Tips for Hand Milking a Cow

With six years of experience under my belt here are my best tips for hand milking a cow.

There are many reasons you might be hand milking a cow. Could be you don’t have the option to machine milk. Might be you prefer the old fashioned pioneer vibe of milking a cow yourself.

Whatever the case, hand milking a several thousand pound animal is not something that just comes naturally to most people.

If you are reading this my assumption is that you are soon to be getting your first milk cow, or maybe you already have one and milking is proving to be difficult.

Hopefully these lessons I’ve learned over the last six years will help make your milking sessions go smoothly.

Tips for Hand Milking a Cow

Before we dive into the different topics, let me say that every cow is different. What makes my cow comfortable or uncomfortable will be different than your cow. Best you can do is try some of these tips for hand milking a cow and keep what works.

Secure the Cow

Make sure the cow is secure in a headstall or tied.

If you are only able to tie your cow, I recommend having a fence, building, or some type of solid structure on at least one side of the animal. This will prevent them from swinging their hind end miles away from you, making you follow them around with the milk stool dragging behind.

Learn a basic quick release knot to keep them secure but easy to untie in a hurry if necessary.

Utilize Hobbles

Hobbles are made from a solid strap that basically has two little belts on either end. These are secured around each of the cows hind legs. Hobbles can be a teaching tool or something you use all the time, that is up to you.

Hobbles are padded on the inside so they don’t cause any discomfort to your animal. They still will not like them at first.

Hobbles do not prevent your cow from kicking, or putting their foot in the bucket. What they do prevent, is the cow from seriously kicking you.

They will still have some motion underneath their bellies where they can kick at the bucket or even catch your arm if you aren’t quick enough. The hobbles do prevent them from kicking out sideways where they can do some serious physical damage to you.

I typically only use hobbles as a training tool and stop after a couple weeks of no kicking. However this year I am pregnant while milking, so I will likely use the hobbles every time I milk just to be on the safe side.

cow in the morning rough and tumble farmhouse

Create a Pleasant Milking Environment

Avoid Unnecessary Noises and Distractions.

Barking dogs, kids running around, husbands busting in through the barn door to see what is taking you so long, are all things that can upset your animal.

I tried milking with the barn door open so we could enjoy the nice breeze. That was a no go. Every chicken that walked by caused her to get distracted and move around.

As far as noises go, cows can be more sensitive to this than you realize. Here’s wild example. I like to listen to homestead and farming podcasts. I often listen to Jill Winger over at the Prairie Homestead, or Aust and Kay from Homesteady. The other day I was listening to Jill Winger’s podcast while milking. It finished and automatically started in an episode of Homesteady.

Juneberry immediately got stompy and cranky. After a little experimenting, I realized she didn’t like the sound of Aust’s voice. Now she is largely used to me handling her and talking to her, so I don’t know if she just prefers the sound of a female voice over a male, or she just really doesn’t like Aust. Whatever the case we don’t listen to Homesteady while milking.

Stick to a Pleasant Routine

Cows are animals who like a routine. It’s best if they know exactly what to expect and when. Try to milk at the same time each day. Then establish a routine they can expect to enjoy.

My routine for the cows is they come in the barn where there is a feed pan waiting for them. They get to eat a yummy snack while I brush them down.

After that they are tied and hobbled. Then their udder gets a wash with nice warm water. Then we milk.

After that they had back out to the pasture. I keep it the exact same every time. Depending on the time of year I might give them a good curry combing before I brush them.

The Milk Bucket

How you handle the milk bucket may create problems.

Keep it Quiet

Buckets are obnoxious things to a cow so be gentle and quiet with it. Don’t clang it around if you can help it.

Sometimes cows do not like the sound of the first milk panging into the bottom of the bucket.

You can avoid this sound by tilting the bucket on its side and spraying the milk down the nearest wall of the bucket until it has enough milk in it the loud sounds have stopped.

Bucket Handle Faced Away from the Hooves

Make sure the bucket handle is lying on the far side of the bucket rim away from the cow’s back hooves. That little detail can prevent the cow from snagging a hoof on the handle if they decide to kick.

