By Joann Grohman
Milking a cow is a rewarding experience.
Photo by Adobe Stock/Tanya Rusanova
Keeping A Family Cow (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013), by Joann Grohman, guides potential and current small farmers on how to care for and benefit from raising dairy cows. The following excerpt from chapter three (Milking Your Cow) describes how to effectively milk your dairy cow and techniques to tackle potential difficulties.
You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Keeping A Family Cow.
John Seymour, in his superb book Self-Sufficiency, devoted three chapters to the cow and her products, yet to instructions for milking only one sentence: “Now sit down and milk your cow.” Milking, like riding a bicycle or making bread, does have to be learned by doing, but these suggestions may help. A cow is customarily milked from her right, and if your cow was previously owned, this is what she will be accustomed to. The reason has to do with the slightly greater reach and strength offered by your dominant arm — which for most people is the right one. If you are left-handed, there is no reason you can’t switch sides, provided your cow is amenable.
You will need something to sit on, and it must be very low and suited to your height. It should be light and easily moved in case the cow shifts her position. The classic milking stool has three legs, making it easy to rock forward as needed. It often has a handle like a pan, the better to grab it when the cow shifts position. It is the rare cow that stands motionless throughout milking.
Once a cow has come in to be milked three or four times, you will need merely to open gates and doors and she will walk to her position. Have everything ready beforehand, including closing any gates or doors you do not wish her to enter; she is sure to notice if you’ve left something open. It is customary to give the cow her grain at this time, and if she knows it is waiting for her, you may be sure she will come in readily. If you don’t feed grain, try cut-up apples or carrots. Don’t ask her to walk up any steep ramp or across slippery spots. She will do it but will soon injure herself, sometimes very badly. This is the voice of experience. Preferably do not make her wait in muck or walk through it on the way in. You want her feet to be as dry and clean as possible.
If flies are bad, it helps to set up a system to brush them off as she comes in. Otherwise they will ride in on her back. You can hang up a curtain of bags or string or just sweep off the flies with your extended arms so they jump up in the air. Flies do not like to enter the dark, so if you dim the inside lights until the cow walks in, you can have fly-free milking.