Self-sufficient farming: Milking a cow

Keeping livestock for milk is one of the oldest and most traditional ways of self-sufficient farming and it is still a way of ensuring food security today. Many  types of livestock – including sheep, goats and cattle – can be kept to supply milk.
If you would like regular, plentiful supplies of fresh milk daily, with excesses available to produce products like cheese and butter, a dairy cow is your best choice. 

How much milk does a cow produce?
For a cow to produce milk she will need to be mated 9 months prior in order to give birth to a calf. When she has calved, milk production will continue for up to 10 months. At that point, she should be ‘dried off’ in preparation for her next calving two months later. On average, a milking cow will produce between 35-50 litres of milk each day, with the daily amount decreasing as the season progresses.

Milking routine
Milking a cow is a big commitment. Routine is important, so try to milk each day at around the same time, ideally at 12 hour intervals. The simplest system for those with a 9-to-5 job is to milk your cow once a day and keep the ‘calf at foot’. The calf should be separated from its mother in the morning for the late afternoon's milking to ensure you 'get your share' of the day’s production. Once the cow is milked, the calf can be reunited with its mother for overnight grazing.

When milking once a day, the calf will require additional feed supplements (calf pellets) plus daily access to fresh pasture, hay and water during the period when it is separated from its mother.   

Milking a cow

How to milk a cow?
Hand milking is the traditional method of getting milk from a cow. To be successful, it requires an efficient method and a patient approach.

Basic steps of hand milking
Step 1 – Lead the cow into the milking stall. Have a mixed ration of grain or quality hay ready and waiting. 

Step 2 – Check the teats. If they are visible dirty, wash the udder with clean water. Cow teats are otherwise surprisingly hygienic. Dry each teat, especially the teat tips. Applying water unnecessarily increases the risk of an udder infection (mastitis).

A cow will normally let down her milk by the time milking is ready to commence, with udder massaging often unnecessary. Milk let-down typically lasts for 10 minutes so try to complete the process within this period. 

Step 3 – Squirt the first milk from each teat into a cup to check for blood or lumps. This may indicate mastitis, so if you find this, do not consume the milk.

Step 4 – Place a sterile milking pale slightly in front of the udder and take a seat. A plastic crate or squat wooden stool is ideal.

Step 5 – Wrap the thumb and forefinger around the top of the teat to trap the milk, then slowly squeeze (don’t pull) the teat, bringing in each other finger one at a time in a smooth sequential rolling action, forcing the milk out. Rotate from one teat to the other allowing each to refill.

Step 6 – Once the milk stops, dip or spray each teat with an iodine based teat sanitiser before releasing the cow.

How to milk a cow

Machine milking
If hand milking all sounds a bit much, there is always the option of machine milking.  Benefits of machine milking include the speed at which milking gets  done, improved milking routines (no delays) and enhanced milk let-down due to the pulsation of the machine. 

There are mobile milking machines suited to hobby farms that run on 240 volt power. These machines are capable of milking up to six cows an hour or  fifteen goats. Dairy Maid Milking Equipment supplies these machines which cost approximately $1500.

Cattle breeds and cow selection
The most popular dairy cows used for home milking are the Jersey or Guernsey. If you don’t need much milk, or if you are concerned about handling a  normal sized cow, small cattle breeds like the miniature Galloway are a worthy alternative.

The most popular dairy cows used for home milking are the Jersey or Guernsey. If you don’t need much milk, or if you are concerned about handling a normal sized cow, small cattle breeds like the miniature Galloway are a worthy alternative.

Selecting and trying to milk a cow that is not accustomed to hand milking, e.g. direct from a farmer’s herd, is a dangerous option. As a first time milker,  you should locate a cow that is broken in, i.e. one that is quiet and able to be led by a halter. 

Handling your cow
First time milkers should use a milking stall, which will protect both the milker and the cow until she becomes familiar with the process. 

While milking, talk calmly and regularly to your cow and let her know your whereabouts by stroking and patting her. A cow should want to be milked, and if  she is unsettled, something is usually  wrong. Don’t lose your temper. If necessary, walk away and try again later; this won’t hurt her. 

In time, any cow will become very friendly, even affectionate, and will certainly want to be milked. Milking time will then be something for both of you to  enjoy.

