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How to Train a Cow to Milk

We decided to train our cow, Polly, who recently had her first calf, to milk. And our family is enjoying the daily supply of fresh milk.

A cow in a milking stanchion.

A trained cow is a lot more useful on the farm. Whether you want fresh milk for your family or need milk for bottle feeding a calf, learning how to train a cow to milk is a simple process.

Can You Milk a Regular Cow

All female cows (dairy and beef cattle alike) will produce milk after giving birth to a calf, and they can all be trained to milk. The main difference lies in the quantity and quality of milk produced. 

Beef cows usually produce an average of 1 ½ gallons of milk daily, while dairy cows will produce 7 gallons a day or more. That means a dairy cow can produce enough milk for your family to have 1 to 2 gallons a day AND still feed her calf.

The breed of the cow also affects the milk quality. Not all milk is created equal, but will have differences in taste, nutritional value, protein content, composition, curd firming and more.

Our family milk cow, Polly, is an American Milking Devon. She should produce about 4 to 5 gallons of milk daily when the calf is weaned.      

A man giving a cow a scoop of feed.

Taming a Cow to Alfalfa

If you want a trained cow for milking, it really helps to train them to alfalfa pellets first. Just go out in the field and start feeding it some alfalfa pellets in a feed pan every day at milking time. 

Put the pellets in the feed pan, shake it gently so that the cow can hear it and set the pan on the ground where the cow can eat. Get a little closer to the cow every time it is eating the alfalfa until you can touch her. 

Keep touching and petting her every day so that she gets used to being handled. Eventually, coax her to the milking area to eat her alfalfa pellets. 

This is great practice because it gets the cow used to coming to the milking area just like she will need for a milking routine, and it gets her used to you and being handled. Our cow runs to us when she hears the feed in the pan.

Supplies Needed

With a consistent routine in place, it takes surprisingly little time to train a cow to milk. 

  • Alfalfa Pellets (or similar feed) – A milking mama can have up to five pounds of alfalfa pellets daily. 
  • Feed Pan – Use something durable to feed the alfalfa pellets.
  • Milking Bucket – A stainless steel milking pail is durable and easy to clean. 
  • Stanchion – Milking stanchions are sturdy structures that keep the cow from moving around while being milked.
  • Udder Brush – Choose a soft-bristled brush that can clean the udder without scratching.

How to Train a Cow to Milk for the First Time

These steps are demonstrated using the hand milking method. The same training will work if you plan to use a milking machine. It took just under a week to take Polly from never being milked to milking her in the field. 

  1. Tame the cow to alfalfa as mentioned above. This training can even start pre-calving. 
  2. Separate the calf from the cow overnight (up to 12 hours) to allow her milk to build up and limit the cow’s feed overnight so that she will be hungry in the morning.
  3. In the morning, use the alfalfa pellets in a feed pan to coax the cow into a milking stanchion. Tying the calf near the cow’s head is a good idea to reduce her stress. 
  4. While the cow is eating in the stanchion, start running your hands down her sides towards the udder. 
  5. Move right up next to the cow and brush the teats with the udder brush. Stay close, pressed up against the cow so that if she tries to kick, it won’t hurt.
  6. Start milking the cow. The first time you milk, you may only get a little, but increase the milking time until you fully milk the cow each time. (If you’re unsure how to milk a cow, check out my tutorial on hand milking.)
  7. Milk in the morning, then let the calf be with the cow all day. The calf should get the evening milking.
  8. Repeat steps 1 through 7 daily. Pro-Tip: Even if the cow kicks over the bucket while you’re training her to milk, don’t stop milking. You don’t want to teach her that kicking over the bucket stops the milking process.) 
A man's hands milking a cow.

Tips For Milking in a Field or Pasture

If you want to be able to milk your family cows out in the field instead of in a milking parlor, gradually reduce the number of aids you use each day after you are successfully milking. For example:

  • Days 1-3 were designated for training the cow to milk, and we were successfully milking in a stanchion on day 3.
  • We started milking in the stanchion without using the squeeze bars on day 4.
  • Then, on day 5, we used a head gate in the field and milked her there.
  • On day 6, we only tied her up in the field next to the head gate to milk her.  

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Hi, I'm Justin

I share from a love of teaching and the sustainable movement. Here, you’ll find exhaustive permaculture articles, plentiful photos, cinematic educational films and business tips and tricks.

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