With feed costs as high as they are today, keeping a cow may not save you much, if any, hard cash. But, if you like cows, are willing to spend a few hours each day feeding, watering and milking one and processing its fresh milk, then the animal will indeed reward you, with plenty of dairy products.
Proper housing is of key importance, but generally an existing outbuilding can be converted to a suitable cow barn.
Unless the cow is to be kept in a stanchion, the minimum floor area for a stable is 200 or more square feet. In northern areas, the cow stable should be wind-tight; all winter ventilation should be under control. An economical job can be done, when necessary, by nailing unslated roofing paper over the sides. A cow can stand more cold than generally realized.
The cow may be confined by some stanchion or allowed the freedom of a stall. The box stall is recommended. Some cows can keep warmer by moving occasionally on very cold nights. Milk production has been found to increase about 10 percent when cows are kept in a stall as opposed to a stanchion.
A calf pen is required. This preferably can be a duplicate of the cow stall
Buying a Cow
A cow that is four or five years old and has had her second or third calf is generally a good choice. She will be young enough to have years of production ahead of her, and old to have shown her milk-producing. There is no reason to pay the high asked-for heavy milk producers. For a cow, the criteria should be gentleness, ease of milking and general good health.
A family milk cow will generally yield about 12 quarts daily for from eight to 12 months, consuming about 18 pounds of hay daily. Jerseys and Guernseys are most often chosen for family cows because they are smaller and do not require as much feed or give as much milk as some of the larger breeds, such as Holstein or Brown Swiss. A Jersey heifer is fit to breed from 15 to 17 months; Guernseys from 17 to 18 months; and the heavier breeds at up to 25 months. After freshening, a cow will reach maximum production during the amend month. She will then decline in production at the rate of 6 to 7 percent a month. A cow that freshens in the fall or early winter usually yield an average of 10 percent more milk and fat than one that freshens in spring or summer.
Ideally, the cow should have about two acres of pasture for summer grazing: Permanent pastures of bluegrass or mixtures of grassdrop in production in the summer and may have to be supplemented to provide a uniform feed supply. The vegetable garden can furnished with a bit of the animal’s summer feed. Cows will eat pea vines, sweet corn stalks, cabbage leaves, and sweet potato vines.
The family cow’s winter feed consists of hay and a mixture of concentrates. Alfalfa, soybean, alsike clover, or early-cut grass hay are satisfactory. A Jersey or Guernsey cow will need at least ten pounds of hay a day, and a pound of grain for each two to four pounds of milk she produces.
A mixture of ground corn and wheat bran is a good concentrate to feed with hay. Some soybean oil meal or linseed oil meal may be added to the diet of hay and grain for extra protein.
Provide a block of trace mineralized salt in a sheltered box for the cow, or add loose salt to her concentrate mix at the rate of one pound to every 100 pounds of feed.
Give the cow water at least twice daily in winter and more often in summer.