By Dr Clive Dalton
Is it a good idea?
Keeping a house cow may seem like a great idea, but consider these points before you are persuaded:
- Right at the start, determine who is going to milk the cow and how many times a day in all weathers? Write their names on a roster and put it on the fridge for all to see. Negotiate the pocket money payment rate for milking only if the job is done to the correct standard. How much milk is in the bucket, its colour and what’s floating in it will be a good quality check!
- Do the potential milkers know how to hand milk? It’s got to be completed in about 6-7 minutes as you won’t get a “let-down” response after that time no matter how long and hard you pull.
- You can always use a small milking machine but remember it will be expensive and have to be cleaned daily and maintained.
- You can also run calves on the cow and shut them away for 8 hours for you to have a turn at getting some milk.
- Where you are going to get a decent cow that will enjoy being hand milked?
- A cow these days from a dairy farmer, or through a stock agent probably won’t have been hand milked and you may have some problems getting her used to it. The only time she will have had her teats pulled is when she’s been treated for mastitis when they were sore and she’ll remember!
- You can breed your own house cow by rearing a heifer calf which is then mated and calves on your property. This will give you a great opportunity to ensure she is quiet and easy to handle.
- A house cow must be super quiet to let anyone in the family milk her and not be panicked by noise, children or pets around her feet. Feeding her some grain or nuts during milking is a good idea to build a good cow-milker relationship. But remember when you want to stop the nuts, she may not agree with the idea and play up or keep her milk to herself!
- Buying a lactating cow lets you see if she is an easy milker – i.e. if it’s easy to get the milk from her. Some culls from dairy herds may be slow and tough milkers and you end up with wrist ache and lock jaw from clenching your teeth while squeezing.
- The main thing to make sure when buying is that a potential house cow has not been a recurring mastitis candidate.
- The surplus milk. After calving you will be flooded with milk so plan what you will do with it. Will you enjoy the extra work of making butter, yoghurt or cheese, or will you give that a miss and feed it to calves or a Christmas porker?
- Selling milk. Don’t plan to sell the milk to anyone or even give it away as it will not be pasteurised and you don’t want to have a run-in with the Health Department or the law.
- Which breed? A Holstein Friesian will give an average of 4,000 litres per lactation, a Jersey 2,900 litres and a Friesian x Jersey 3,600 litres. Can you find a money-making use for all this?
- Where are you going to milk the cow? Have you got a milking bail as part of a shed, or will you milk her in the paddock in all weathers?
- A cow produces milk for its calf so she’ll need to be mated to keep on having a decent lactation. But you can keep on milking some cows for a couple of years without a pregnancy and you’ll keep getting around 4-5 litres per day. Not all cows will do this and at these low levels it may not taste the best.
- Make sure the house cow complies with all the Tb regulations and that she has been vaccinated against Leptospirosis. And give her a decent name!