How to Hand Milk a Cow

If you want to learn how to hand milk a cow, this post should have everything you need. Let’s talk equipment, how to milk, and clean up!

Equipment needed to Hand Milk a Cow

Thankfully if you are hand milking a cow the equipment you need is much less than if you are machine milking. I have a whole blog post that dives into homestead dairy equipment in greater detail. Here’s a quick rundown.

For the Milk

  • Stainless Steel Food grade Bucket – Do not use plastic, even food grade.
  • Stainless steel food grade milk strainer/filter
  • Disposable filters for the strainer
  • Glass mason jars or other gallon sized glass jars with lids
  • Two bristle brushes for cleaning the bucket. One is used for the inside, the other for the outside.
  • Wire shelving or other way to let the equipment air dry
filtering milk rough and tumble farmhouse

For the Cow

  • Halter
  • Place to tie the cow or a stanchion
  • Optional – Hobbles
  • Teat sanitizing solution
  • Spray bottle that sprays upwards for the solution OR a stainless steel bowl to put solution in
  • Wipes for the teats
  • Milk stool for you to sit on
  • Optional – Teat Dip

Milking Routine


Start by setting yourself up properly the milking before. You should be able to grab your dry milk bucket, sanitizing wipes, and your sanitizing solution in just a few minutes and head down to the barn.

Set out your jars with the filter assembled so you can strain the milk as soon as you get in the house.

Once down in the barn, stash your milk bucket and sanitizing supplies somewhere birds can’t poop on them or chickens can’t get into them while you bring in the cow.

Peaceful Milking Experience

Make sure the barn area is free from distractions. Cranky chickens, loud kids, pestering husbands, whatever. This should be like a mini trip to the spa for your cow. They don’t call dairy animals “queens” and “princesses” for nothing.

Secure the cow by bringing them into a stanchion or tying them.

I give my girls a tasty grain treat right off the bat. Gives them something to chew on later and it incentivizes them to come into the barn.

While they eat, I place hobbles on. In past years I only use hobbles when training a new cow or dealing with a particularly grump cow. At the moment I am pregnant, so the hobbles are a painless way to ensure a little extra safety for me and my baby.

Juneberry calmly chewing her cud.

After that they get a good brushing. This not only reduces the hair and dirt in your milk bucket but also feels nice for the cow. It’s good for their circulation, helps them shed out in the spring, and gives you a solid chance to check them over for any physical injuries.

I even like to have what I call Juneberry’s “Beyonce Fan” that I turn on for her when the weather is super hot or the flies are bad. She sticks her nose right on it and closes her eyes most of the time. Ahhhhh.

Sanitizing Teats

Once your cow is tied, brushed, and comfortable, it’s time to sanitize teats.

Using the solution you have premade, use a clean cloth to sanitize each teat. Use a different cloth for each teat. Using the same cloth can spread bacteria from teat to teat if she has an infection. It may take several fresh cloths to get a single teat clean so be prepared. Don’t dip a dirty cloth back in the wash water. Think clean, clean, clean!

After each teat is clean as a whistle, take four more clean cloths and dry each teat thoroughly.

Using either a strip cup (a small stainless steel cup with a mesh metal on top) or just a paper towel like I do, squeeze out a few squirts from each teat.

If there is bacteria in the teat it will hang out just at the tip of it. This cleans that out rather than putting it in your milk bucket. You can also look at the milk as it comes out and watch for clumps, blood, or any other indication that something is amiss.

Now we are ready to milk!

How to Hand Milk a Cow

In the video below I show you the motion it takes to hand milk a cow. If you have never milked a cow before, I honestly recommend trying out a long skinny water balloon. Fill it with water, leaving a little room at the top, then puncture a little hole on one end.

Place your hand around the balloon so the bottom of the balloon is even with the bottom of your hand. Now, practice closing off the balloon at your thumb and pointer finger. Next, close the other fingers one at a time to squeeze water out of the balloon.

This is the basic motion of milking a cow. If you squeeze with all your fingers at once, you don’t really get much milk/water out. If you don’t close off the top properly with your thumb and pointer finger, water/milk shoots back up in to the top part of the balloon.

The actual motion you will use doesn’t have to be quite as big as completely opening and slowly closing each finger. This is just a tool to help you get the idea of the motion you want to use.

Don’t pinch, grab, twist, or do anything else funky with her teat. Be straightforward and firm but gentle. This is starting to sound like a rated R dating profile, but it’s the best way to describe it.

Hand Positioning

It will take a while for you to get the hang of milking and for your hands to figure out the best grip. My main cow has tiny teats in the back so I have to milk her with my thumb and first two fingers, that’s it. Her front teats I can fit all but my pinky around.

Sometimes directing the teat more one way or another will yield milk more easily.

The process of leaning what grip and angle to use on each teat takes time. Be patient with yourself and with your cow.

Wrapping Up Milking

Once your cow is done, you can apply a teat dip to each teat if you like. This is a final sanitizer that also helps the orifices (holes where the milk comes out) close up more quickly to prevent bacteria from entering.

I milk share with my calves, meaning I separate calves from their moms at night, milk in the morning, then put them together for the day.

Because the babes go straight to nursing once they are back with their moms, I don’t use the teat dip.

How can I tell when a cow is done milking?

This you can tell by feel, sight, and milk amount.

When you bring the cow in, before you milk, feel her udder. Feel in front of the two front teats, and feel her bag in the back. It will likely be tight and full of milk.

When you start milking the teats are usually pretty firm, again, full of milk. The milk stream should be solid and full.

As you milk, eventually less and less will come out. Their udder that was tight should feel loose, and her teats will be loose too.

If you have a calf with the mom, it’s not imperative that you get every last drop. If you do not milk share and only you are taking the cow’s milk, be as thorough as you can. This will keep up production and keep her udder healthy.

Cleaning Up Milking Equipment

cleaning a milk bucket rough and tumble farmhouse

Before I bring the milk bucket in the house, I use a wipe and the last of the sanitizer solution to wipe down the bottom of the bucket.

I just use my own kitchen sink for milk equipment so I try to keep it as clean as possible.

The milk is brought in to the house where I have already set up jars with the filter assembled. The milk goes straight through the filter into the jars. They are capped, dated, and put in the fridge immediately.

The bucket and filter are first rinsed in cold water. This is more effective at removing milk solids.

Then I fill the bucket with hot soapy water. I scrub the bucket and filter parts with my “inside” bucket brush. Then I dump the wash water in the sink and use my “outside” bucket brush to clean the outside.

I rinse the bucket and parts with smoking hot water, then place them on a wire shelf to air dry until they are used the next day.

I wrap up the process by giving the sink a rinse, then I spray it with a simple bleach/water solution and let that dry on the surface to give it a final sanitizing.

Final Thoughts

If you have any questions on how to hand milk a cow, please feel free to reach out. I have a few other posts on tips for hand milking, homestead dairy equipment, machine vs. hand milking, and more about cows.

Remember, every cow is different. Be patient, take your time, and remember there is no use in crying over spilled milk. Says I, who have done it on more than one occasion.

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how to milk a cow rough and tumble farmhouse

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