Bring Two Buckets

These days I typically don’t sweat it if I lose a bucket of milk. In my early days of milking I would always have two buckets. The first I milked into, the second sat securely off to the side. Once I had a bit of milk in it I would pour it into the reserve bucket.

This works well, so if one bucket is kicked you don’t lose all your milk. You also then have the option of using the clean bucket to finish milking (if you feel so bold) rather than milk out the cow into a now dirty bucket.

home dairy rough and tumble farmhouse

Handling Teats

How you handle teats can be a big part of why a cow kicks or is cranky.

Don’t Be Fussy

A quick way to earn a kick or fidgeting is if you fuss around down there too much or use a too-light approach. If you are too delicate and non-comittal this will feel like flies to the cow and they won’t like it.

Let the cow know you are there. I typically pet Juneberry’s side, then I kind of lightly fist bump the side of her udder so she knows I’m in the neighborhood, then I reach for the nearest teat with purpose, and milk.

When a calf nurses they are putting a lot of pressure and suction on that teat. You don’t want to yank on them but you want to be purposeful when you milk.

Milk Teats in the Right Order

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you which order is right for your cow or even if this will matter to your particular cow. With Juneberry she prefers I start with her front right. Then I milk just the front left. Then I can milk them both at the same time.

If I just reach under and start milking two at once or milk a far side teat first she will absolutely kick a little and shuffle around.

Same goes for the back teats. I start with the back right. Then I do just the back left. Then both together.

I don’t know why she prefers it this way but she does.

Once you have a teat routine down (never thought that is a sentence I’d write) stick to it every time.

goat's milk rough and tumble farmhouse

Try Different Grips

When it comes to the most important tips for hand milking a cow, this is one of the most important. Trying out different grips will result in shuffling and potentially kicking. Sometimes the grip or hand position you are using isn’t working for the cow. It must be uncomfortable or feel funny. Try a different grip or even a different hand to see if that changes things. Again this is a trial and error thing so be prepared to move your bucket away from kicking hooves.

I advise you stop milking, then witch grips. Don’t grip the teat one way and the very next pull change it up. That will feel weird and again they won’t like it.

Be Aware of Sensitive Teats

When a cow’s udder is very full, they might be resistant to the first few touches of your hand. Any woman who has nursed a baby knows about this. When udders are pretty much hard as rocks and super full of milk it HURTS at first to be milked. Once some of the pressure is relieved it will feel much much better for them.

Another thing to watch for is cuts or scrapes on teats. Poor Juneberry had a big cut down one teat a few years ago and she wouldn’t let the calf touch it. So now it was cut and extra full of milk.

Again, having been a nursing mother myself, my heart went out to her. I ended up milking just the very tip of her teat ever so gently and that was all she would tolerate. Poor girl.

If they are sensitive about one teat in particular it is worth giving the cow a walk around and inspecting the teat carefully for any injuries.

Be Aware of Your Cow

How Does She Look?

Is she tense with wide eyes? Ears perked forward or swiveling all over? Sounds like she is on alert and nervous. Take extra time to make her feel comfortable and relaxed. Extra brushing or some snuggles are in order here.

Once a cow starts chewing their cud you know you are golden. They only do this if they feel relaxed and content. This doesn’t mean they still won’t kick at a fly or something, but for the most part they aren’t concerned about the milking that is happening.

What Leg is her Weight On?

When milking, you can get a good idea of which leg she is going to kick with by paying attention to how she is standing. If all her weight is on her back left leg, that means a kick (if it is going to happen) will come from her right leg. It also means she can kick in an instant with out moving the rest of her body at all.

If she wanted to kick with her left leg in this scenario, she’d first have to switch her weight to her right leg, then kick. That takes a lot more movement on her part and you’ll have more time to take evasive maneuvers.

You’ll probably have to make a conscious effort at first to notice where she is placing her weight. After a few weeks you won’t even be conscious of it, but you’ll be aware of it.

Watch and Learn

If you’d like to see tips for hand milking a cow in action, check out the YouTube video below. Good luck with your sweet cows!

More cow content! More dairy content!

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