Information pertaining to the owning of a house cow and the production and use of home dairy products has been included on this site for information only. Neither the author of this information nor DCAI take any responsibility for the actions of individuals producing or utilising dairy products.
DCAI advises all individuals to make their own enquiries regarding any regulations, laws and safety pertaining to the production, use and sale of dairy products.
Frequently asked Questions
about Dexter House Cows
I have often been asked questions about why and how I keep a house cow. Being asked the questions has certainly made me think about all the aspects of having a house cow so I can pass on my knowledge and thoughts to others.
The following Q&A may be of assistance to you when deciding if keeping a house cow is right for you.
Why would you want your own house cow?
I have asked myself the same question and can only come up with the following answers as to why I keep a house cow, but you may have other reasons.
Home produced Dexter milk:
tastes better than shop milk,
you know what’s in it,
it’s not homogenized or pasteurized,
it’s fairly easy to make a range of products apart from the fresh milk eg. cream, yoghurt, even soft cheeses,
I find milking very relaxing.
How much Milk will a Dexter cow produce?
Ideally, your Dexter house cow will be able to give an adequate supply of milk for both her calf, and your family needs. Not all Dexter cows produce the same amount of milk so choosing the right type from parentage known for udder type and production is important.
Do I need to milk her every day?
This is a question I am often asked. Not everyone that wants a house cow, is home all the time - so the thought of being tied to a cow waiting to be milked twice a day can be daunting.
Owning a house cow is not like running a commercial dairy where the calves are removed from their mothers within a few days of being born, so the cows need to be milked several times a day, every day.I don’t milk my cows everyday.
As I work Monday-Friday, I only milk on the weekend. On the other days, I just leave the cow and calf together and the calf does the milking for me. This means I have the best of both worlds - fresh milk when I want it, and the freedom to carry on with the other aspects of my life.
What do I need to look for when Selecting a cow?
The three key things that make a good house cow are temperament, udder structure and conformation.
Probably the most important, particularly for first time house cow owners is temperament.
It is essential to have a quiet animal, at least halter broken and well handled. For novices it is preferable to buy a cow that has already been trained to be milked.
If you want to train a young cow yourself it is wise to find someone who is experienced, that is prepared to show you the basics and give you pointers on the appropriate handling and safety precautions.
Remember when you are milking your cow your head is going to be quite close to her back legs and hooves.
The udder size does not always dictate the amount of milk the cow will produce.
A young first time calver generally will not produce as much as a more mature cow. Generally you could expect a cow to come into full production on her third calf.
The other trait to look for is a cows "let down reflex". A lactating cow keeps her milk well stored so it does not just run out as the udder fills. When the udder is stimulated by the calf nudging her udder, the cow lets the milk down so the calf can suckle. This same reflex is what makes the milk available to us when we milk.
Though it is not common, some cows are reluctant to let the milk down for humans and so can be reluctant milkers.
Understanding the structural conformation of the udder is also important and is a whole topic on its own which has been covered is a separate section.
The points include: size, shape, attachment - front, rear, central or suspensory ligament, teats, udder floor, the let-down reflex. The overall conformation of a cow will determine her capacity for a long healthy live, her ability to produce strong well structured calves and her ability to produce quality milk in suitable volumes.
An overall balanced and correct conformation is an important consideration when choosing a house cow. A cow needs good feet and legs to ensure mobility so she can graze easily and keep up with her calf. A broad chest allows plenty of room for the heart and lungs. This is the engine room for good health, circulation and feed conversion. A house cow is an investment of time and money and a good structure will ensure you get the best from your cow for many years. When choosing your cow it is wise to make your self aware of the structural guidlines of the DCAI Breed standard, read up on linear classification and conformation and seek the advice of a more experience breeder when selecting your cow.
Management of the cow:
Feeding – the more she is expected to produce, the more she needs to be fed. The best guide is the cows weight, if she is losing weight, feed her more. Especially in winter pasture may not be enough, you need to consider the need to buy feed. Maintaining a good balance of minerals, trace elements and parasite contral are essential to the nutritional managment of your cow if she is to remain productive.
To produce milk, the cow needs to have a calf.
She can produce a calf each year, as cows have a nine- month gestation period. I find it best to wean the calf around 6-8 months to give the cow a break before the next calf is born.
Getting Your cow into calf:
The easiest way is to use a bull.
For people with only a few cows, it is probably not that easy to own your own bull, but you can lease bull’s from some breeders.
Artificial insemination provides an alterenative to keeping or leasing a bull but it takes a bit more planning and work, which may not be convenient if you work off-farm.
Now! Down to the real issue - Milking
The first thing to know is you will find your own process. We all have our own way of reaching the same result, and we all relate differently to our animals. Once you get started you will find you develop your own way of doing things.
To help you get started, this is the way I do things – which may give you some ideas to help you along the way.My process is to halter train the heifers while they are quite young, around 6 months old, and get them used to being handled, running my hands under their bellies and down their legs etc to get an idea of their temperament.
After they have a calf, I will initially just squeeze a bit of milk from the teat onto the ground to see how they react. Over a few days I will milk a bit longer and introduce the bucket, again seeing how they respond. Once you are comfortable they will stand with the bucket under them and allow you to milk, I separate the calf overnight and milk what I want first thing in the morning.
I want my cows to be able to be milked anywhere so I don’t use the crush and rather than sitting on something I kneel on one knee so I can move fairly quickly if the cow starts to fidget or looks like kicking.
I bribe the cow with feed and let the calf in to suckle at the same time, that usually keeps them fairly still and ensures they will ‘let down’ their milk. The cream comes down last, so if you want cream, strip out 1 quarter as much as you can and leave the other quarters for the calf.
Squeeze the milk out by closing each finger in turn, don’t pull down on the teat.
Having said all that, I would recommend the use of a crush or milking bale for training your cow, at least until you are fully familiar with her and her behaviours. It is always wise to use practices that keep you and the cow safe and comfortable. For a novice, it is probably best to buy a cow that has already been at least halter broken, and well handled.
Processing the milk:
Equipment needed – pretty basic a bucket (plastic is fine), something to strain the milk (a loosely woven tea-towel is fine), a bowl / jug to put the milk into the fridge (if you want to skim the cream off), otherwise a clean glass bottle is fine.
Milk is a great medium for bacteria to multiply in, so get the milk into the fridge as soon as possible. Wash everything you have used thoroughly in hot soapy water, rinse with hot water, and leave to air dry for the next use. Using an appropriate disinfectant in the wash water will enhance the level of sterilization of you equipment.
What you can make with your Dexter milk?
Fresh milk for general household use is great for cooking, tea and coffee, on your cereal, and for baking.
But there are so many other things you can make with the milk.
The easiest is cream, after a few hours in the fridge, the cream will rise to the top of the milk and you can just skim it off with a spoon. You can use the cream as is, or beat it to make your own butter – again fairly easy, I got my method off the internet.
Yoghurt is also pretty easy if you have an electric yoghurt maker. You will need a starter culture which can be a spoonful of commercial yoghurt, or you can buy a specialist yoghurt starter. I have one which can be kept in the freezer, which is useful as I don’t use much at a time.
Lastly, you can make cheeses, which is a bit more complicated and time consuming. I haven’t tried making cheese yet, but I plan to in the future.
By: Paula McPherson – Sandy Creek Dexter Stud