grand illusions of her sustaining mainly on grass and getting some grain at milking time. 

I was wrong.

We had to feed her twice a day to maintain her weight and keep her body condition up so she would cycle in order to be bred again.

As for being milked, May was awesome. We had our disagreements some days, but we always made it through.

In the end, there were days with gallons of milk we couldn’t drink due to a rough bout of mastitis we were fighting, a feed bill we just couldn’t reduce, and a growing heifer calf on her side.

We had 3 goats at the time also, 2 does and 1 “buck” (he’s no longer a buck because he had a deformed testicle). I researched goat’s milk and became convinced I’d rather do goats.

After many months with us, May and Pumpkin went to a great home. May is mothering another calf as well as Pumpkin. So, that makes me happy. And the family just loves her.

mafield the milk cow and pumpkin the calf – buying a milk cow

Questions to Ask Before Buying a Milk Cow

Now, let’s get to the questions you might want to consider asking before bringing home your big, beautiful family cow.

How old is she?

This is the one that’s not that important, but getting a general idea of how old she is will definitely help you as time goes on.

Has she ever calved?

If she’s being sold with a calf, this obviously isn’t a necessary question. But, it’s very important to know if she’s being sold as open or bred.

Unless you’ve dealt with cows before, you would rather have a cow that’s already calved before. This way you have an idea of how she’ll behave when she delivers.

Some cows can be really aggressive around their calf, and some cows aren’t aggressive at all.

If she has, is she aggressive when others are around the calf?

Again, super important to know. Because, if you’re around the calf but also having to watch for big momma to come barreling at you that’s not exactly safe.

You want a cow that’s going to be easy going when she calves. It’s just easier all around.

Has she ever been milked?

Big, big question. IF the answer is no… I’d pass on the cow. You don’t want to try to have to train a cow to hand milk for your first cow.

I was blessed that May allowed me to milk her, but I think that was partly because she was a previous dairy farm cow.

Has she been tested for diseases and up to date on vaccinations?

Save. Your. Pocketbook. And. Ask. This!

I didn’t know there were specific tests that needed to be done BEFORE drinking the milk until after we’d brought May home. That was an extremely expensive vet bill. Equivalent to taking 13 goats to the vet! 

Is she A2/A2 (if that’s a priority)?

This is an easy and cheap thing to test. It costs around $33 from UC Davis Veterinary Medicine. It will tell you if your cow is A2/A2, A1/A2, or A1/A1. 

To some folks, this isn’t a deal-breaker, but if you have issues consuming dairy products then A2/A2 is going to be what you’re looking for when you buy a milk cow.

mayfield the family cow

Is she from grass-fed lineage?

Phew. This is another biggie. I firmly, and 100% would say to search for a family cow that comes from good grass-fed based genetics!

Man, it will save you so much money on feed/grain. You’ll still have to provide supplemental feed, but shew, it won’t be nearly as bad as pouring feed down the gullet of a cow to keep their condition.

Our May was eating six 3 quart scoops of feed per day and sometimes I’d add an extra scoop of corn on days it was going to be really cold.

If not, how much grain does she eat per day, and what type?

Definitely ask this because every dairy cow is different. Some only need three 3 quart scoops a day and that’s wayyy better than six. Also, knowing what she’s being fed will help in the transition from where she’s at to where you live.

Has she had mastitis before? If so, how often?

If a cow is prone to mastitis I would pass hard on that dairy cow. Some are just prone to getting it and it will drag a cow down badly. May, I believe, was prone to mastitis. We cleared up one quarter and BAM another quarter got infected.

The struggle was real for us. 

Has the cow ever been down for any reason?

This will just give you a good idea of the health of the cow. If she’s been down for any sickness it’s best to know upfront so you can look out for any iffy things as time goes on.

If she’s in milk, how many gallons a day is she giving?

Some dairy cows give way more milk than others. For instance, a Holstein will give somewhere around 20 gallons a day, but a Jersey will give around 3-6 gallons a day. 

The difference is drastic and is definitely something to consider. You’re going to have to store this milk after all.

Will she nurse an orphan calf?

May would take another calf and mother it so well. It made my heart happy. This comes in handy if you have another cow that rejects its calf or someone who needs help that has a rejected calf. 

It can also give you a break if you’re needing a break from daily milking.

Can the cow be hand-milked or machine milked?

Some folks want to hand milk and some want to machine milk. Knowing if the cow you’re looking to buy has been milked either way is a big plus. 

Is she stanchion trained?

This can be trained by you, but buying a milk cow that’s already trained to a stanchion would make your life 100% way easier.

We milked in 3 round pen panels without a headgate. It worked, but I was going to build a stanchion and would have had to train Mayfield to stand in one.

Is the cow halter broke and will she lead?

Not a deal-breaker, but you’ll want to know ahead of time. If she’s not halter broke and doesn’t lead, how will you get her to go where you want her to? Will she follow a feed bucket?

May would follow you off of a cliff for some feed. So that was our big plus.

Buying a milk cow can be an amazing thing for your family, but it’s best to do the research upfront before bringing her home.

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