Cows are extremely efficient animals. They provide milk (and its products, such as butter and cheese). They produce manure for your garden as well. Cows have been bred to belong to one of two types – milk cows and meat cows.
Choosing a cow
The first step in choosing a cow is to think about breed and age. If you can afford it, you can get a calf which will not produce milk for 1-2 years. If you want an animal which will produce milk immediately, look for a cow which has already had 3-4 lactations. For beginners, it is best to get a cow already used to being handled and milked. Jersey cows are popular with families, since they are small and provide rich milk. Another popular breed is the Dexter, since it is small, kind-natured and produces a lot of milk. The Shetland is a cow which doesn’t require much in the way of grazing, and the British White, while officially a beef cow, will also produce milk.
Cows can be purchased at farmers markets, livestock sales or farm dispersals. Make sure the cow has been tested for tuberculosis and check her udders for signs of mastitis. Check her teeth and for any sign of wounds or disease. Consider getting more than one cow (possibly a mother and her calf) since cows are herd animals and prefer not to be alone.
Cows have to be fenced in, or housed in a pen or barn. Barn stalls need regular cleaning and the hay must be kept fresh. Barbed wire can be dangerous so electric wire is preferred. Cows need shade in the summer and windbreak in the winter, so provide an appropriate shelter for your climate. You need a few acres of land for pasture, more in a drier climate. If you can move the cows from one pasture to another, this is preferable, since the plants can grow and the parasites will die.
Cows need to be wormed; change the brand every few months so they don’t become immune. Make sure your cows are up to date on all required vaccinations for your area. Rabies inoculations should always be up to date.
Cows are not aggressive, but they can accidentally step on your foot or swing their head or tail at you. Take care, and teach your children to be cautious around them too.
Milk cows need to be fed hay and grain for good production. Other cows can manage on pasture in the summer, with hay and grain supplemented in the winter. Water must be available at all times. Salt and minerals should also be available (check with you vet to find out what is needed in your climate).