You’ve finally reached the point in your homesteading journey where it’s time to purchase a milk cow. You’ve bought a vacuum pump, a milking machine (or maybe just a SS pail), milk filters and fixed up a place for her to live. You’ve found the perfect cow and you’re ready to bring her home. While you might think that you are ready to get started, I’d like to share a few things that you might not of thought of. Having spent just about every day of my life around dairy cattle, these are 8 things that I would have on hand before I brought home a cow. Some of these things will be used every day and some you might not have to use for weeks, months…or even years; but they are things that when you need them you want to have them. Here they are in no particular order…
One of the most important things to have on hand is a rectal thermometer. You need to buy one to keep in the barn, unless you want to use the one from the house 😉 As the owner of a cow you need to realize that someday she will get sick. When a cow is sick you need to be able to make a diagnosis of what the problem is. You can’t make a diagnosis if you don’t have information. The very first thing that you should do when your cow is feeling under the weather is take her temperature. If her temperature is high, it is likely that you are dealing with an infection of some kind. A very low temperature points to digestive issues among other things. Either way, you need to know this information before you can find the problem. An inexpensive digital thermometer is one of the most important things you can have on hand.
A balling gun is another basic tool that you will want to have. Sometime the need arises to give a cow a bolus, which is a really big pill. The reasons for this vary. Prior to calving you might want to give Calcium/Magnesium/Phosphorus/Potassium boluses to prevent milk fever and other metabolic problems. You may need to give an aspirin bolus to help reduce swelling or relive pain. In cases of digestive issues, you might need to give a pro-biotic. A balling gun can also be used to give a cow a magnet, which is next on my list.
Every cow that comes on the property should be given a magnet. This is a very cheap insurance policy. If a cow eats a piece of sharp metal, such as a broken off piece of barbed wire bailed up in her hay, it can puncture her rumen causing what is called “hardware”. A cow with “hardware” is as good as dead. This can be easily prevented by giving the cow a magnet with your balling gun. If the cow swallows any sharp metal object, it will stick to the magnet. After spending several thousand dollars on an animal, a magnet is a no brainer. Cow magnets can be found at this link
If you are going to milk a cow then at some point you will have a calf to take care of. Now you might say that you don’t need a bottle because you plan to raise the calf on the cow. That’s fine and dandy, but you still need to have a good calf bottle on hand. What if the cow is down with milk fever or some other illness and the calf can’t nurse? What if the calf gets scours and you want to give it electrolytes? You need to have a calf bottle on hand for these reasons, even if you don’t plan to bottle feed your calves. I recommend purchasing the “Peach Teat” brand of bottle and nipple. These are by far the best on the market and well worth the price. No other nipple compares to the “Peach Teat”.
California Mastitis Test
A California Mastitis Test Kit is a very handy thing to have. Used properly, it detects mastitis in milk and can be used to find out which quarter has a high somatic cell count. See this post to learn step by step how to use a CMT test.
A good hoof knife and a good pair of hoof nippers will come in handy as well. A cow needs to be able to travel freely and walk without lameness if she is going to be productive. Whether trimming a hoof that has grown too long or digging out an abscess, these are the tools of the trade. * Note: Be sure to get instruction from someone who has worked on hooves before you do too much cutting.
Having a couple of rope halters on hand is always a good idea. Whether leading or restraining a cow, a rope halter is basic bovine handling equipment. You will also want some smaller ones for calves. A stable halter that stays on the cow is another useful tool, as it stays on the cow and makes getting a hold of her easy and quick.
I V Kit
An I V set is something everyone should have on hand. With this you should stock a few bottles of Calcium Gluconate 23%. In the case of a cow going down with milk fever having these things on hand can mean the difference between life and death for your cow. You can read instructions for giving an I V at this link.
Enjoy your cow!
This list is far from a complete list of things you need, but I hope it was helpful. Perhaps I mentioned something you hadn’t thought of or maybe something that you had forgotten. Congratulations on taking the leap and adding a milk cow to your homestead. Cows have brought a great deal of joy to my life and hope they do to yours as well!