When you decide to raise a cow, you need to understand that you are looking at a long-term commitment. A cow can potentially live twenty years. During that lifespan, she can produce a calf every year and be milked for most of that time. The calves can be raised either for meat or to increase your herd.
The factors you need to consider before purchasing a cow are (1) space, (2) feed, and (3) your needs. A cow will need at least two acres of good pasture. During the time that she can’t graze, you will need about 30 pounds of hay per day per cow. If you need to feed your cow hay from the beginning of November to the beginning of April, you could easily need 2½ tons of hay per cow. You will need a place to store the hay, as well as straw for bedding. Your cow will also need grain supplements throughout the year.
Depending on the breed you choose, an average cow can produce about six gallons of milk per day. After giving birth to a calf, a cow can produce milk for over a year. However, a cow is generally rebred sixty to ninety days after the birth of her last calf and only milked for seven months while she is pregnant. The total gestation (the length of a pregnancy) time for a cow is 9½ months. A newborn calf will weigh about a hundred pounds, depending on the breed, and will be able to walk within an hour of being born.
Dairy cattle tend to be gentler animals than beef cattle and are better suited for a family farm. Within the dairy breeds, Jerseys, Guernseys, Brown Swiss, and Holsteins are the friendliest. Because of their smaller size and the high butterfat content of their milk, Jerseys can be the perfect cow for someone just starting out.