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Homestead Dairy Cow: Genetics and What To Look For

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When it comes time to add a dairy cow to your homestead, there are a variety of factors to consider. One of the most important decisions you will make is what breed of dairy cow to choose. You will also want to keep in mind that each type of cow has its own unique genetic markers. These markers are important to know for milk production, cheese making, desirable traits, and more. Some of the most important ones are A2 status, polled vs horned, and milk proteins. I’ll also share some tips on what to look for when shopping for your first homestead dairy cow.

I know when we first decided to get a cow, we were pretty clueless about most of this stuff. I had to search high and low to find information relevant to what we were trying to do. Many articles and posts about dairy cows are not geared toward small-scale homesteaders, but more toward large dairy operations.

There’s still a lot that I don’t understand. I have and will continue to learn as I go along. And so will you! But I really hope this post helps in some way!

mini jersey homestead dairy cow with horns in pasture

A2 Status and What It Means For the Homestead Dairy Cow

The A2 status marker is a genetic indicator that shows whether or not a cow produces the A2 milk protein. This protein is beneficial for human health and seems to cause less digestive issues than the A1 protein. For this reason, many people are choosing to buy cows that have the A2 marker. You may have seen this term when shopping for cows, but if you’re like me, you may not have known what it meant.

This is something you’ll definitely want to consider when choosing a homestead dairy cow. A2A2 cows are typically worth more in today’s market, so if you will be breeding or reselling, it’s good to keep that in mind as well. A cow can be either A1A1, A1A2, or A2A2.

Polled vs Horned

Another thing to consider when choosing a homestead dairy cow is whether you want a polled or horned cow. Polled cows are born without horns, while horned cows, well… they have horns. It may not be apparent as soon as a calf is born whether it is polled or horned, as horn buds start developing through the early weeks of a calf’s life.

It’s helpful to know the genetics of the calf’s parents in order to achieve desirable breeding outcomes. Some homesteaders prefer polled cows because they are easier to care for and don’t require you to dehorn them (which is a process that can be painful for the cow, especially if not done early enough in life).

Others prefer horned cows because they think they are more rugged and hardy. However, if you’re a small-scale homesteader looking for a family cow, a polled cow may be a better choice. With that being said, our family cow is horned! She is very docile and our kids know not to go in the fence with her alone, so it isn’t really an issue for us. Of course, we would prefer if she were polled, but it is what it is. We are happy with her.

fresh raw milk from homestead dairy cow

Milk Proteins for Cheesemaking

When it comes to homestead dairy cows, another important consideration is the milk proteins. These proteins play an important role in cheesemaking and affect the flavor, texture, and structure of the cheese. Now, I will admit that I still don’t know a whole lot about this. But from what I do understand, there are two main proteins that are important: the beta lactoglobulin and the kappa casein.

Beta lactoglobulin is responsible for the cheese’s flavor, while kappa casein affects the cheese’s texture. Some cheeses have more of one protein than the other, which can give them a unique flavor or texture. For example, cheddar cheese has more beta lactoglobulin than kappa casein, while gouda has more kappa casein than beta lactoglobulin.

When choosing a homestead dairy cow, it may be helpful to know what kind of cheeses you want to make (if that’s a goal) and find a cow that will give you the milk with the desired proteins. Like I said, I’m still learning about all of this, so if you’re more knowledgeable on the subject, feel free to share in the comments!

Dominant Traits by Breed

What about the breed of a homestead dairy cow? There are dominant genetic traits you should be aware of before choosing a certain breeds. For example, Jersey cows are known for their high butterfat and milk production, while Brown Swiss cows are known for their high protein levels. Holsteins are also known for high milk production, and Guernseys are known for their rich, cream-colored milk.

Jerseys are probably the most popular breed that small farms and homesteaders end up choosing. They are excellent producers and produce lots of cream. Who doesn’t want lots of cream?

jersey calf and cow on small homestead

What is the best dairy cow for a homestead?

A Holstein or Brown Swiss will provide you with the most milk, but if you prioritize quality (think high butterfat content and lots of cream) over quantity, a jersey or guernsey will be your best bet. And chances are, if you’re a small-scale homesteader, you probably aren’t looking to obtain 8+ gallons of milk per day.

Dominant vs Recessive Genes

To summarize, it is helpful to know a bit about genetics and how they work, as well as specific genetic markers for a cow before you go to buying one. For example, the horned gene is a recessive gene. That means that if a calf carries the polled gene from one parent, and the horned gene from the other parent, the calf will end up being polled. This is because the polled gene is the dominant gene. Here’s a quick link that gives a helpful overview of how genetics work.

Knowing what kind of cow you want and having a basic understanding of genetics will help you narrow down your choices when shopping around. And remember, it’s always important to do your research before making such an important decision!

What do I need to consider when choosing a homestead dairy cow?

To sum it up, here is what you want to consider when choosing a homestead dairy cow: A2 status, milk proteins that are important for cheesemaking, polled status, along with the dominant genetic traits of the breed. Remember that each individual cow is different. Take your time learning, but don’t be afraid to learn as you go. No one knows everything about cows when they start out, and that’s okay. Enjoy the journey, and soon you’ll be experiencing the satisfaction of providing fresh, wholesome milk for your family.

More Raising Animals from Growing Dawn:

Our First Year of Cow Ownership: 4 Mistakes
4 Reasons To Own and Love A Family Cow Right Now
Are Chickens Hard To Keep?: A Quick Guide

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