I Want to Keep a Family Cow: Where Do I Begin?
I frequently get requests to mentor folks regarding the care and keeping of a family cow. In addition, individuals often want to know if I have any advice for them on running a cow share program. While I greatly enjoy sharing information with others, you can see by the frequency (or should I say infrequency) of my blog post that I am no longer able to spend a lot of time doing that. There was a time when I spent hours responding to questions and helping people as a moderator on a fabulous forum called Keeping a Family Cow. This forum is a fantastic resource and I highly recommend your starting with it, as most of your questions will be answered simply by reading past posts.
While the forum will give you an excellent starting point and some quick answers to commonly asked questions, I also highly recommend that you buy the book Keeping a Family Cow. The author, Joann S. Grohman, has written the best book on the subject to date. Originally written in the 1970's the book has been updated and remains relevant to the small farmer and homesteader of today. Joann continues to milk her own cow and is currently in her 80's.
To truly understand the nature of cattle one should take the time to read articles and information shared by Dr. Temple Grandin. Specifically read the chapter on bovines in her book Animals Make Us Human.
If you are able to find a small farm or willing farmer who has the time to share hands on experience with you by meeting with you privately or offering classes for a fee, take advantage of those types of training experiences. Please don't begrudge the farmer for charging for their hard earned knowledge. In addition to the worth of their knowledge and experience, farms who offer classes must be insured to cover liabilities and that expense can be quite costly.
If interested in share programs or selling raw milk, the best resource is the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense organization. This organization will provide legal guidance as well as training with occasional online courses.
In closing, let me just briefly say that I always encourage people to begin this journey only if they have a burning passion for owning and keeping dairy cattle. Keeping a family cow is not just a job, but it is a lifestyle.