Startup Cost for a Family Milk Cow

Are you dreaming of owning your own milk cow, but you don’t know what she needs, how much it cost, or where to start? Let’s talk about the startup cost for a family milk cow.

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Cost of a Family Milk Cow

I am only going to mention the cost of the cow and the items needed to successfully use her as a milk cow. I am assuming you have a barn or shelter and fencing already in place.

The price of a high-quality milk cow is going to run between 1,500-3,000 dollars. It really depends on what breed, whether she is trained, untrained, in milk, or pregnant. All of these variables play a role in the price you will pay for your cow.

We bought our cow for 500.00 dollars. A farm near us raises Dexter cattle for beef and he was selling some of his herd. We jumped at the chance and bought two pregnant cows, but we ended up keeping only one. Molly was a field cow and had never been handled before, but I was willing to take the chance because I wanted a milk cow.

We trained her to the stanchion, she let us milk her, and she has been my milk cow for three years now. If you are willing to train the cow yourself, you may be able to get a less expensive cow.

Hay and Alfalfa

On our homestead we always have 2-3 cows on our farm on a full-time basis. One is our milk cow, Molly, and the other two are steers that we are growing out for beef.

Once a year in the spring we buy hay in bulk from a local farmer. 350 square bales at 6.50 per bale for a total of 2,275.00 dollars per year. The hay is used to feed the cows and any waste is used as bedding in the stall. Some of the softer alfalfa hay goes to the pigs during the winter. Learn more about buying hay here.

For the milk cow we buy alfalfa as a treat when she is in the stanchion. Some people give their cow a grain ration, but alfalfa has worked for us. We buy it in 50 pound bags from the local feed mill at 19.81 per bag. On average we buy around 47 bags per year for a total of 931.07 (plus tax).


First, choose a place to milk the cow. For our cow we built a milking stanchion. This was an investment due to lumber cost, but it is a secure place for her to be milked, checked by the vet, or artificially inseminated.

At the time of building the stanchion cost 350.00 dollars. It may be more now because it has been three years since we bought the wood. To cut the cost, source free wood or design something cheaper. You can find many ideas on the internet.

Some cows stand like a champ and do not need a stanchion, but our cow thinks she owns the farm, so we chose the stanchion route.

Location, Location, Location

Because we live in a four-season climate, we choose to milk our cow in the barn. I do not want to milk a cow outside when it is snowing, raining, or windy. Choose a place where and your cow will feel safe and comfortable.

Milking Machine for a Family Milk Cow

What is your preference? Will you milk your cow by hand or use a milking machine.

I milk by hand because I milk one cow and I feel like the expense and the time cleaning the machine is not worth it.

I own a small breed of cow (learn more about Dexters here) and she gives about 1-2 gallons of milk a day, and is easily milked by hand. If you own a larger breed such as a Jersey cow which gives up to six gallons a day, your hands may not hold up. You know your strengths and weaknesses and can plan accordingly.

If you are in the market for a machine here is a great article about buying a milking machine. A good quality machine cost around 1,000.00 dollars or more.

Hand Milking

You need several items on a daily basis for hand milking.

Grooming brush. 10.00-30.00 dollars. This is your opportunity to get the debris and loose hair off of her utter before milking. We use a curry comb to brush the cow’s legs and sides if she decides to lay in manure. We also use a regular grooming brush for her utter.

Wash Cloths. 10.00-15.00 dollars. Soft, cotton wash cloths clean the cow’s udder before milking. I buy cotton wash cloths from Walmart, and they work wonderfully. They usually last about two years and then need replaced.

Soap. 8.00-54.00 dollars. Choose a soap that is a nondrying gentle soap. I use dawn dish soap because it is economical, but if you desire an all-natural soap, a good brand is Dr. Bronner Castile Soap.

Stainless steel pail. 22.00 dollars. We place a 13-quart stainless steel pail under to cow’s udder to catch the milk as we are milking the cow. Once it gets about halfway full, I pour the milk into another stainless steel container with a lid. This way if the cow decides to kick the pail, I won’t lose all of my milk.

milk pail. Supplies for a home dairy.

Stainless steel milk can tote. 80.00 dollars. This stainless steel milk can tote holds the milk securely because it has a lid. The cats cannot get into this container while I am milking, and I can carry the milk from the barn to the house without spilling it.

milk tote. supplies for a home dairy

Milk strainer and filters. 50.00 dollars. After you milk your cow, it is imperative to strain the milk with a filter. Even though you brushed the cow’s udder and washed it with soap and water there will always be a chance of debris or hair getting into the milk. Straining the milk guarantees that your milk is clean and ready to chill in the fridge.

milk strainer with disposable filters.

We chose a small stainless-steel strainer and disposable filters to strain the milk. There are larger strainers that hold more milk if you desire. I have tried other options for filtering such as reusable coffee filter or a stainless steel coffee filter, but they did not sufficiently strain the milk.

straining milk

Glass containers. 22.00 dollars. Half gallon or gallon glass jars are an excellent option for storing milk. Glass is best because it does not hold bacteria and are easily washed and reused. I buy my glass jars and lids from Azure standard. I also use Ball half gallon glass jars, but lately, I have not been able to find them in the stores and Amazon is charging way too much for them.

5-gallon bucket and shovel. Last but not least, the cow will eventually poop or pee while you are trying to milk. Place a bucket and shovel nearby your milking stanchion to catch the waste before it drops and creates a huge mess. The bucket is for the urine, and the shovel is for catching the manure.

Owning a family milk cow is an investment

Yes, getting a cow and all the supplies necessary to care for her is an investment, but don’t let this scare you off. A Dexter cow gives around 700 gallons of milk during one lactation period which is made into cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, kefir, sour cream, and cream. Her milk feeds other animals around the farm such as pigs and chickens. Pigs absolutely devour the whey from making cheese.

She gives a calf every year which in turn gives you a steer to harvest for beef.

Furthermore, her manure is made into compost that fertilizes the garden and gives you an abundance of food.

She truly is the queen of the farm and worth every penny in my opinion.

A Family Milk Cow is an Investment in Time

Before buying all the equipment and searching for the perfect cow, evaluate how much time you have to commit to milking and caring for your cow.

For the first five months after calving, we practice calf sharing. This means we milk one time a day. After milking, the calf nurses freely during the day. Every day at 6 pm we go out to the barn and separate the calf from the mom. Then at 6am the next morning we milk the cow. This schedule gives the calf 12 hours nursing time and twelve hours no nursing. We bring in 1 gallon of milk a day during these months.

After five months we ween the calf, so we switch from once-a-day milking to twice a day. We stay on the twelve-hour schedule. 6am milking then 6 pm milking. We bring in 2 gallons a day until we dry her off for calving season. As you can see you need about an hour to an hour and a half with your cow every day.

what you are going to do with all of this milk? Do you have the time to make products from the milk? You will need several hours a week to process your milk and make dairy products for your family. Are you willing to rearrange your schedule or give up some activities so that you have the time to spend with your cow?

farmer's cheese
Farmer’s Cheese

Yes, owning a family milk cow is a money investment and also a time investment. But if you have a desire to have an abundance of milk, make your own dairy products, and live a more self-sufficient life a cow would be an awesome addition to your homestead!

Other post you may enjoy:

How to Make Farmer’s Cheese

How To Choose Hay for Your Cow

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