Skip to content

Get a Grip

September 20, 2008

People ask me all the time how much time do I really spend on the milk cow getting a few gallons of milk for the house.  So I kept track this week, so I could do a post with accurate information.

I spend between 35 – 45 minutes on each end of the day, so roughly 1 1/2 hours per day, 12 hours apart.  As you can see from the video, I’m a fast milker.  It takes me 10 minutes to do the actual milking, it’s the prepping my stall, walking out to the barn with my buckets, walking out to get the cow, opening and closing gates, processing the milk, and always the washing of the buckets, and jars.  Then going back out, and putting the cow out to pasture.  The faster you want a cow to walk when you’re leading them, the slower they walk, and if there is windfall apples to sniff, and a pickup mirror they can wipe off, they’ll do it after they have been milked.  I have come to believe Della makes a mental note on the way to the barn, and makes plans for mischief while I’m milking!
//" target="_blank">View Raw Image</a>
Milk cow gone bad.  She’s pretending to be attentive and cooperative… this is the planning stage.  She spanks me every day with her tail, just because she can.

 //" target="_blank">View Raw Image</a>
Eau de Flank

Here I’m sending good thoughts her way – just kidding.  We are actually milk wrestling, I’m pushing with my head, and she’s leaning on me.  Is any of this sounding like your horse?  Leaning, swatting,  and a multitude of other passive-aggressive tendencies.  But, she’s nothing if not predictable.  It’s the same morning and night, and she is gentle.  I trust her when my back is turned and in close quarters, and that is probably the single most important thing to look for in a cow.  She does kick, but never unless she has a good reason, such as a cut, or sore teat.  She never has kicked except for those reasons.  So I pay attention before I latch on.  I do milk her with kickers, just in case, but I never have to tighten them, and she knows how to kick them off.  I would say she would be a cow for an intermediate milker, not a beginner.  She knows how to open gates, or unhook chains with her horns, so she is smart and would probably take advantage of someone a little intimidated by her horns.

What I don’t count in my milking time is, the time I spend feeding the bucket calf, or taking the skimmed milk to pigs.  Feeding those animals are chores I would have to do anyway.  Having extra milk to feed them, means to me that I’m closing my circle of production.  The more feedstuffs I can produce here, reduces my out of pocket costs.

I also don’t count the time we spend managing, growing, and harvesting our hay.  I’m an accountant and homesteading is not a black and white, or should I say, red or black entry on the books.  It can’t be simplified that much.  I need to maintain our property, should I mow all the grass and not have livestock, or should I have livestock and let them beautify my land for me?  And, enjoy them along the way.  You know what I would say.  But, each individual family has to decide.  I grew up this way, I don’t feel left out of life because I’m tied down with a milk cow, because I tied myself down.  I feel the same way about my cows as I do about my dogs – I wish they could stay that magic perfect age, never getting sick or old, and never having nerve-wracking health problems.  Sigh.  I know that will never be… .  Truth be told, I have used my milk cow as an excuse to avoid social functions, for that reason alone  – Get a cow! 🙂


Nor do I count my time churning butter for our winter stores.  I would rather be home milking my cow, and making butter, than I would be going to work, to earn the money to buy butter and spending the time going to the store to purchase milk and other dairy products.  If I’m home I can grow other food we need too.  Trust me, growing most of the food you need for a year, IS a full time job.

//" target="_blank">View Raw Image</a>
Trace wants that radish, I’m glad he hasn’t figured out he can just help himself in the garden.

My milking chores change too, as the lactation progresses.  This time Della lost her calves, so I will not have a milking helper, so that is increasing my time a little.  Also, Della is on pasture, so I’m not cleaning her stall, because she isn’t spending any time there.   During the winter she will be pastured closer to the barn and I won’t have to lead her from across the road, I’ll just be able to open a gate and she will walk to her stall to be milked.  So my chores change with the seasons, but they seem to roughly take 45 minutes each time.   So I don’t know if any of this helps, or hurts if you are trying to decide if you can fit in a milk cow.  For most of my milk cow career, I did work full time, I have only not worked off the farm for the last 7 years, roughly the time I have been milking Della, so it is doable, but you have to like cattle, and be motivated to take proper care of them. 

I would honestly say there is nothing romantic about keeping a milk cow, unless you are a cow lover like me.  You need to have more vested in this venture than just wanting milk.
Cows are thinking and feeling beings, and modern dairy cattle can be fraught with health problems that requires keen observation to detect, and treat.  Even a homestead breed like a Dexter requires the utmost attention during lactation.  If you are taking too much milk, you are shorting the calf, not enough, and you are short at the house.

