Having a family milk cow is incredibly rewarding and enjoyable.There’s just no end to everything that it opens up a door to…homemade butters, cheeses, yogurts….and I’ve recently learned I can even make soap with it! I can’t wait to try that out ASAP!! The list could go on and on, but for now let’s just say, a dairy cow is the starting point to a number of incredibly interesting—and tasty—joys!
When it comes to milking, the good news is, it’s not a complex process. There are just a handful of pointers that are good to know and keep in mind. But honestly, even if you never read any of this, they are things you would inevitably figure out with trial and error. Lucky for you, though, you’ve got a little bit of a head start by having this kind of post to read!
For this first part, let’s talk ‘milk stations.’ These can be as simple as a head shoot and trough, or as nice as a barn stall complete with a sink station and heat source. Most of it depends on your budget and commitment to the long term, but again, I’ve got good news to bare: It doesn’t take anything more than a bucket to milk into when you get right down to it. Everything above and beyond that is to make life easier and more convenient for you. Here are the things that, through the years, I have found to be extremely beneficial to invest in when it comes to a milk station:
- A collar and a rope. I know this isn’t technically part of the milk station, but it’s useful for the first step of getting your cow into the milk station…so I’m including it in my list. Now, most people don’t use these, and after the cow has been doing the same routine for some time, you may not need to either. But for me, this is how I like it–even if it’s just for backup– because, even on the days where the cow wakes up in a bad mood and decides she’s going to be a little defiant just because it’s a Tuesday, there’s no problem getting her to do and go where I want her to. I keep a collar around her neck (I actually use a chain) at all times. My Jersey cow is trained to come when I call her, and she usually goes right where she’s supposed to. But I keep my rope on me for the days she wants to pretend like she can’t hear me calling, and then I can lead her without issue. A trained farm dog would be just as efficient.
- A head catch, or at least a post in the ground. This is so that you have some way to keep the cow in place while you’re milking. If your cow has a collar, you can simply use a rope tied to a post. I’ve done it this way, but didn’t love it because it’s just way too easy for her to move side to side and make a mess of things while you’re trying to milk. What’s much better than a post is a head catch. This way she’s stationary during milking. She can’t move back and forth, or side to side. You just want to make sure your catch is secure enough that she can’t back out of it, even if she really wants to.
- A roof over your head and the cow’s body. This is for those rainy days. Obviously the cow doesn’t care about the rain so much, so if her head sticks outside of the roof line, it’s no big deal. But what will matter is if the rain comes down over her body. This is because it will drip into the milk bucket, and that will be….well, gross. Also you want cover from the rain for yourself, both for cleanliness and ease.
- A feed trough. This is for feeding your cow while you milk her. You’ll quickly learn that with most cows, she will let you know when she runs out of feed…in the form of a nice cow patty, or maybe even a little bit of kick if she’s got that sorta attitude. Most of the time, though, she’ll just start pooping when she runs out of feed. How you choose to handle this is totally up to you. Some people just give an abundant amount of feed to avoid the whole situation. I find this to be too expensive for my liking. I have handled it two different ways: There have been times that I treated it as something needing correction…so when she started, I would grab the water hose and spray her in the face. She hated that as much as I hated the pooping, so I at least felt like we were even. For some cows, they may stop doing it, while with other cows, you may get convinced they almost can’t help it…either that, or they’re stubborn to an unbelievable degree. More recently, since we moved my milk station and I don’t have a water hose nearby, I just keep a shovel next to me. No, no not for that! I use it to scrape all the poop away when she’s done, so that I can sit back down and continue milking. Some days I have to use it, some days I don’t. So that leads me to the next thing I would suggest:
- Something to clean away the poop. It can be a shovel or a water hose, but just be prepared that if you use a water hose, your milk station area will soon become a muddy mess, especially in the winter months when the water doesn’t dry up nearly as fast.
- A shelf and a couple of screws to hang things on. This is nice for holding your oil/lubricant and any other thing you use each day to milk her. I keep a little cup of peanut oil on my shelf (that’s what I use to lubricate my hands before milking) and also a bottle of hand sanitizer. After I wash the cow’s udder, I use an all-natural hand sanitizer, both on my hands as well as her teats. Just a personal preference. Not a necessity by any means. As far as the screws go, they are nice to have for hanging up your milk bucket before getting her into the station. This way, you avoid any accidents that cause it to get knocked over and dirtied up before use. I also hang up my feed bucket until she’s securely in the milk station so that she doesn’t decide to go straight to it and start chowing down before I get her where I want her.
- An enclosed box to hold your extras. This is where I would keep an extra milk bucket, if you could. That way, if the unexpected happens, and she steps in the bucket you’re using, all is not lost and you don’t have to leave her until you can run back into the house to get it washed out. Also, if you do like me, and filter your milk through a cheesecloth as your milking, then keep an extra one of those in there, too. Many people choose to milk directly into the milk bucket, and then carry it inside, where they run the milk through cheesecloth or butter muslin to filter it. I have done it this way, but decided it was much less frustrating to do it the other way, where you cover your milk bucket with cheesecloth (held in place by an elastic band or something similar) and then milk into your bucket through that. This way, things never fall into the milk, like dirt or hair from under her belly. Also, remember those ‘pooping episodes’ she may have when she runs out of feed? Sometimes there’s a lot of splatter associated with them, and the cheesecloth prevents anything from getting into your bucket. Also, in the summertime, there’s the issue of flies. I can’t tell you how aggravating it is to be milking and a fly that’s buzzing around get caught in the milk stream, only to be submerged into your fresh bucket of milk! These are just a few of the things that happen too often to chance it, and so I filter as I milk. So, I suggest keeping extras in a clean, enclosed box nearby; that way, if something messy happens and you don’t get the bucket far enough away, and some poop ends up getting caught by the cheesecloth, it’s nice to have an extra that you can swap out without having to leave the milk station.
- Closed off area for your milk station. This is huge if you have other animals in the field where you milk. It doesn’t take long before every animal in the field realizes you’re bringing a bucket of feed every morning. If you don’t have a barrier between your milk station and the rest of the animals, they’ll harass you and your cow the whole time. It will stress you both out in a bad way! So even if all you use are some T-posts and panels, make yourself a small area that no other livestock can get into.
- High ground. It doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘high,’ but you don’t want your milk station to be in a spot that holds water when you have several days of rain. It just makes for a muddy, messy, frustratingly nasty experience, so if you can help it at all, before you ever get a station set up, pick an area where water drains away from it…you’ll be glad you did!
And there you have it…my list of suggestions for a basic milk station. If you have a station set up, or are planning to, I hope you’ll post a picture of it! I’d love to see your setup!!