Backyard Dairy Cow

As a dairy farmer one of the questions I get asked is about how one would go about having one or two cows to milk for their family. While I definitely don’t want to discourage anyone from farming or being involved in agriculture, caring for dairy cows is not easy.

Is that an inside cow or an outside cow?

Picking A Cow

Make sure you buy a good cow. We keep all of the good cows on our farm. Why do we sell them? Because for one reason or another they are no longer good for milking. They could have poor quality or low milk production or even one or more quarters of their udder no longer make milk. A cow could have reproductive issues and not breed. There could be lameness issues from injury or age. Last, but certainly not least, she could be a wild child and the type to jump fences and not let anyone milk her.

Property and Housing

Before you shell out any money you should make sure you are allowed to own cattle on your property. Just because you have a large lot does not mean you can have them. There are zoning laws as well as agreements made with covenants or HOA’s, POA’s, etc.

More than likely you are going to want some kind of structure to milk the cow in. On rainy, cold, or snowy days you and your cow are going to want to be inside for that chore.

Having housing also means having to remove manure and bedding from time to time. You’ll need a suitable place you can use to discard it.

Labor and Logistics

Cows need to be milked about every twelve hours every day while she is not dry (we’ll get to this in Biology). Unlike a dog or cat that you can leave out extra feed or have someone check in on them when you are out of town, your cow has to be milked. She can’t wait. You will have to plan to milk her or have someone else milk her everyday. Hey, if you’re going to be a dairy farmer then you have to live on a dairy farmer’s schedule.

Whether you choose to hand milk or purchase a milking machine you have to remember cleanliness is very important. A modern cow may give fifty to one hundred pounds of milk a day so hand milking might not be the option you want to choose one squirt at a time.

All equipment needs to be thoroughly washed after every milking to prevent contamination. To eliminate all risks associated with raw milk I would highly recommend a small pasteurizer. My two cents.


A cow doesn’t begin milking until after she has had her first calf. You can milk her for around a year before she will dry up and stop producing milk. She will not produce milk again until she has another calf. She will need to be bred, by a bull or artificially, sometime after sixty days of calving. Then you’ll dry her off, that is slowly stop milking her sixty days before her due date. You might want to try to schedule this sixty days to your advantage, like when you want to go vacation or during winter, etc.

This is literally skimming the surface of what you need to know. I hope it does give you some things to ponder before you buy a dairy cow. Now if you do choose to purchase one I congratulate you on becoming a dairyman or woman, and am proud of the work ethic you have and the commitment you have made to your animal. Enjoy the fruits of your labor.

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