This all takes time, you just have to decide if it is worth your time…  Next a “new” wrinkle in my dairy plans – you won’t believe what I have come up with this time.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Kristen permalink
    September 21, 2008 4:30 am

    I sooo want a milk cow but just don’t know where to start. The other day I heard on the news that the FDA is going to let them genetically alter the meat at the grocery store to grow bigger and faster!!!! I think that was the last straw for my husband and I and now we are trying to plan on how to grow our own meat…the only thing we have ever done was fruit and vegies and eggs. It’s a little bit scary but exciting all the same.

  2. September 21, 2008 7:02 am

    The other day, my mother asked me if I regretted getting my dairy animals (we have been milking saanen goats for the past year and a half). I was walking towards the milking shed with bucketts, ending a visit with her (she didn’t feel like hanging out while I milked). I know that from my mother’s perspective, having to be home everyday to milk interferes with other things, particularly attending events she wants me at. I was a little floored by my mother’s question. I know that I often tell her I will be late arriving or not going at all to some family event because of caring for our animals. But that’s an added benefit, not a detraction to us. It was funny, within a week, my mother in law said something similar to my wife. We laughed, as we had the same feelings about the question. What a silly thing to thing to ask. Do I regret having my own fresh milk to drink and not being dependant on corporate agriculture for my food supply? Of course not. That’s just silly.

    And yes, it does take more effort than driving to the store to buy milk, and I forgo cash income by not applying that time to employment. But I wouldn’t want to be working for someone else during that time anyway. Working my own land is easily worth twice what someone would pay me for that time. And I get to feel like I have done the right thing.

    Thanks for the discussion of butter making. We make fresh cheese, chevre and yogurt but I haven’t tried butter yet. I am encouraged to try after reading your description.

  3. September 21, 2008 7:26 am

    Kristen, don’t be scared. You can do it, you already have horses, so a grazing animal won’t be much different, except you probably won’t have to ride it. 😉 I’m biased because I eat beef, but two beef steers would be easy to handle, and you can have someone do mobile slaughter, unless you are so inclined. Does hubby hunt? Dressing a beef is the same as a deer, you just need a gambrel and a tractor bucket or some way to hoist the carcass as you skin, and gut. I said two steers so one would have company and you could sell the meat from the second one to offset any costs you might have.

    Or you could do lambs, or goats, just raise what you want to eat. I suggest cattle usually because they are easier to fence in than the smaller animals. Even a bad permanent fence with hot wire works on cows. Usually the only reason cattle get out is because they are hungry. And, when I say hungry I mean for palatable grass, not the old tall brown dead stuff that is usally offered up for pasture.

    MMP, I know what you mean, family members have tried to get us to break our milking time, by scheduling holiday dinners an hour before our chore time. It never worked on us trying to be controlled like that. We would always come late and suffer through the commenting period. We were polite though, and never said how crappy their store bought prepackaged food was, and we just endured. They will never get it. I read somewhere in one of Joel Salatins books (of course now I can’t find the sentence) that if you provided most of your food, firewood and water, that was the equivalent of a $30,000 (take-home) salary. Our joke around here is that the only thing we buy at the store is junk food!
    Any food we raise, is not taxed, which increases it’s value. I get mad everytime someone compares our food, which is better than organic, to regular food in the stores. There is NO comparison!
    But, this lifestyle takes discipline, it’s hard work but enjoyable work. Never a dull moment for sure.

    A friend of mine has La Mancha’s and she has a hard time separating the cream fraction of the goats milk. Since the cows milk separates readily, it is much easier to churn with. I have not ever had enough time to make any hard cheeses, which is what we like the best, I’ve taken classes, and have all the equipment, but I never can watch the cheese close enough to get consistent results. I have a friend who makes great cheese, but her role in the household is more “wife like” than mine, I’m outside too much of the day, and she doesn’t have to milk, her husband does that, so for me it is a time factor. I have had good success with mozzarella though.

  4. September 21, 2008 9:14 am

    We make mozarella also. Chevre is a good one because it doesn’t take a lot of oversight. Bring in clean milk, warm from the udder. Into a sterile container. Add culture (ma) and rennet. Put it in a cooler with equal amount of hot water. 18 hours later strain whey from the curd through cheese cloth. Let drain for three hours. put it in a food processor with seasoning (salt, pepper and chive for us) to smooth the texture. Eat with crackers or bread, on salads, as a addition to hearty meat dishes, or however you like.

    I don’t know what it would taste like with cows milk instead of goat, but probably not that much different than our saanen milk. Saanen milk is very mild, many people wouldn’t notice the difference from cow’s milk if you didn’t make a point of it.


