©Copyright 2005 by Debbie
Davis, all rights reserved may not be reprinted
or copied without permission of the author.
Pictures of the milking stanchion
and barn layout can be found at the bottom of
How to Have a Milk Cow and A
By Debbie Davis
the fall of 2004, I was asked to give a presentation
on milking Dexters for the Region 4 Meeting.
As there is much information widely available
about traditional dairying and dairy breeds,
I thought it would be fun to share information
on "part-time" milking. I hope you'll
give it a try.
Milk or Not to Milk, That is the Question
A family milk cow is a wonderful thing, she
provides a delicious, nutritious food for the
family. Her calf is great fun and milking is
an enjoyable experience. Until you want to go
somewhere and no one is available to milk your
cow. You can't even go somewhere overnight.
The fun just ended. The family milk cow is a
twice a day chore for 300 days of the year.
But, not necessarily. I milk my Dexter cow just
a couple times a week, sometimes more and sometimes
less, depending on how much milk we need.
Dexter, Jerseys, and Holsteins, Oh My!
Before beginning any milking program, you need
to determine how much milk you need. A good
Dexter will supply a small family with milk
for the table and the usual butter, cheese and
ice cream projects. However, if you have a very
large family, or wish to make lots of cheese
or other milk products, you may need more than
one Dexter or a more traditional dairy breed.
The Dexter is a small dual purpose breed, designed
to produce moderate amounts of both beef and
milk. She was not bred to milk like a Jersey,
so don't expect her to. Dexters are not as widely
used as milker in the US, as they are in some
other countries, and have not been selectively
bred for dairying. But, for most families' needs,
a Dexter will fit the bill nicely.
Facts, Ma'am, Just the Facts
The ADCA states that Dexters give, on average,
1½ to 2 gallons a day and some cows give
more, up to 5 gallons a day. In the UK and other
countries where more cows are milked and dairy
records are kept, Dexters are reported to give
more milk per pound of body weight than any
other breed. The milk has a high butterfat content,
right up there with Jerseys, 4 to 6 percent.
What a Big Udder You Have
You have determined the Dexter to be the right
breed for you. Now, you need to find a good
milk cow prospect. This is obviously a much
more simple process with adult cows in milk.
If you are buying a heifer, see what her dam's
udder looks like and more importantly, the udder
of her sire's dam. Heifers usually have udder
very similar to that of their paternal grandmothers.
Use the same guidelines for Dexters as in other
dairy breeds when judging udders. Look for medium
sized, well balanced udders. Very large udders
are often pendulous and subject to injury. The
udder should be well attached (high and wide
at the rear, well forward and wide at the front).
It should not break away from the body of the
animal. Look for a properly shaped udder, with
front and rear quarters close to the same size.
For the rear quarters to be somewhat larger
is normal, but you want to avoid cows with very
light forequarters. The teats should be well
placed and close to the same size, and not too
large or too small. It is common for the front
teats to be longer and larger than the rear,
this is ok, but you don't want the rear teats
so small you can't grasp them. You want them
to be as uniform as possible (see the udder
pictures on the Family Cow page).
Your Head and Cough
Before your cow freshens (gives birth), have
your veterinarian give her a thorough check
up. In addition, have her tested to Tuberculosis,
Brucellosis, and Johne's Disease. These tests
are cheap insurance against a potential catastrophe.
Also, use only vaccines, wormers, pesticides
and other medications that are approved for
lactating dairy cows.
Begin training your cow well in advance of freshening.
It will make your life and hers much easier.
How much training is required depends on each
individual cow. If she's a heifer you've raised,
that loves to be petted and follows you around,
more than half the training is done. If she's
an adult cow that hasn't been handled, there's
much more to do. Give yourself at least a couple
of months training time. Halter training is
a great convenience, but not necessary, unless
you will be milking your cow while she is tied
up. With the unhandled cow, begin by feeding
her grain or some other treat, and find her
flight zone. Stand as close to her as you can,
without her running away. work your way closer
to her, over several days. Just stand quietly
and let her eat, and talk to her. She will let
you get closer and closer. I like to use a cane
or show stick and begin to gently rub her back
and shoulders with it. She will likely run at
first, but will come right back to the food.
The show stick allow you to begin touching her,
but you're not crowding her, either. When she
allows this, slowly and gently run the show
stick along her belly, flanks, legs and udder.
Go slow and work quietly. Talk to her. Don't
lose your patience. If you threaten or frighten
her, you will have to start over, and she won't
trust you. Once your cow is comfortable with
the show stick, work your way up to rubbing
her with your hands. At this stage, the training
usually goes very quickly. Once a cow learns
how good a brushing feels, you are most of the
way there. As you are brushing her, pay special
attention to the belly, flanks, hind legs and
udder. She needs to be completely comfortable
with handling in this area. When you can handle
the cow all over, she is ready to begin training
Stanchion in Life
Before furthering your cow's training, you need
to determine where she will be milked. Some
people tie the cow up to milk, many use a head
catch of some kind and some can milk with the
cow loose in her pasture. I use a stanchion
that my husband built for me. It elevates the
cow about six inches, this is really helpful
when it comes to milking those short Dexters!
The stanchion is constructed of round, smooth
pipe with no sharp edges. The back side is solid
plywood and the front side has a pipe running
full length. This pipe prevents the cow from
stepping over sideways onto me. There is a head
catch and a manger at the front. Wherever you
choose to milk make sure the cow is secure,
so she can't hurt you or herself. A cow that
is being milked for the first time will most
likely be nervous and scared. Pick a nice quiet
place where she feels safe. Noisy kids, dogs
and other scary things will only frighten her
These pictures show the head catch in my stanchion
in the open and closed positions. A light tug
on the rope at left lifts the small piece of
angle iron, quickly and easily releasing the
One your have a place set up to milk your cow,
begin training her to it. I start by placing
a bit of grain at the entry of the stanchion.
Every day I move it forward until the cow is
eating from the manger. I feed her from the
manger fro a few days with the head catch open.
I want her to feel safe and be eager to come
into the stanchion. If I trap her right away
with the head catch, then I have to start over,
as she no longer want to be in the stanchion.
Brush the cow and talk quietly to her while
she is eating. She will quickly learn it ok
to have the head catch closed and that she cannot
escape. Sit next to her and handle her udder
and legs. I teach my cows to move both hind
legs either forward or back when I ask. It's
difficult to milk when her leg is between you
and the udder. I place my hand on the front
of her leg, and apply gentle pressure until
she moves the leg back. Be prepared, the first
few times she will move it quickly and often
in a half kick, because she doesn't know what
you want. When she moves the leg, reward her.
I place my hand below her hock on the back of
her leg to move it forward if necessary. Cows
are traditionally milked from the right side,
but train her to which side is more convenient
for your set-up.
Get the cow used to you squeezing her teats
and very gently stripping (squeezing the teat
with the thumb and forefinger while pulling
down the lent of the teat) them. When she is
close to freshening, you will often get a bit
of milk or colostrum. Don't milk it out, you
want as much colostrum for the calf as possible.
Introduce her to your milk bucket, place it
under her and let her get used to the sound
that makes. If your cow has a hairy udder, teach
her to stand quietly for the clippers and begin
clipping her before her udder is large, swollen
and tender. You and your cow are now ready to
Storck Has Arrived
The first milk the cow produces is colostrum,
a thick yellowish milk full of all the things
the baby calf needs for immunity. I don't usually
milk the cow for the first couple of days after
she has calves, unless her udder is very tight
and swollen. You can freeze the colostrum for
emergencies if you do milk the cow during this
time. My system of milking is based on the idea
that the cow gets to keep her calf. I don't
take it away from her to raise separately, as
is traditionally done. My stall is divided in
half with a welded wire cattle panel and a gate
at one end, with the entry to the stanchion
at the other (see diagram at the bottom of this
On the third day after calving, I begin to milk
in earnest. First, I put a flake of good hay
in the manger and her pan of grain with it.
She will stand and be much more content is she
has something good to eat. Next, I get the calf
into the stanchion side of the stall and place
it near the manger. Usually I halter and tie
it, thus begins the calf's halter training.
The cow enters the stanchion and has her food
and calf right near her head. This makes milking
much easier than if she can't see her calf.
I like to use a disposable bucket for the first
couple of milkings. It will most likely be difficult
despite all of the training you've done, especially
if this is the first time the cow has been milked.
If it's also her first calf, the cow will be
even more nervous. She'll probably step in,
on and all over your bucket. She will try to
walk around in the stanchion and will probably
try to brush your hand away with her hoof. She
may even kick. Just watch her and try to anticipate
The act of milking is very easy to do, but very
difficult to describe. Gently grasp the teat
and squeeze the forefinger and thumb, preventing
the milk from flowing back into the udder. Squeeze
the rest of the fingers, forcing the milk past
the sphincter muscle of the teat. It takes a
bit of practice, but is soon mastered.
I milk from the right side of cow. I keep my
left forearm against her rear leg and I can
feel her begin to move the leg before she actually
does. When she starts to lift the leg, I can
push it back and down with my forearm. Be patient
and firm. If she's being overly difficult, give
her a firm smack (never on the udder) and tell
her "No." I have used cow hobbles
in the past. They work with some cows and not
with others. I prefer to train the cow so that
I don't need them, but if you decide to use
them, train the cow to them before freshening.
As you continue milking, she will get the idea.
I like to end on a good note. If she has settled
down and is standing, I'll stop for the day.
Ending in a fight will make her even more nervous
the next time you milk. If you are gentle, quiet
and firm, the cow will learn very quickly, and
you'll be filling your bucket in no time.
Wash the udder and teats carefully and thoroughly.
There are many good udder wash products on the
market. Before milking, I use a mastitis test
card. I like Dr. Naylor's brand. A stream of
milk is squirted from each teat onto a different
test patch on the card. If any patch turns green,
you may have a developing mastitis problem and
should consult your veterinarian. Strip cups
are also used to check for mastitis problems.
