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The Homestead Cow and Why They’re Great

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Are you wondering about whether the investment of owning a homestead cow is worth it for you? The decision to keep a family dairy cow should be well thought out. Cows carry a lot of weight (literally and figuratively, ha) and there are a lot of factors to consider. The different types of dairy breeds, what type of feed to use, and how to keep them bred and consistently giving fresh milk are just a few worth mentioning. Another big factor in making the decision is often space. But if you have ever read about or watched our journey with a homestead dairy cow, you may be realizing that you don’t need as much space as you originally thought.

miniature jersey cow in stall

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Our Decision to Own A Homestead Cow

My husband and I sat down early last year and had a serious conversation. It was serious, because we had never really owned livestock before. However, we felt strongly that we needed to find a way to become more sustainable. We wanted to contribute more not only to our own homestead, but also to the like-minded community surrounding us.

Like many others in 2020, we received stimulus funds from the first coronavirus relief bill. My husband, Stephen, already had a good idea of what direction we needed to go in regards to that money. It seemed like the perfect time to invest it on becoming as self-sufficient as possible. So, we found a good deal on Beulah, our miniature jersey milk cow! (She was technically a heifer–but more on that later.) Just a few days later, we found ourselves bringing home our very own homestead cow.

I remember the feeling of nervousness and excitement. Once she was in milk, we would know for sure that the investment we made was well spent! But we had a long road ahead of us in order to get there.

Did we know what we were doing? Definitely not. And there’s a lot we still don’t know. But we truly find joy in learning as we make our way down this road. We have come a long way in our understanding of what it takes to keep a homestead cow.

The right time to add a homestead cow

Some people, including more experienced homesteaders, can get intimidated by the idea of adding a cow. They feel that they need to have plenty of experience with smaller animals first before owning a large livestock animal. While this is understandable to some extent, Beulah the miniature cow was the first livestock we had ever brought to our own one acre homestead.

We did have a little bit of previous experience. My husband grew up having chickens and goats at various times, we had raised chickens before, and we are surrounded by a community of other aspiring homesteaders who own smaller livestock such as goats and pigs. But Beulah was technically our first livestock purchase as a family.

Even after everything we have gone through related to owning a family cow, I would still make the decision to add one to our homestead before virtually any other animal. Let’s talk about a few reasons why.

mini jersey cow in electric fencing

Reason #1: Transporting cows is not that difficult

When we first got Beulah, we were often asked about how we transported her. Many are under the impression that they need to have their own livestock trailer before owning a homestead cow. But a newer trailer can cost well over $10,000! That is way out of our budget. Even an old, used trailer would probably cost us more than $3,000.

I know that it is more difficult to find transportation options in some states, but we were able to rent a livestock trailer from our local co-op for $35/day. Yes, only $35. Now, I’m not sure if the rates are the same everywhere, but I would assume that they would be relatively low at any local co-op. If you aren’t regularly transporting, renting is definitely the way to go. I’ll choose a $35 rental fee over spending thousands any day.

The only time we have ever had to transport Beulah besides bringing her home for the first time, was when we sent her off to another farm in order to be bred. So there is really no need for us to own a trailer.

Reason #2: Homestead cows don’t require permanent fencing

Yes, cows are big and strong. But like any other livestock, they really don’t like electricity. This means that an expensive, permanent fence is not really necessary. A movable electric line works just fine and doesn’t require much time. We chose to purchase this electric fence along with this solar charger for our miniature jersey. It works and has held up amazingly well. We like it because it covers more area than others we have seen, and it is much easier to move. It is also customizable in the sense that you can add and remove lines if desired.

Another benefit of using temporary fencing is the ease of practicing rotational grazing. Rotational grazing is extremely healthy for a cow (or any livestock, really). It’s completely fine if your chosen temporary fencing only covers 1/4 acre or less, as long as you have a few other spots to move it to. Using this method, you can move your cow every other day (possibly less if it’s winter/hay feeding season) and know that she is always getting the freshest grass available. This is exactly what we have done.

The video below shows more of the features of the Gallagher Smart Fence 2, along with how we move it and set it up.

Reason #3: The Internet makes the learning curve less steep

There are lots of homesteading digital creators out there now on YouTube, Instagram, and other social media platforms. We learned so much about how to care for a cow by watching videos and using Google after our kids went to bed at night. We may have been inspired to start our very own YouTube channel from some of these creators, too! They were such an essential guide for us in the beginning.

I will say that there is more to learn than you can gather just by watching a few videos. Be sure you have covered all your bases before jumping into purchasing. Here is a handy list of things to research as you prepare for your first homestead cow:

  • Fencing options
  • Adequate shelter
  • Dairy vs. beef breeds and crosses
  • How to safely handle raw milk
  • Types of feed and the amount needed
  • How you want to breed (bull vs. artificial insemination)
  • Watering systems/access to fresh water
  • Sources of hay

Be sure to seek out other people’s experiences and you’ll glean lots of valuable tidbits along the way!

long haired woman next to mini jersey cow in backyard

Reason #4: If you don’t get your homestead cow soon, you may be less likely to do it later

Sometimes homesteaders put off owning a family cow because it seems like a big deal. It is a big deal, but I think we all know that the longer we wait to take the first step toward a goal, the less likely we are to ever get there.

If you have always dreamed of having a family milk cow, then maybe you shouldn’t wait to make that the very last addition to your homestead. Go big or go home, right? That’s what we did, and we didn’t regret it!