  5. September 21, 2008 10:08 am

    Thanks for the chevre tip, on a lot of cheeses the only difference between using cow or goat milk is the temperature adjustment. Feta is easy too. A cooler works good for yogurt too, just enough insulation to keep the temperature right, and it uses no electricity.

    My friend’s LaMancha goat milk is good too, I think the diet has a lot to do with the taste. I agree I think some people just have a mental image of goat’s milk, and it’s not always true – I’ve had strong cows milk too, where people fed their cows coles.

  6. September 21, 2008 10:38 am

    I loved your video, you DO milk fast!

  7. September 21, 2008 12:09 pm

    You’re making me miss my cow, I always enjoyed milking time most of the time at least. I milked mine from the right side and I see you milking from the left, are you left handed (not that it matters)? Just curious.

  8. September 21, 2008 1:51 pm

    Michelle, thanks. A lot of that speed has to do with the cow letting her milk down, if she doesn’t I would have to work for it!

    Linda, don’t all teary eyed on me – you can come milk if you want. I know how bossman feels about having a nail in his shoe. I train my cows to both sides, but I quit using my stanchion and just tie them, so I like to have them against a wall, with me acting as the wall on the other side.

    I am ambidextrous, but I write with my right hand. But I do lots of things like a left handed person. Every year I had at least one left handed knitter in my 4-H club, so I had to teach myself how to knit left handed, just so I could help them.

    Is it a Canadian thing to milk on the right? Or just your preference?

  9. September 21, 2008 5:48 pm

    I enjoyed your post as ALWAYS!! Animals do tie you down that is why you do it when the time is right. We do not travel but locally and we only do a few trips a year and getting someone to tend our critters is usually not an issue. We help our neighbors (we are raising a pig for them now) and they help us. I look forward to producing our own milk hopefully by spring. Right now we have a free source of milk(local store) for our pigs and they suck it right up.
    I had considered a milking machine initially but I think we will hand milk. Today we all had the chance to milk a goat at the fair, it was fun!:)

  10. September 22, 2008 6:09 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you (!) for your last two posts. Since our initial foray into homesteading or whatever you want to call it (everything must be labeled at all costs it seems), I’ve come to the conclusion that dairy animals will not be feasible for us until we get more land. It’s a big disappointment; and I could keep a cow and stuff her full of corn…but that would completely defeat the purpose.

    In the meantime, I will be buffing up on the trillion other skills I want//need to have in order to feed my family off the land. In the end, I will most likely be grateful that I wasn’t able to jump into EVERYTHING all at once.

    Still, when the time comes I know I will be prepared, thanks in part to your excellent blog. Thanks again for sharing what you know with people like me who don’t know….anything (yet)


  11. Judi In PA permalink
    September 22, 2008 7:26 am

    I can’t believe how similar our lives are and how our opinions are interchangeable. Sometimes, when you mention something, I get shivers because I feel the exact same way. The avoiding social functions comment blew me away. I use that way too much and I think others are starting to catch on. Who cares, as it has gotten me out of weekend family trips that I absolutely dread. (I always got stuck with all the getting reading, cooking, and cleaning up! Even when there were other perfectly healthy adults that could have at least washed the dishes) Anyway, I will continue to handmilk because for one, I love it. I love having my own milk, butter and cheeses, I love being off the supermarket grid, (We, too, joke that the only reason, we go the store is for junk food and toilet paper. Ever since, we bought the “new” 32 year old combine which shells the corn, we don’t have corncobs anymore!) I also like to handmilk because as you said, it builds up amazingly strong fingers and hands. I can’t tell you the times that my husband will get me to untighten a rusty blot, because the job required small, stong fingers. Handmilking doesn’t require cleaning out that dog gone milking machine which adds extra time and wastes energy. And the best part of handmilking? I absolutely love the smell of my cow and my head leaning on her. There is nothing like it on a cold winter morning.
    Would you believe that we even use the same butter churn? It was my grandmas and I love it! I don’t use an electric butter churn, for one I don’t have one and secondly, I just love watching the whole butter process. My momma who has been confined to a wheelchair for over a year now, sometimes feels like a burden because she can no longer help us to keep this family farm going. I give her the “job” of churning the butter and am getting three fold results. She feels like she is contributing, which in turn, gives her a confidence boost and a will to keep plugging along. She has the arms of a twenty year old instead of 71 and she churns the best butter!
    Got your”hint’ about having my own blog and I have thought about it except the problem is… this computer and myself are not friends. We have a mutual decision to dislike each other. Plus, as I can barely get the things that I need to get done now, I’m not sure where blogging would fit in. I already spend way too much time, “lurking and leaving comments.” I’m not one of those people that can stay up late at night to get things done…well, I can stay up, it’s just that I can’t function the next day. Five thirty AM comes too early now as it is! Maybe someday…thanks for all the imformative dairy posts. I have learned some new things with the butter and milking,even though I have been doing it all my life. Just proves that you learn something every day, if you want too.