A stream of milk from each quarter goes through
he fine screen on the cup. Any flaky, clotted
or bloody milk is a sign of trouble. After testing,
you're ready to milk. I tie a piece of butter
muslin cloth (gauzy cheese cloth is much too
coarse) over the top of my milk bucket (use
a stainless steel or food grade plastic bucket).
This cloth keep hair, debris and flies from
falling into the bucket. You'll be surprised
how much dirt there is on a clean, well groomed
cow. During warm weather, I place a food grade
plastic container of ice in the bucket. This
way, the milk is being chilled during milking.
The beauty of the occasional milking method
is that I take only the amount of milk I need.
I don't have to milk the cow all the way out
and strip her, but can if I choose to. The first
milk drawn does not contain as much cream as
the last milk. To get the maximum amount of
cream, you'll need to milk her out.
Make the cow comfortable, give her lots of good
feed, keep her calf close, and you'll both have
a pleasant milking experience.
We used to keep Jerseys and milk in the traditional
manner, twice daily. We had much more milk than
we could use and we could not go anywhere as
the cow HAD to be milk twice a day. Then, we
had the extra chore of raising the calf. This
was not what we really wanted to do, so we sold
the Jerseys, kept our Dexters for beef and bought
milk. I want to do something different. After
speaking with some other Dexter folks who milk
on an "as needed" basis, I decided
to give it a try. I picked my most gentle cow,
for ease of training. When she freshened, she
had a lot of milk. I milked her daily for a
while, and did not separate her and the calf
at all. I got a gallon at each milking. The
calf preferred the front teats, so I milked
the rear quarters and left the front for him.
This worked very well for about a month (this
is a heavy milking Dexter). After a month, the
calf was eating more and the cow wasn't producing
quite as much. I began to separate them for
3 to 4 hours. Then I would milk out the rear
quarters and some from the front. When the calf
was 2 to 3 months old, I would separate them
for half a day. At 5 months old or so, I separate
them overnight and milk out the cow in the morning.
I usually milk 3 days a week, but will milk
more often when making cheeses. The calf takes
care of the milking the rest of the time. We
took a week's vacation and it was so nice not
to worry about the cow and calf, and just resume
milking when we came back home.
When the time comes to wean the calf, then you
must make the decision to milk daily or dry
the cow up. A nice way to do it is to have two
cows, calving six months apart. Once cow is
ready to dry up as the other is coming fresh.
Cry Over Spilled Milk
One problem you may run into is the cow choosing
not t let her milk down. She want the milk to
be for the calf, not for you. When she's fresh
and really producing a lot, this won't be much
of a problem. But later on in her lactation,
she won't be producing as much and can be very
persistent in not letting you have any milk.
Keeping her calf close helps. I tie my calf
to the front of the stanchion. The lead rope
is long enough so he can reach his mother's
belly, but not her udder. He can't get in the
way of my milking, but he helps me milk. The
hungry calf butts her mother's belly, she know
he's hungry and the milk comes in a flood. The
calf will be your number one tool in getting
the cow to let her milk down.
Sometimes the cow may show her displeasure with
the whole situationby reliving herself in the
stanchion. Be ready to get your bucket out of
the splatter zone. My cows usually do this on
the first few days, then they relax into the
routine. They will also do this when they are
in heat. That's another benefit to occasional
milking, I don't bother when the cow is in heat
and feeling belligerent.
My cow's production has dropped more than it
would have if I had milked her twice a day,
because cows work on supply and demand. However,
it's worth it to me to be able to go places
and not have to worry about finding a cow sitter.
If you need lots of milk, this system may not
work for you, but it is certainly worth a try.
Now comes the time to take care of your milk.
First, it needs to be strained. I use a milk
strainer and disposable milk filters. They work
much better than filtering the milk through
cheesecloth. They are very inexpensive and easy
to use. After the milk is strained, you can
run it through a cream separator or let the
cream rise naturally. I skim the cream with
a large flat serving spoon with the handle bent
at a 90º angle. Another method is to pour
the milk into a gallon sized ice tea jar with
a spigot at the bottom. After the cream has
risen, empty the milk out of the bottom of the
jar until you get to the cream.
We chose to use our milk raw, after doing much
research on the subject. Pasteurization is an
individual choice and must be made after weighing
the risks (which are few) and the benefits (which
are many). Never use questionable or dirty milk,
or milk from a cow that shows any signs of mastitis
or other disease. These websites have very good
information on raw milk:
Drink And Be Merry
This method of milking has been a blessing for
me, I urge you to try it, too. The milk is fresh,
natural and tastes better than store bought
milk. And today's milk prices make it even better.
The calf is healthy and happy being raised by
its mother. You can take a trip and not worry
about the milk cow.
Get out there and milk that Dexter. Why not?
You're feeding and caring for her anyway.
cow in the stanchion,
with good feed in the manger
and her calf tied at her head.
Ready for milking.
Barn Layout (13'x21')
1 ~ Stanchion
2 ~ Manger
3 ~ Gate at rear of stanchion (to keep
cow out when not in use)
4 ~ 3' Walk through gate
5 ~ 4' High half wall
6 ~ My end of the barn for storing milking
and cow equipment
7 ~ Cow stall
8 ~ 3' Walk through door
9 ~ 8' Barn doors