Homestead Dairy Cows: The Basics

— Written By

The following article was written by Appalachian State University student, Lauren Church, who interned at the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Watauga County.

Homestead Dairy Cows:  The Basics

With everything going on around the world today, it has everyone racing to the grocery stores in hopes to find a gallon of milk. Instead of racing to beat people to the store, what if you could get your milk from your own backyard? Now is as good of a time as ever to think about getting your own dairy cow, whether you just want milk or to make your own cheese or yogurt. The first couple steps to accomplish your new goal is to decide on a breed and make sure you have the correct housing and facilities.

When choosing a breed, you want to take into consideration the main purpose of buying your cow. This may simply be to provide enough milk for your family of four, without having to fight the crowd at the grocery store. This brings us to the question of, how much milk will you need in order to provide a sufficient amount? The two most common breeds that can meet both of those needs are the Holstein and the Jersey cow. The Holstein is a breed that is most commonly used in the corporate dairy industry but can also be used at a home farm. They are mostly black and white in color, but they can also be seen as red and white. This breed is known for their high milk production, but they have less butterfat and protein in the milk when compared to other breeds. The average cow produces around 2,900 gallons of milk each lactation cycle which spreads out over a year. The Jersey cow can be seen as more of the “at home” type. Their coloring is a shade of brown with a black muzzle and a switch, the hair at the end of their tail. This breed produces high amounts of both butterfat and protein in their milk, however, their production is less than that of the Holstein.

Holstein Cow

Holstein Cow

Jersey Cow

Jersey Cow

The next thing to do to prepare for your at home operation, is make sure you have the correct equipment, the right amount of acreage, and shelter. Methods of milking animals on a farm include hand milking, a milking machine with a bucket milker, and a pipeline system. The best option for a home farm with only one or two cows would be hand milking. For this there will need to be a “milking room.” The floor of this room needs to be made of concrete, or something similar to this material, and a finish is recommended to prevent slick floors. The walls should be made of cinderblocks and painted or finished for a cleanable surface. After the milk has been collected (in a hooded pail) and cooled, it then needs to be pasteurized. For this process you will need the proper pasteurization equipment.

You will want to bring in your dairy cow at night to prevent udder damage. For this you will need to make sure she has plenty of space, among other things. For one cow, the stable area in the barn should be 75-100 square feet. The area should be enclosed with fans to provide proper air ventilation, and as always they should be given fresh water and an adequate amount of food (depending on the temperatures). The outdoor area for your cow should be 1-2 acres per cow and should be enforced using barbed wire, electric wire, or woven wire.

For more information on starting your own homestead dairy operation, check back in a week for the next article on “Bringing Your Cow Home.”


History of dairy cow breeds: Holstein

History of dairy cow breeds: Jersey

Dairy Guide

Housing and Space Guidelines for Livestock