milking into a metal pail of milk

Your Questions: Can I Own a Dairy Cow (Or Goat) AND Still Have a Life?

One of the most common deterrents to owning a family dairy cow (or goat) on the homestead is the notion that you'll be tied down twice a day milking, but is that really true? Here's how to milk a cow AND still have a life!

We have recently started up a small, raw milk dairy, weaned the calves and have moved to twice a day milking. I am expecting our third child (3 under 4) and was wondering about how I am going to manage to leave our place again. How do you balance being able to go to things like fairs, events and such when milking happens at 5 and 5? I am worried our children will never be able to go to the city and see the zoo or book time at 4:30 at the public library! Any help or reassurance would be wonderful. I truly feel that the Lord has led us to this place and lifestyle, so it is not a huge concern, just a general wondering!!!

This. This right here is probably the #1 reason why more homesteaders don’t want a milking animal in their plans. It’s not that they can’t decide between cow vs. goat. It’s not that they need to learn how to milk a cow or all the other basics of keeping a family cow.

I totally get that. And were I to be completely honest, it’s one of the things I like best about having dairy cows on our homestead. (Besides the awesome raw milk and butter and cheese. And the relationship that grows when bonding happens between you and your dairy gal.)

Just like I like to play the “Baby Card” on chicken butchering day, sometimes I like to play the “Cows Need Milking Card” when it comes to social events. Nothing personal, it’s just that, as an introvert, visiting wipes me out. It knocks me on my butt and gives me a temporary case of insomnia. All that times 50 if my husband, extrovert extraordinaire,  isn’t there. It’s just the way it is.

One of the most common deterrents to owning a family dairy cow (or goat) on the homestead is the notion that you'll be tied down twice a day milking, but is that really true? Here's how to milk a cow AND still have a life!

Can I Own a Dairy Cow Or Goat AND Still Have a Life?

But while I’m being completely honest, how truthful is the “Cows Need Milking Card”?

Is it true that you can never miss Milk O’Clock?

My answer, the truthful one, is, “Yes and no.”

It depends.

Here are some questions to ask yourself first.

Does your cow have mastitis?

Then you’d better be down in the barn, milk pail in hand when the clock strikes Milk.

Did she just have her calf a few weeks ago?

Do that poor girl a favor and be prompt!

Did you sleep in this morning?

Cancel your plans for the next few days and get back on track.

Did you just wean the calf?

Poor mama could use the extra love, she misses her baby. And the relief it brings to her fullness throughout the day (or night.) You should be on time.

Has she been on some really good grass and is repaying your kindness by filling her udder to the brim?

Say thank you, and take it on time.

When is Ok to Be Late for Milking?

But what if things have been going well? There’s no mastitis, she’s healthy, mid- to late lactation, if the calf is weaned, it’s been for a few weeks, etc…  Then it isn’t going to kill her if you’re a little late one, maybe even the occasional two nights a week if you’ve got something going on.

Around here, we’re anything but regular with our milking times, especially at night. Our night time milking is anywhere between 5:30-7:30 depending on how crazy things are around here. Often it’s my fault and I couldn’t get dinner on at 5 like I’m supposed to. The main milking team can be disorganized. It can take over 20 minutes just to find the wash pail. Then the dog ran away to the neighbors, the sheep got out, Stella won’t come in… In a night all these things add up and we can be pretty late. It happens.

A few weeks ago, we took a long ago promised trip to the city and went to the zoo. The grandparents came, we don’t see them nearly as often as we’d like. We got to blabbing, and riding camels, and eating ice cream. Time slipped away. We didn’t even leave until it was Milk O’Clock. (It might have even been Milk:Thirty!) We high-tailed it home and took care of the gals right away, but in the end, there were no detrimental effects. There was no dip in production and no one even got mastitis.

The Relief Milker

We’ve even been known in the past to leave the calf on with mama for the 12 hours it’s supposed to be off to go out of town for the night! To me, that’s one of the great perks of leaving the calf on mama & not bottle-feeding it the milk. You have a Relief Milker when you need it. Obviously, that wouldn’t work if it was weaned, but the option still is there. You could try to plan big trips for prior to weaning, or better yet during the “dry” season.

One of the most common deterrents to owning a family dairy cow (or goat) on the homestead is the notion that you'll be tied down twice a day milking, but is that really true? Here's how to milk a cow AND still have a life!

I look at the whole issue this way:

As a lactating mammal (and I’m currently clocking in at 9.25 years of lactation under my belt), there are times when baby can NOT be late for a feeding! Like when the baby is a newborn. Or if he or she slept really well and we missed an overnight feeding or worse two. Or if that happens a couple days in a row and I feel a blocked duct or especially if there is a case of mastitis. If I miss one of those feedings it could jeopardize my health and milk supply and therefore, eventually, the baby’s health.

But, let’s take Phoebe for example. Right now, she’ll be 10 months old in a little over a week. I could skip 2-3 feedings before my body starts screaming for some relief. Several months ago, if I was an hour late it was torture.

The Takeaway (Besides a Bucket of Milk)

While we have to use good judgment and discretion as to when we can be late for milkings, it is possible to do so without any harm to the cow or her milk supply. But even if that was not the case (because some types of outings are introvert-friendly), I’m resolved to make the sacrifice to be home on time for the majority of nights so long as we are caring for dairy cows on our homestead. It’s worth it to me for my children to have access to one of the most beneficial and healthy (not to mention absolutely delicious) foods in its purest, untampered form, raw milk.

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  1. We hadn’t had a vacation in over twenty years so…we contacted our local FFA and asked them if they knew anyone who could farm sit for us for a few weeks. What a disaster! We lost half of our chickens because they didn’t get enough water during a hot spell and they didn’t get enough food (one bag of food does NOT last eighty chickens a month). Our goats lost a fair bit of weight as well. The final straw was coming home to litter boxes that hadn’t been changed in three and a half weeks…so the cats had peed all over the house. We will never again take a vacation unless a family member will be staying at our home while we are gone.

  2. Thanks for this article – and also all the insightful comments! I'm considering adding milk goats to my menagerie on 2-7 tropical acres, but have been concerned about these very points. Reading all the input, I think I could do it – once I manage to work through clearing and fencing enough of the property.

  3. I love this. My husband and I have an active lifestyle and I milk 3 dairy goats. We go on vacation and a friend comes over and milks. I work on a 7:30-7:30 schedule but on Wednesday nights because of church and going out to eat it is usually 10-10:30 before they get milked. It's not as difficult as people think. We love our animals and spend tons of time with them – all day sometimes – but they work on our schedule when it's not kidding season or emergencies.

  4. Occasional days out and sleeping late are one thing, but how do you manage having a life with other people? How do you have people over for dinner when some time in the evening you have to change your clothes and disappear to the barn for awhile, wash up and change again when you get back in (your hair now embarrassingly smushed from being under your hat)? This only works with some guests! How about church? In my experience, the home-loving introvert with chores to do will meet with chilly disapproval at church for not “participating enough.”

    1. We were once told by a pastor that our lifestyle was sinful in that it didn’t fit in with the Biblical model of fellowship!!?! (Says the man who walked past our wheat field after dinner and said he saw the tares. Um. Nope, those are weeds. Lol! I think he totally missed the point of the whole parable that the tares look JUST like the wheat from a casual glance. Interestingly, it was a test plot and so we did it all by hand. I sorted those cut stalks so the heads lined up for threshing one by one and I DID find one tare! But I digress.) So I know what you’re talking about. I was flabbergasted. Should farming (stewarding GOD’S creation) be left to unbelievers who won’t be attending our fellowships?! God forbid! Suffice it to say, we left that church.

      Right now, my plan is to stay for fellowship meals at church once a month. A new years goal if you will but nearly constant illness this winter has prevented it. But so far as fellowship & program participation are concerned, I console myself with the only thing commanded by God in His word is a 7th day rest and worship. Not even Wednesday services you’ll see. (Our church does hold a Bible study & prayer service on Wed. & we have another family in church who runs an organic dairy. Their solution to attending was to have it at their home. It’s like an hour from our house so we’ve never gone & I can’t tell you how they manage it.)

      Anyway, we are living in a completely new area and have only had guests over for a meal a handful of times. Hopefully, they’ll be accommodating to a lunch or very early or rather late dinner so you’re right it does only work with some guests. It’s part and parcel of living a lifestyle that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the world who has their scheduled down times from work. I hope I didn’t imply from the post that we who care for dairy animals could keep up the same rigorous pattern of socializing that they keep. Anyway, I’m terribly sorry to hear that you’re having these struggles. It’s such a shame really that those who say they’d like the pleasure of your company are the ones not being accommodating and in the end are condemning you for it! Makes you really want to spend time with them, no doubt.

      1. I think the life to which you have answered the call is one long, beautiful worship service! Appreciated your reply and the last sentence left me laughing out loud. Thanks and all the best!

    2. We don’t have cows, but we do have dairy goats. And we are not introverts…well maybe my husband is, but he doesn’t do the milking. I don’t milk at a certain time every single morning. We milk in the early am (between 6-8) and in the pm (between 5-7). Our production is fairly consistent, about 1/2 gallon a milking which is average for goats. Our goats have suffered no ill effects from my lack of being on time. I do have 5 children so I need to really be home around 8 most nights anyway, so it’s never a huge deal.

      When we go to church, and we are heavily involved, I milk early in the am. Milk late on nights we are there, etc. That said, we are about 5 minutes from church…

  5. Quinn, I love you. Yes you can still have a life and run a small raw milk dairy. Not only is it good for you and family life but it is good for the cow and calf! Hooray for you!

    1. Love you too Ashley! 🙂 I feel so blessed to be able to care for these cows in such a way that is radically different than most other farmers. Thank you for affirming my position that we can be friends with both our friends and our cows!

  6. I live in central Ohio and would be interested in learning more about your raw milk herd share. I have just gotten started homesteading myself, but I don’t have a dairy animal yet. I will hopefully have a nigerian dwarf doe in milk this spring. She is currently at the breeders. I am also interested in your heifer Maby, but I probably wouldn’t be ready for a dairy cow until spring or summer. This is our first year with animals and I want to make sure I have enough hay for our 3 beef cattle and 2 goats for the winter. I look foward to hearing back from you. Thanks!

    1. Wonderful, I’ll have Bill shoot you over some info. tonight! Sounds like you have some exciting things planned for your future! I respect your getting all your ducks in a row by carefully planning for the future and making sure you have enough hay. 🙂

  7. I am currently looking at purchasing a Milking goat, in Milk, she is milked twice daily currently. Can I drop down to once a day milking and if I do can I expect a greater occurrence of mastitis. If you can offer any tip’s, Thank you.

    1. Hi Zola, Absolutely, you can! Just don’t do it overnight. It will take a couple weeks, but that’s alright because the time you spend with her will bond her to you. So here’s what I would do: Pick you milking you want to skip. Let’s say you’re wanting to sleep in and want to cut out the AM milking. Start by milking out only about half of that milk during week one. For week two, milk her only every other day. By week three, you should be able to drop that morning milking with no problems 🙂 It might be a good idea to have a mastitis test kit on hand in case you want some peace of mind. Actually it’s a good idea to always have one if ever you suspect issues you can test instead of waiting for it to ship and losing treatment time. Anyway, just make sure you aren’t late for milkings for awhile though after you officially drop that one. We’ve done it this way and know others who have with great success (on cows at least.) Congrats and welcome to the wonderful world of home dairying!

  8. If this was a case of providing milk only for one household, then would milking once per day be an option? I know it would result in less milk overall, what I don’t know is the effect on the animal. Would the cow adjust quickly? Do you simply leave the calf with the cow longer and what about when the calf is weaned? If I’m to ever convince my man that we need a cow or maybe just a goat, then I think once a day milking has to be in the picture.

    1. Hi Pia, I suppose it would have been a good idea to address once a day milking. If you’re not going for a TON of milk (like a family of 10 would be 😉 ) then once a day milkings are a great option. One way to achieve that would be by using the calf like you said. And if you aren’t selling the calf, then you could use that Relief Milker for as long as you want- the entire lactation even. I’m sure there would be some logistics that would need to be worked out to get her to dry up prior to calving again where you would need pull the calf off and pen it away from her, then milk twice daily for awhile taking half the milk during one milking, then skipping every other day during that milking, then cutting it out altogether. (I can’t remember. Is one supposed to write sequence sentences with so many “then’s”? It doesn’t seem right.) ANYWAY, after that, you would repeat the process with the other milking until she was dried up. That would put you only needing to do twice daily milkings for 6 or so weeks out of the year. Not to shabby! And a calf/kid milk-fed for the first 10 months of it’s life would have one nice healthy start!

      1. I would keep the calf for the freezer! That would be the ‘easy’ part of selling the idea to my man- you get a calf!
        6 weeks aren’t too shabby at all, you could easily plan your life around that. Thank you for your advice 🙂

  9. I milked dairy goats once a day for 8 years and stopped about 2 years ago for a variety of reasons. We had other sources for raw milk, down to one milk drinker at home, wanted more freedom to travel to see those no longer living at home, getting older, no one else who could milk living at home. Glad for the experience and all the years of milk, yogurt and cheese. Through the years I’ve had goats who milked the classic bell curve, one who never gave a spectacular amount but best tasting, easiest milker ever and one who nearly gave a cows worth of milk for a brief time and died younger than any other goat. It did get to be a drag at times to live by the goat not the clock! If you have someone to trade milking with it is a big help. Or someone who want to learn and will cover for you after trained, that is how I learned.

    1. Seems like a wise decision! Especially since you were able to find a source for raw milk without having to do the work. With only one of you drinking the milk, I’m sure it got to be to the point where it was no longer cost effective to keep up with it. You bring up a good point with the trade too. We have some neighboring goats who we’ve milked for their owner several times now while they were out of town overnight. Most recently for a whole week. One day it’ll be our turn to call in the favor 😉

  10. We have found this to be true as well, although it can get stressful at times (“I told you to get up earlier, we only got a gallon and a half today!”) but when we started researching how their milk cycle goes, and realized it drops at a certain rate over the weeks of lactation, it did take out some of the frustration.