So you’re thinking about bringing home a family milk cow? It’s time to hit the books and dive into Family Milk Cow 101! There is a lot you need to know before you fill that first pail with milk including what dairy supplies you need to get started so you have the milking equipment on hand from day one!
Obviously, much of the milking equipment used today are luxuries compared to pioneer times. Technically, all you need is a pair of hands and a bucket. (Some would argue a stool, but I squat so it’s not a necessity.)
But we’ve learned a lot since those days and can ensure we have cleaner milk, a healthier cow, and less stress at milking time with a few extra dairy supplies.
8 Family Cow Dairy Supplies You Need to Get Started
Clean, safe milk requires clean teats before you start milking. There are several options available to you, some more economical than others. On our homestead we switch it up depending on what time of the year it is. During the summer when cows are out on grass they don’t get as dirty. Iodine-based teat dip is quick and does the trick. Some days in the winter it seems like you’ll need a garden hose to get her clean! (Can you blame her? Cow pies are warm.) On those days we carry out a bucket of warm, soapy water and scrub her down. Try a gentle, natural cleaner such as castile soap, but a squirt of dish soap will work as well.
Wash Rags or Disposable Towels
What you use to wash the teats with before milking is a matter of preference… and how much laundry you like to do. The most economical choice may seem to be reusable wash rags but while making the comparison don’t forget to factor in the detergent, water usage, energy usage, wear and tear on your washing machine and dryer, and the time it will take for cleaning reusable wash rags.
Can you tell which we use?
My personal preference is to dispose of the paper towels that are filthy after washing a cow. We tried reusable wash rags at first. Obviously you’re not going to run the washing machine just for one or two rags you used in a day so you let them accumulate for a week or so before running them through. All the while bacteria is growing on them. Our washing machine wasn’t able to get the smell out and it’s not a stretch to imagine then that it’s not removing all of the manure or bacteria either.
Disposable paper towels are the best solution for us when it comes to time, savings, and cleanliness. We use about one roll every week in the winter, every two weeks in the summer.
This seems like a no-brainer on a dairy supplies checklist, right? You need something to put the milk in while you’re taking it out of the cow. I can’t recommend stainless steel buckets highly enough!
If you think they’re unaffordable, shop around. There are some that are ridiculously priced, but others are much more reasonable. Why stainless steel though? It all comes back to sanitization. Hands down a stainless steel bucket is easier to clean, easier to sanitize, and doesn’t hold odors that will affect the flavor of your milk.
What size bucket you need will depend on how much milk your gal is likely to give. We have three 2-gallon buckets for our home dairy. One is our winter Wash Bucket, one is the Under Cow Bucket that the milk gets squirted into, and the other is our Transfer Bucket. The Under Cow Bucket gets poured into the Transfer Bucket a few times while milking. Just in case. There is nothing worse than getting to the finish line only to have the cow shift and spill the whole bucket of milk. Ok. I’m sure there’s worse things that can happen but in that moment it’s tragic. It makes me want to cry. (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.)
Iodine Teat Dip & Cup
Regardless of what dairy supplies you use to wash your cow’s teats & udder with prior to milking, when you’re done, you need to a teat dipper cup and iodine-based teat dip as a post wash. This is to kill mastitis-causing pathogens from getting into the teat after milking. We do not do this step while we are calf sharing, because there’s really no point. As soon as you turn mama back out the calf is gonna start sucking on her and its saliva has the same affect.
Filtering milk before bottling and refrigeration is a very necessary part of the sanitation process. It doesn’t matter how well you clean your cow prior to milking, little bits of stuff will get into your milk. Hairs, skin cells, bugs that flew in the bucket. You don’t want those in your milk.
Sure you can definitely use a cloth rag as a filter. We started with strips of old t-shirts, a rubber band and canning funnel.
But we don’t do that anymore.
Cloth funnels are inconsistent and can take a painstakingly long time to strain the milk. Time is of the essence when it comes to fresh, flavorful milk and once it’s out of the cow you want to get it chilled as fast as you can. I also hated the smell of spoiled milk rags in the laundry. And if that rag comes into contact with any of your other clothes before starting the wash, you can kiss those clothes goodbye, they’ll stink forever.
Disposable paper towels are an option, but they have can rip causing you to have to restrain the milk.
After we started using filtering discs specifically designed for straining milk, we never went back. Once you see the weave and how much more it collects it’s hard to consider the other options again. I find they’re also easier to see any chunks in the milk for detecting mastitis.
How long do you want to spend straining your milk? That’s the question you need ask yourself while choosing which funnel to add to your collection of dairy supplies.
Once again, a quick chill time is key to having the best milk that will last the longest in the refrigerator. (And don’t forget, there are other chores that need to be done on the homestead.) So while you can use canning funnels and coffee filters (and we have) we made the investment into a large capacity strainer funnel and get our milk in the fridge fast.
You’re going to need jars to store you milk. The best choice of jar is up to you. We use half gallon mason jars because the size is easier for children to handle than a full gallon jar. Make sure your jars are glass. Plastic containers are more difficult to clean and sanitize. They will hold flavors that will permeate your milk.