  12. September 22, 2008 12:45 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. I usually save your blog until later in the day so I can think about it while doing the evening feeding.

    Being “tied down” by having animals is really hard to explain to non-farm-y friends and relatives. They just don’t get it. They spend so much time and money and emotions running around trying to find something to entertain themselves. All I have to do is walk down to the barn and there’s everything I could ever want.

  13. Kristen permalink
    September 22, 2008 2:46 pm

    I agree with Pamela….our new “tv show” is watching the chickens after dinner… is hard to be bored on a farm!!!

  14. September 22, 2008 8:10 pm

    Great post, MOH! I’m still waiting for the mental ‘YES!’ when I think about getting a milk cow and I think it’s getting closer.

    I’m working on DH (and behind his back!) to make the farm chores more doable for a woman with a three year old and occasional arthritis. I’m thinking that, if I’m going to be out there more regularly anyway, it only makes sense to have the cow I want.

    I’m with Amanda about being grateful for not being able to jump into everything at once. While we don’t have the learning curve of true newbies – having farmed all our lives – actually producing all the food we need is different than running a large dairy and heading to the grocery store to fill the fridge.

    Your blog is my favourite thing to read online. Getting to read comments from so many like minded folks is (homemade sweet cheese) icing on the cake. 😉

  15. September 22, 2008 8:19 pm

    As much as I want a milk cow, chances are, it probably won’t happen. We have 15 acres, but most of it is wooded. Maybe 2 acres cleared land and on that, sits our house and the garden area. I will probably settle for goats and maybe a couple of pigs.

    There is a farm nearby with lots of cows, just down the road from us. I’d walk over if there was a wider shoulder on the road… They have cows and I wonder if they milk any of them? Might be time to introduce myself, eh? When we drive by, I look for the cows and they are out in the fields, munching on the grass. They look healthy to me, but I am no farmer with a trained eye to spot for faults like you.

    I agree with one of your commentors– put all this knowledge into a book!! I’d buy it. Lucky me, I get to read it all here! Thanks for sharing and teaching us! :o)

  16. September 24, 2008 6:40 am

    wow, what a great, detailed post! I suspect I’ll never have a milk cow, but there’s no telling what the future holds. But since most of my land is woods and I’m only clearing about an acre in front of where the house will be (at least for now)…. probably not! I loved looking at the vid and learning more about what’s involved.

  17. Kjersti permalink
    September 25, 2008 11:25 am

    Dear MoH,

    I love your blog and read it daily. I don’t know how you find the time to keep it up so beautifully and do everything else, but I am grateful for it.

    I am writing with a chicken/goat question, as you answered my last chidken question so well.

    My mom salvaged 4 cases of expired baby formula from the dump a couple of days ago thinking there must be some use for it. She thought of putting it in the compost, which is fine. I’m wondering if it can be mixed with warm water and used for chickens/goats in addition to or instead of water on some winter mornings when it is in the -20 or colder range? Or maybe made into a paste that they peck up? Or maybe…? Or whether it is better to skip the whole idea and put it more directly into the garden. I don’t believe it is soy formula, but is milk based, if that makes any difference, or maybe it is some of each.

    Thanks for any help you can give,


  18. September 27, 2008 6:16 pm

    Yep, wish I had room for a cow. Loving your blog and your photos, they are really lovely. A delight for the eyes.

  19. September 30, 2008 9:46 am

    I’m sure MOH would have some wise words for Kjersti but I thought I’d put my two cents in before the formula got fed to someone.

    My guess is that the formula got to the dump because it was thought to contain the Melamine that has been turning up in all kinds of milk products from China. Yes, that is Melamine, as in counter top material.

    Personally, I would err on the side of caution and not feed it to anything living, including your garden and compost pile. Few things actually belong in the dump, but that might be one of them!

    Cheers and I hope you don’t mind my jumping in, MOH!


  20. January 8, 2010 12:12 pm

    I just stumbled on your blog and have no idea if you will get this comment or not. I have dairy goats and love love love milking! I too have used my goats as a convenient excuse to get out of family functions. Oh…sorry…….can’t……..gotta be home to milk! I’ve had family members say……..well can’t you just not milk this once……..uh sure! Or this is my favorite……..bring the goat with you! Again……..sure I’ll just toss her in the trunk of the car and we’ll be on our way! I can see you’ve got a lot of fabulous information here and I look forward to persuing your blog!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: