This post assumes you intend to HAND-MILK a new cow.
Online, you will see lots of information on getting started with a milk cow. You will likely bring home a pregnant cow in milk from a dairy who has previously been milked with a milking machine. The biggest problem with this (which is not really a problem at all) is that she knows a routine…and you are going to be trying to break it and establish a different one.
Step One: Be Realistic
The first day or two the cow is in your barn, you should not worry about drinking any milk. Realistically, you should focus on getting the cow home and settled in on day one. At the first milking, expect total chaos. Everything will be new for the cow–including hand-milking. It will be no problem getting her locked into a station for milking–anything that safely secures her head over her feed bowl. Her back half will be the trouble area. She will probably move around, kick (not dangerous if you stay in front of her back legs), poop, urinate and make a mess of herself and you. If you’re realistic about what’s going on for both you and the cow, this will be perfectly comfortable. Forget the milk, just settle in together.
Step Two: Keep the Cow Milking
Your goal when you get started is not to get milk into the house, but to get milk out of the cow. She has to be milked to keep her production up and to keep her healthy. Maintain her daily milking schedule (5am, 5pm probably) and keep her milking. Again, don’t worry about drinking any milk yet…let things calm down and let a routine develop. One thing at a time.
Step Three: Keep the Cow Clean
Cleanliness demands routine and without a routine, your cow will probably get pretty dirty. Simply tie her to a tree and clean her up in the midafternoon with a hose and scrub brush. Get any dirt and manure off of her and keep her clean. If she’s coming from a dairy, she’s probably used to getting sprayed with hoses.
Step Four: Milk in Mason Jars
Your first week of milking is going to be messy. While everyone loves to buy equipment, my advice is: don’t. If you try to stick your fancy stainless steel milking pail under your new cow, she’s going to stick her feet in your milking pail. I guarantee it. Until she’s calm and learns to keep her feet still, don’t be an idiot and try to keep your milk in a pail under her. Give it time.
Milk her directly into a mason jar, one teat at a time. This is obviously time consuming and temporary, but you’ll get milk much cleaner and sooner than you will trying to start milking her into a bucket. You can get a gallon of fresh milk in your mason jars and then empty the rest into your pail…and let her kick it all over the barn. Remember, it’s important to get the milk out of her.
Step Five: Give Plenty of Hay and Water
At the dairy, your cow ate a lot of silage (chopped up forage that has been preserved) and you may not have any. If worse comes to worse keep the cow eating hay. The cow needs fiber more importantly than it needs silage or grains, so keep the hay steady. Make sure she has a full tank of clean water to help with digestion and milk production. You can slowly bring the grains up to speed so long as her hay intake remains constant.
Step Six: Learn Privately
One thing I hate, really hate, about starting something new is that it attracts all the know-it-alls. They don’t have a cup of milk from a cow, but they’ll be there laughing at your early mistakes and telling what “they say…”. You have to learn patiently and quietly and you can’t be afraid of making mistakes…this is a big deal and a wonderful opportunity. Don’t let people ruin it…I say learn privately. Remember too that, while it is all for the family, kids can give the cow a lot of unnecessary anxiety…let them keep away until things are calm. Get the cow settled in with as few distractions as possible so that a routine can be established and you can enjoy the experience in peace and quiet, making mistakes and having a blast.