That’s been my experience with plastic lids as well. Milk will get between the threads and dry out. It’s difficult to see when it’s clean and you risk using a dirty lid on the next jar of milk.
If you’re reading this article, it’s pretty safe to say you’re new to this. And as with any new skill, it’s going to take a little while before you’re pretty efficient at this whole milk cow thing. If you are blessed with a really, and I mean really, good cow she will patiently stand while you milk her without a treat. But for most of us, our cows would rather be back in the pasture grazing away instead of standing there while you mess around underneath her.
Without a treat to incentivize good behavior, you risk switching tails, shifting legs, and even spilled milk IF you’re lucky and she doesn’t stick the whole foot in there and spoil your bucket too.
Not only that but if your cow knows she’s going to get a treat when she comes in to be milked, you won’t have to spend needless time chasing her around the pasture to bring her in for milking on the days she doesn’t want to.
You can feed your cow a small ratio of grain (which will help her maintain her body condition during her lactation, especially if she is a dairy breed instead of dual purpose) or alfalfa pellets if you prefer grass-fed only. If your new cow is used to a grain ration at milking though, she’ll probably turn up her nose at alfalfa.
That said, I’m a firm advocate of training your cow to know the “shake, shake,” of a scoop of grain in a bucket. I don’t care how staunchly you stand in Camp Grass-Fed only, do yourself a HUGE favor and train them know what that sound means. It will save you so many headaches while moving cows later! Once they know what that means (and it won’t take long) you don’t need to give them grain regularly. Trust me, they’ll remember what it means.
6 More Dairy Supplies Recommended To Make Your Life Easier
Having an udder balm to rub on your cows teats after milking is a great way to keep her skin healthy and supple. This is especially beneficial for older cows whose skin dries and cracks more readily or for cows who cut their teats on briars for example. You can purchase an udder balm or make your own. My favorite udder balm for cracked or cut teats is simply lanolin. It’s simply the most effective at healing, hands down.
Mastitis Test Kit
A mastitis test kit is an easy-to-use solution to help you detect mastitis before your cow gets sick from the infection. Early treatment is simple, quick, and has less of a milk withhold so your gal is healthy and milk is back in your fridge faster. With an early case of mastitis you can use a simple homemade product with essential oils compared to a full blown case that might require an injection into the teat to clear it up.
Halter or Collar & Lead Rope
Next to grain training, breaking your cow to a halter or lead rope is going to be one of the dairy supplies to own. It will make life with your new dairy cow easy breezy. Seriously. If she doesn’t want to come in for milking, you could spend an hour out there chasing her around till she decides she’s done running from you. A little “shake, shake” or a horse treat in your hand and she’ll come running for you. Snap on the lead while she takes the treat and you’re on your merry way.
Brushing your cow down before milking is not only a great way to bond with her but also removes any debris that may fall into your milk bucket later. We have a curry brush for when they’re shedding out in the spring and a regular stiff natural bristle brush for the rest of the year.
Hopefully, you’ll never need this tool. But it sure is handy to have if you do. There are several anti-kick devices available. You can find different types of hobbles but we prefer a simple bar that hooks under the flap of skin between the back leg and udder then up over the spine. It works to apply just enough pressure so she can’t lift her leg (or if she still can, it’s much slower so you can get out of the way.
I recommend purchasing one of these if you have a new-to-you cow (she’ll test you), a fresh cow (they’re bursting and sore so they kick more the first week or so), or if a cow has mastitis (for the same reason as a fresh cow… mastitis hurts!)
Going out to the pasture, bucket in hand to stoop beneath your cow while she peacefully stands grazing as you milk is totally romantic! Totally Ma Ingalls, I hear you, and I love the image it conjures up.
But as dreamy and pastoral as it sounds, there have been many times when I’ve been thankful for having a stanchion and a cow that’s willing to go in it.
A stanchion serves as a milking center to store all of your supplies needed nearby. Grain bucket, feed, probiotics, iodine, etc…. it’s all right there nearby when you bring the cow in to milk.
But more than that if she will be AI’ed, preg checked, treated for mastitis, examined by a vet, a stanchion is INVALUABLE I tell you!
We recently started using a rubber anti-slip mat on our stanchion and are very happy with it. Much easier to clean than a wood platform and when it’s wet she doesn’t risk slipping.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the dairy supplies you’ll need to properly care for your family cow, however this milking equipment will get you started on the right track to home dairy success in your daily milking routine. You can always build your arsenal of supplies as time goes on.
Quinn and her family have been homesteading in Ohio for over 15 years, many of which she spent sharing their experiences and encouraging other homesteaders at Reformation Acres until 2018. She is the co-founder of the SmartSteader homestead management app and Magazine Editor for Homesteaders of America.
Besides raising their main crop of 8 children, Quill Haven Farm revolves around the Queen of the Homestead, the family milk cow. In addition to cheesemaking and other home dairy, the cow also provides skim milk to fatten a few hogs every year, raise up a beef calf, supplement the feed for their flock of laying hens & broilers, and beautiful compost for their 14,000 square feet of organic gardens.