Tanya Dewar

 So you want to buy a Dexter Family Milk Cow, but you don’t know where to start. Or you have found one for sale and you’re not sure what to be looking for. Here is a brief rundown of things you will want to consider, before taking the plunge.

 Find the right breeder
  • Firstly, find a breeder that is milking their cows on a regular basis. With time and patience most cows can be trained to milk, but starting with one that has been raised in a milking environment where daily human interaction is the norm is by far easier.
Find the right herd
  • Never assume that all Dexters are created equal, in disposition or size. When a stranger walks into a herd of Dexters, what does the herd do? Do they run to the other side of the field, or are they curious and want to check you out? This is vital to know, if you get a wild cow it could take generations to breed out the wild behavior.
  • Think long and hard before buying a wild untrained, never milked, never handled, cow. This is not your best milking prospect. This is a common mistake and can lead to people giving up on their dream, or a cow that's not worth much to you outside of expensive beef. Aim to get the right cow, the first time.
Find the right cow

  • If you can, go to the farm and touch, handle, walk and spend time with your prospective cow purchase.

  • If buying a heifer that has never calved before, ask the breeder for photos of the parents to gauge what she might look like as a mature cow. Ask for pictures of the sire and dams udder & feet. Udder conformation on a heifer is difficult to determine but seeing the udders of the dam and scrotum structure of the sire are very good indicators of what their offspring will inherit. Do research so you understand what constitutes a good udder and what attributes from the sire and dam influence that structure.

  • Never assume that a cow in milk, is a trained family milk cow, or that it is being milked. You might have a preconceived notion of how a trained milk cow should always behave, this will most likely not be the reality. Cows like routine and they dislike change. When you get your cow home she will not be in her normal surroundings, with her herd and she may act out. On the other hand, you may take a break from milking and wonder why your cow suddenly doesn’t want to stand still or let down for you. Some cows may always be fussy, doesn’t mean they aren’t trained to milk, it just means they need your ongoing work, training and patience.

  • Ask for registration papers and all test health test results before you bring your cow home. At the very minimum she should have a Brucellosis tag in her ear. If she is settled/pregnant, ask for her test results in writing.

  • Never rush your purchase. If it doesn’t feel right or you have nagging doubts, take a step back a reevaluate. The gut always knows.
Be prepared
  1. Have your infrastructure in place, fences, shelter, and stanchion to milk. Make sure you have a hay supply ready.

  2. Something that’s often overlooked but is vital to your success is to have a large animal veterinarian phone number on hand for emergencies. Things happen and you want a professional on speed dial if that day ever comes. Also, if you plan to artificially inseminate your cow, get acquainted with an experienced AI technician prior to breeding time. Timing AI is tricky and your tech can help you get it right. So have him or her on stand by.

Getting and eventually milking your Dexter Family Milk Cow is a very gratifying experience. You are building a long term relationship that gets easier and more rewarding with time. If you are new to milking, you will have challenges, but hang in there and don't lose hope. Every milker before you has had the same issues. Join a milking group or find a milking mentor to talk to on a regular basis. Stay positive and enjoy the journey - it's worth it!

Contributed by members of the Dexter Family Milk Cow Facebook group