Here are 5 tips to help make purchasing your milk cow a good experience.
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5 Tips for Purchasing a Family Milk Cow

Here are 5 tips to help make purchasing your family milk cow a good experience. A family cow is a significant investment; ensure you walk away from the sale feeling confident with your purchase.

Jersey milk cows produce a significant amount of milk and a substantial amount of cream.

The decision has been made, and you will bring home your first milk cow. But I want to be the first to tell you there will be some exciting times ahead for you and your homestead! Most dairy cattle purchases go down without a hitch. However, every once in a while, a purchase will go wrong. For this reason, it is best to protect both parties, the seller and the buyer, from potential issues.

In a time long gone, one purchased a cow based on a handshake and trusted that the information provided was accurate to the best of their ability. However, the times have changed, making protecting your investment necessary.

Purchase from a Seasoned and Reputable Farm

The purchase of a dairy cow, especially your first family milk cow, is a big decision. Doing your research before bringing a bottle calf, heifer calf, heifer, or cow onto the homestead is essential, and you will want to ask the right questions.

Here are a few tips:

  • Find dairy farms or a local farmer raising dairy breeds or the desired breed. Dairy cows are not one size fits all. A referral is an excellent way to find a reputable farm for your first cow.
  • Choose the best dairy cow breeds for your family. There are quite a few different breeds to choose from; however, here are my top choices for a family milk cow:
    • Jersey cows produce a significant amount of sweet cream and milk but can be a tad temperamental for the first time owner.
    • Brown Swiss cows are another popular breed, often more significant than Jersey cows, and also known to be docile and gentle.
    • A Guernsey cow is known as a giant and gentle cow. This breed is also considered to be a high milk production cow. An excellent family cow for those who seek gallons of milk daily. How much milk will this cow produce? Roughly 4.5 to 5.5 gallons of delicious raw milk a day!
  • Decide whether you desire a heifer, a cow that is bred back, a dry cow, or a cow in milk and bred back. What you choose will determine the price you pay for your milk cow. Also, grass-fed cows fed a strict grass-based diet will cost more than a cow that is offered grains.

Choosing the right cow will take time. However, rushing into a decision without taking the proper steps could end in many complications down the road.

Eloise, a 2nd-year freshener, and Rosemary, a heifer enjoying a cool fall morning.

Purchase Agreement

It’s essential to have a written sales agreement in hand before money exchanges hands. This is very difficult for me to say, but a simple handshake does not cut it. I wish it did, and sometimes it works, though more times than not, the buyer is the party that will suffer if the sale falls apart.

A purchase agreement can cover anything, though the points below should be considered when writing up such a document:

  • Agreed Price of Sale – a purchase agreement will need to cover the cost of the cow.
  • Cost of Disease Testing – and who is the responsible party for covering the costs
  • Transportation Agreement – who is responsible for transportation and the cost factor, if applicable.
  • Holding Fee – Occurs if the previous owner holds the cow past the agreed purchase date. This covers feed costs and labor while your cow is at another farm.
  • Purchasing a bred heifer or cow – Before bringing your milk cow home, request proof of confirmation by blood draw that your cow is indeed bred, especially if it is early on in the pregnancy. For a cow purchased later in gestation, 6 months on, documentation of palpation from a veterinarian is okay too.
  • Rebreeding agreement – An agreement between both parties as to whether the cow a contract should be made and documented if a cow needs to be rebred (for any reason)
  • Compensation Agreement – The seller compensates the cost of rebreeding, generally picking up the cow to have her bred again or by artificial insemination.

Acquire Health Records from the Existing Veterinarian

An honest seller will have no hesitation in helping you obtain any existing health records that their veterinarian has documented. Good animal husbandry is at its best when both farms work together to ensure a healthy animal. The health records should be given to your veterinarian once the cow has arrived on your homestead or farm.

Verification of Disease Testing

If you are incorporating milk cattle or beef cows, please ensure that your cows are tested before arriving on your property; this practice will protect the health of your existing herd and any future herd members. Additionally, the seller generally pays for all testing, as many buyers will not purchase without confirmation they are receiving a clean, disease-free cow.

Ask the seller to test for the following diseases:

  • BLV – Bovine Leukemia Virus is a blood-borne disease that survives in white blood cells called lymphocytes.
  • BVD – Bovine Viral Diarrhea: a viral disease found in cattle and other ruminants caused by the bovine viral diarrhea virus.
  • JOHNE’S – an infectious wasting condition of milk and beef cattle caused by Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis, commonly known as Map. Johne’s is closely related to the organism that causes tuberculosis.
  • Bovine TB – Tuberculosis: Transmission of TB spreads when respiratory secretions or aerosols are spread from an infected cow to other cattle. Tuberculosis can spread like wildfire when cattle are kept in small enclosures. 

Not so commonly requested tests

  • Bang’s – Brucellosis, also known as Bang’s disease, can cause contagious abortion, decreased milk production, weight loss, loss of young, infertility, and lameness. There is no cure for Brucellosis. However, proper herd management and good sanitation methods can help minimize the spread of the disease.
  • Bovine Anaplasmosis – A tickborne disease caused by intracellular bacteria that infect red blood cells, causing fever and anemia. 
Cows are herd animals and prefer to share a pasture with other animals.

Additional Paperwork to Request

Other than the items listed above, there are different test results you may want to ask for at the time of purchase. Remember, the seller may have yet to find the need to run these tests, and more than likely, if you want to know, you will have to have the cow tested yourself.

  • Genetic testing – This test will determine the breed of the cow you are purchasing.
  • Genomic testing – Determines your cow’s milk protein, A1 or A2. If the seller states the cow is A2A2, they will have documentation to validate this information.
  • Registration – Registered cows tend to sell more than unregistered cows. If a seller will provide the registration paperwork for a cow registered with American Aberdeen Association

Protect your Investment

I will preface this with the, not all sales go south. The good ol’ handshake and exchange of information should be enough for such an investment. The truth is that not all sellers are knowledgeable about keeping or selling milk cows. There are a lot of lessons to be learned, and the first one begins with buying your family milk cow and protecting your investment.

Honest sellers will be OK with providing you with the information above. However, if you are set on purchasing the cow, and the seller refuses to provide disease testing or confirmation of birth, you have one option, pay for all of the tests yourself and make the best decision for your homestead. Bringing healthy cows to the homestead ensures your homestead will be lucrative for many years to come!

Good luck to you and your whole homestead, beautiful and wonderful things are coming your way!

This Pinterest pin image showcases Eloise in the barn looking glamorous.

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