I can see how it’s easy to become satisfied with the smaller, more comfortable elements of our homesteads. Every little piece we have so lovingly built and nurtured. And that’s not a bad things, but sometimes it can hold us back from getting to some of the bigger, better, more valuable things.

I believe that if we can raise a cow on one acre and learn to milk and make dairy products, practically anyone can. So believe in yourself. Do the research, surround yourself with help via an internet group or real-life circle, and go for it!

Reason #5: Investing in a readily-available superfood source

Of all the reasons I’ve already laid out, this one is probably the best. There truly is nothing like being able to go in your own backyard and get such a high quality food. It’s also very satisfying to practice hand milking and see what you were able to produce with your own hands. I always encourage people to think about the long-term benefit they are obtaining by choosing to invest in a dairy cow.

First of all, raw milk is not easy to find just anywhere, especially in certain parts of the country. Before buying our own homestead cow, we had to travel 45 minutes every week to get to a good source of raw milk. (Thankfully we had other people in our community sharing the travel load with us!) Raw milk is important to us because it is a living food, active and full of vital nutrients that can’t be found in pasteurized milk. When raw milk comes from a healthy, happy cow and a farm with clean conditions, it is extremely safe.

We find that drinking raw milk affects many aspects of our bodies like our dental health, gastrointestinal health, and energy levels.

And, where else can you find such delectable cream as there is on top of a jar of raw, unshaken, unhomogenized raw milk? Not only can you drink the milk, but that cream can be used to make as much butter, cheese, and ice cream as you want. That adds to the convenience of fewer trips to the grocery store!

miniature jersey cow in electric fencing under a rainbow

Now that we’ve covered the top five reasons for why a cow was our first choice in livestock, along with some practical knowledge, it’s time to cover some common questions people have when it comes to choosing a dairy animal.

Frequently Asked Questions about Homestead Cows

Is it better to have a miniature cow or a standard sized cow?

For plots less than 2 acres, I recommend going miniature. Miniature cows do eat a little less. Standard size cows generally produce 4+ gallons of milk per day, so if you aren’t sure what you would do with that much milk, choosing a miniature would decrease that output. Our mini jersey gave us 1.5-2 gallons per day and it was plenty for our family of 6 plus enough to share.

There are mid-sized cows available as well, if you prefer something in between miniature and standard. Our jersey cow was 37″, so on the short end of miniature. Anything less than 36″ is considered micro-miniature. Beulah was the perfect size for us and was able to thrive on the one acre of land we have.

Are cows easier than goats?

In most cases, goats have a more wild temperament than cows. They like to jump fences and sometimes eat things they shouldn’t. Now, there are many other things to consider when answering this question, so I’m not going to say that cows are certainly easier to own than goats. It really depends on your unique personality and goals.

If we are strictly talking about the product given (milk), I believe one cow is a better investment than a small herd of goats.

Goat’s milk, however fresh it may be, is of no comparison to the creamy richness of cow’s milk. And if you’re a goat lover out there that wants to disagree with me, that’s completely fine. But at the end of the day, I think that cow milk products are generally more sought after for a reason. The taste, texture, and usability is superior.

Is owning a homestead cow worth it?

Hopefully after reading this post, you see that it absolutely IS! We must take into consideration that we don’t only invest money into our homesteads, but also time. Yes, milking is an every day chore that I know will take considerably more time than we are putting into her right now as a young heifer. But after owning her for a year now, I can honestly say that it doesn’t take much more time to scoop poop and throw out food for her than it would for any other animal.

The long term benefits of owning a homestead cow are immeasurable. We can sell off calves for a profit, or start a herd share to help make extra cash if we desire. Cows are an animal that keep on giving for a long time.

What is the best dairy cow for a homestead?

There are many dairy breeds to choose from, including Jersey, Holstein, Brown Swiss, and Guernsey. These are the four most common breeds that people choose from when buying dairy cows, and you can’t really go wrong with any of them if your goal is delicious raw milk.

Crosses among dairy breeds are available, as well and beef/dairy crosses like Jersey/Angus. There are also dual purpose breeds, like Dexter cows.

Certain breeds give more butterfat than others. Jersey cows are known for having the creamiest milk, but Holsteins are known for having the highest milk production. Guernseys are said to produce a slightly sweeter milk. Each breed has their own special qualities, so decide what on what you’re looking for and go from there.

Can you have just one cow?

You can choose to have just a single milk cow. There are varying opinions as to whether it’s the right decision. Many small farmers choose to just have one, because it’s all they have the capacity for. However, keep in mind that cows are herd animals and greatly benefit from socialization.

We only had the space for one cow at the time, so that’s what we did, and she was just fine. She struggled with her attitude any time we would put her with other cows then remove her from them (like when we sent her off to be bred), but would readjust quickly.

It also largely depends on the individual cow’s personality, as well as how they are raised. It’s actually incredible to me how different individual cows can be from each other. But overall, they are very adaptable animals and have the ability become acclimated to varying situations.

When you feel ready, I encourage you to take the leap into adding a dairy cow to your homestead! If you need more inspiration, be sure to check out out YouTube videos on raising a miniature jersey cow on just one acre or read the posts below:

How Many Acres Does A Cow Need?
Homestead Dairy Cow: Genetics and What To Look For
Our First Year of Cow Ownership: 4 Mistakes
What Causes Bloat in Cows (+ Our Heartbreaking Story)

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  1. Love this! I am a mom of 4 boys too (6 children in all. We, like you chose to use our stimulus to invest in our homestead. We have always done ducks and chickens but dove in and bought a jersey/guernsey mix calf to raise for milk. So glad there are others on a similar journey!