Where to from here?
For further information on self-sufficient farming and how to milk a cow, we recommend you purchase a copy of Dairy Agskills. This book provides information on breeding, feeding, animal welfare and managing calving cows.

About the author
The author Charlie Roberts is one of the FarmStyle Australia experts, he runs this website and has a Bachelor of Farm Management and a Masters of Business Administration. He has worked for a number of agricultural companies in both New Zealand and Australia. He has a wealth of experience working with farmers in a range of environments.

Active forum topics

Topic Replies Last post Forum
3034 Partnership Farming/land ownership - some questions before entering in
bySheffo on Sun, 08/14/2016 - 18:17
5
by barra
Tue, 08/15/2017 - 14:54
General Forum
7213 "Chicken Tractors"
byPadwah on Mon, 05/10/2021 - 11:11
1
by admin
Mon, 05/10/2021 - 11:41
Poultry
736 $20,000 turnover off of 44 acres.
byAlex Hughes on Fri, 03/16/2012 - 10:10
1
by charlie
Mon, 03/19/2012 - 13:04
Farming Help
2465 12 acres and contracted water lisence. What to do?
byJT on Sun, 07/19/2015 - 11:59
4
by JT
Wed, 07/22/2015 - 19:53
General Forum
5451 17 year old with a strong passion for agriculture
byJames F on Wed, 01/09/2019 - 19:21
0
by James F
Wed, 01/09/2019 - 19:21
New Members
2208 2 yr old Dorper as a pet?
bymolly_chick on Sun, 12/07/2014 - 17:33
3
by barb
Fri, 12/12/2014 - 10:11
General Forum
3282 2009/2010 Hay net issues
bykneebiesfam on Fri, 11/17/2017 - 14:05
1
by admin
Fri, 11/17/2017 - 16:01
General Forum
5759 3 Point Linkage small Backhoe attachment
bytommitchweir@g… on Sat, 07/06/2019 - 10:05
1
by steventh
Sat, 07/13/2019 - 19:36
General Forum
2403 3rd time lucky!
byKaz on Fri, 05/22/2015 - 18:26
1
by barb
Fri, 05/22/2015 - 20:49
New Members
2461 5 Acres is the place to Be
byCap on Sat, 07/18/2015 - 08:44
3
by barb
Sun, 07/19/2015 - 08:08
New Members
2618 7 acres of red volcanic soil - what to do with it?
bySusannamc on Sun, 10/11/2015 - 14:18
1
by barb
Sun, 10/11/2015 - 16:40
General Forum
1843 A one-off Income over $20000 - Do I need an ABN?
bylittabeauty@ya… on Sun, 03/09/2014 - 10:16
1
by charlie
Sun, 03/09/2014 - 22:51
Farming Help
2544 Abattoir experiences and costings
byBlack Locust on Sun, 08/23/2015 - 20:13
2
by barb
Mon, 09/07/2015 - 11:20
General Forum
5484 Abattoir options
bysummit1966 on Sun, 03/17/2019 - 22:43
0
by summit1966
Mon, 04/01/2019 - 14:33
Butcher meat
1426 ABN number for small farm
byivan4ilse on Thu, 11/01/2012 - 18:52
3
by ivan4ilse
Tue, 11/20/2012 - 18:52
Farming Help
3812 About to be HobbyFarmers
byHumbugFarmer on Fri, 07/20/2018 - 09:30
1
by admin
Wed, 07/25/2018 - 19:27
New Members
5473 Acreage with a tree plantation
byDan13L on Mon, 02/18/2019 - 01:43
1
by admin
Tue, 02/26/2019 - 16:30
General Forum
2733 Acres for rent??
byleckie on Wed, 01/27/2016 - 14:18
0
by leckie
Wed, 01/27/2016 - 14:18
Farming Help
2692 Advice on buying a new box trailer - can it transport livestock?
byBlack Locust on Wed, 12/30/2015 - 23:01
3
by barb
Thu, 12/31/2015 - 16:39
Farming Help
2375 Advice on paddock agreement
byKaz on Tue, 04/28/2015 - 07:55
6
by barb
Fri, 05/01/2015 - 12:40
General Forum

Our Sponsors

Our Partners

  •  Rivendell finance