On Having a Milk Cow: Part Three

A bunch of you have asked me to tell more about having a milk cow. If you missed part one, here it is.  Part two is here.

Part three. Milking.

I grew up in a farming community. My mom grew up on a dairy farm. I have family members earning their livelihood as farmers. My dad is a large animal veterinarian. I lived on a hobby farm with cows. I learned a lot about how to judge a quality cow through 4-H. All that and I somehow made it my whole childhood without filling a bucket hand milking. Sure, I tried it a time or two. Just a squirt or two to figure out how to make the milk come out.  But I never hand milked for real.

Hand milking is one of those things that you cannot learn from books, internet searches, youtube videos or advice from others. You learn it through your own struggles.

That first day I don't think I'll ever forget. It was hot, humid. I was up early with our two kids and a fresh air kid. Everyone wanted to help. Everyone was loud and going crazy, likely from the excitement of the whole hullabaloo.  I was trying to not get kicked or stepped on as the cow moved constantly. I was trying to not squirt myself in the face and trying to get the milk in the actual bucket. I was trying to prevent the bucket from being tipped over too, all while monitoring kids' behavior and dealing with the switch of the cow's tail smacking me in the face every second.  I was out there an hour and a half. An HOUR and  A HALF. And I had hardly anything to show for it.

"Don't cry. Don't cry. Don't cry."  That was my mantra I said to myself. "You WILL get this."  I mean I adopted a milk cow, for crying out loud. I HAD to get this. 

Next day, I was thinking I was doing better. And then she kicked the bucket.

Whoever said "Don't cry over spilled milk" surely wasn't the one out there hand milking as the sun rises, watching as your hard work runs rapidly out of the bucket, a steady stream right into the gutter. 

I did cry a bit in those early days. Not just because of the milk situation but also because my kids totally weren't themselves. They are so used to getting up with me, regardless of when I wake. The second my foot hits the stair, I hear "mama!".  I had to leave for work at 7:30 am and was getting up at 5:30am.  They weren't going to be any earlier. We were all exhausted.

I never really got discouraged. I have this eternal optimism quality (which can be annoying at times). I always believe it would work out. 

Slowly, I figured things out.

I don't have to get up every few minutes now, my body is used to sitting cramped on that little milking stool. 

My hands are so much stronger, I have milking muscles now. And I've got the rhythm of milking.

I now tie her tail to her leg so I'm not smacked in the head constantly with that switch.

I can aim like you wouldn't believe now.  That bucket can be half way across the barn and I can squirt the milk right in there.

I now know what true letdown feels like (which I didn't before, I think my struggles in the early days were because she never fully let down).  Probably controversial, but I let the calf on to give me that letdown quickly. 

I still dump the bucket everytime I have a quart or so in case she kicks the bucket, but she really doesn't anymore.  (Knock on wood).

Having the kids in there talking to me helps too. Calms us all.

The hour and a half of milking has turned into well over a gallon in 30-40 minutes (That's with getting up a time or two to check on my littles). I've only been at this for 2 months now, so I still have room to grow.

I have also tried simple, non expensive machine milker.  While a tricky beginning, I have gotten it to work now. Only it isn't really my thing, the machine milker. Nor does Ophelia prefer it.  It's good to have a backup in the event I am unable to milk for a day.

Do I dread milking? No. I don't.  I really don't mind getting up early and heading out during the crisp air with the new sunrise to that warm barn to spend my morning.  Is it my absolute favorite thing to do? No. (That would be sewing!).  It's sort of like doing laundry or washing dishes or cooking or gardening to me. Not how I'd spend my whole day if I had the choice, but something that I enjoy enough to do for my family because I love them. I'm just glad she has her calf still, as I think I would be overwhelmed with milking more than once a day with all other commitments (work in particular).

So am I glad we have a milk cow now? Yes, I am.  I enjoy looking out my kitchen window and seeing the duo grazing.  I love when I come home, she bellows for me. I love that she turns to her name. I love that my kids have this experience.  I love that she runs for me as I approach the fence. I love that I have halter trained them. I love that having them makes our homestead feel complete. I have been learning so much about using milk to make things with all my excess. But that?  That's another post entirely. Be watching for that one.


  1. What a wonderful addition to your homestead and your daily routine. It's in the natural rhythms of our life where we feel most peaceful. Enjoy, my friend.

  2. I would love a milk cow someday! I'm not sure we have the time with small children right now, but hopefully someday we can manage one when we get more land. I feel like we could meet a lot of our dairy needs with the fresh milk. Do you drink it raw or pasteurize it?

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