For too many years I have been hearing people ask me where they can buy a cow for their home or herdshare production. Too many of them had bought cows, the cows either had low production, poor health, could not get pregnant, staph a, or mastitis.
And much of the time the buyers never even knew it.
What you should be asking and looking for are CLEAN cows. Not so easy to find.
If you look at our cows the first thing you will notice is that they do not LOOK like dairy cows. They are healthy with shiny coats, bright eyes, well attached udders . Why aren’t they Jersey’s or Holsteins? That is because in most countries, dairy cows have been bred for generations to produce milk from grain. The gut biome of these cattle have completely changed so that they are less fertile, more likely to come down with Milk fever or Acidosis, and have trouble with reproduction and liver problems. Did you know the average lifespan of a dairy cow in the US is 5 years? Not five years of production, but 5 years of age? The number one reason for this is that they will not rebreed. Second is milk fever and third, mastitis. So why are you looking at a dairy cow that was raised on a dairy and expected to be culled when she is 5?
What you should be looking for are cows that produce good rich milk on grass alone. In other words, the perfect HOMESTEAD cow. Not so easy to find any more. Experts in fact will tell you it takes 17 generations to take the gut biome back to where the cows can produce milk from a grass fed diet alone. We will have to change our attitudes and accept the fact that we are NOT looking for a cow that produces 14 gallons a day; but a small, fertile dairy cow that produces 7 to 8 gallons a day over 5 to 6 years of production.
So let’s list what you should be looking at BEFORE you go look at cows.
- What are my feed conditions? A milk cow will need 30 to 40 pounds of grass a day to produce milk.
- What should the cow be tested for? First and foremost clean cows! Never buy a cow that has not been tested for e. coli 0157H7 . At a minimum, you should look at that first, then do an SCC (Portacheck) and only consider if under 100,000. She should be BANGS vaccinated or have a bangs tag if it is a requirement in your state. TB tests are a must, as are testing for BLV and BVD (API and UBRL). If she is in milk, get a mastitis test (API).
- What should a good quality milk cow look like? Well, there are as many opinions on this as there are cattle breeds, however a healthy cow will always LOOK healthy. She will have a bright eye, be curious and have a shiny coat. For a cow that will be a grass only cow, she MUST have good condition, too many Jersey’s or other straight bred dairy breeds can not hold up on grass alone, so if that is your goal, pass up those sorrowful eyes! With a cross bred cow you get hybrid vigor; something missing in most purebreds so do not discount the cross bred cow. Purebreds will generally cost more and be harder to find.
- What should I pass up? NEVER buy horns, only takes one head swing to put an eye out, and horned cattle can be dangerous to other livestock as well. Dry cows that are open should also be passed up, don’t believe the “I don’t own a bull”, while that may be true, it is the number one excuse the cattle broker uses. Swinging udders cause problems while milking. Hard udders that feel hot, never buy them as you will not likely get rid of the mastitis. Cows that have not been tested, you are taking a huge chance on. Cows without a history generally indicate a cow that came straight from an auction. Cows with an unexplained low milk production; this is a hard one for a beginner. If a cow just freshened and is only giving a gallon or two a day, may be just fine but MAY be staph a. Staph a can be tested for early now, so many dairies are dumping these cute little heifers on unsuspecting family farms. These cows are dangerous to you as they can pass this to your herd. ALWAYS test for staph a, and the CMT will not do it, only API or a similar lab can test for this. Lastly, never buy a heifer that is not pregnant. It is very common for brokers to try and pass off a twin heifer to an unsuspecting buyer. These twins (bull and heifer) are called “freemartins” and few can get bred. They are generally infertile. You can, with a practiced eye, determine if a heifer is a freemartin; but best to leave that to vets. IF you do buy a young heifer, get it in writing that she is NOT a freemartin. IF they won’t do that, then go someplace else.
- What should I look for at the farm where my cow is? What are the condition of the cattle? What are they eating? Is it a complete diet? Is there mastitis in the herd? Broken tails usually mean the cattle have been mishandled. Bobbed tails or switches mean the cow is off a dairy (never buy off a dairy, why would they sell a good cow?)
- What should I look for in a seller? I look for passion and commitment to clean healthy cattle. Are they willing to talk with you? Are they willing to test, this is HUGE. I have been told too many times “I will not test because if she is A1 I have to drop the price.” If I pay for the tests, the results are MINE and I do not share with the seller. IF they really wanted to know they would test. Costs $25 to test for A2, about $50 to test for mastitis indicators, I have the SCC kit I take with me, a health certificate is also a must. I run a blood test for BLV and BVD carriers (not always obvious) and Johne’s. All in all about $200 worth of testing; but can save my entire herd so it gets done, no excuses.