Basic Needs for your Family Milk Cow

Before you bring home your dairy cow, you should give significant thought to how you are going to provide for her needs. Cows, like most creatures, need food, water, and companionship. Here is a brief guideline for providing for your cow’s needs.


To keep your cow and the neighbor’s landscaping safe, you will need a quality fence to keep her contained. If your property is already fenced, but the fence is grown up in weeds, take some time to walk the fence and inspect it for gaps. Cows have a sixth sense about finding holes in a fence at the worst possible moment and spending an hour now repairing your fence can save you headaches later.

jersey_cow_fencingTwo of our Jersey heifers graze in a pasture surrounded by a 6 foot chain link fence.

Two strands of barbed wire are often sufficient for keeping in adult cows. However, if you plan on having calves in a field, you will need three or even five strands. Woven wire and chain link are also great options because they will keep out coyotes and dogs that may bother your cows. Four feet is the preferred height for the top strand of fencing, because if a cow can get her head over the fence, she may push it over trying to graze the other side.

Electric fencing is an excellent choice to keep cows contained. While the shock isn’t pleasant, it quickly trains cows to avoid the fence line. Most cows learn after being shocked once or twice. However, you will have to take care to keep the fence line clear of weeds and brush. If your fence is grown up in greenery, the electric wire may be grounded out, rendering the fence ineffective.


Cows are herbivores, meaning that they eat plants. However, all that is green is not grass. Blackberries, milkweed, and broom-sedge are all green plants, but they are inedible to cows. Your field should have a mixture of grasses and legumes for your cow to eat. Even some weeds like Johnson grass and ragweed are edible for cows. Your county extension agent or an experienced farmer can advise you about the quality of the grasses in your fields and what you can do to upgrade your existing forage.

If you don’t have a large property, you can still keep a cow by supplementing with hay. If the weather is pleasant, a cow may eat between 2 and 3 percent of her body weight of high quality hay each day. For a 1,000 pound Jersey cow, that means that she may be eating 20-30 pounds of good hay every day. If the weather gets cold or she’s a heavy milker, she may eat even more than that.

Before you buy your cow, have a plan in place to feed her. For your cow to stay healthy and give as much milk as possible, you can’t skimp on rations. If you are feeding your cow properly, she will be content with her life. However, hungry cows are much more likely to try to escape from your fence, and they will be loud and irritating to have around.


Water is the most essential substance to all living creatures. Your cow may be able to live for awhile on thin rations, but she will die in just a few days if she doesn’t have enough water. The Virginia Cooperative Extension Agency says, “A good rule of thumb is cattle need 1.5 gallons for every 100 pounds of body weight.” If it is hot, the cow will need more water. If the cow is eating mostly dry feed, like hay, she also will need extra water. For a 1,000 pound Jersey cow, she will need at least 15 gallons of water per day. Her water should stay as clean as possible, and you should have a plan in place for the winter months when a trough and hose will freeze in the frigid temperatures.


Fresh, clean water is always available to our herd of Jersey cows.


Cows need several different minerals to keep them in good health. You can buy a mineral (not salt) block at the feed store that will be adequate. Keep the mineral block in a salt feeder or a trough. Pay attention to where you keep it because rain will leach the salt into the dirt, killing the grass around it. Some farmers use loose minerals. Cows can sometimes absorb minerals better from a loose mineral mix. However, you have to keep loose mineral in a covered salt feeder to keep it out of the rain.


Cows are herd animals, meaning that they are happiest when they have company. A cow that has a friend will be more content. Your cow’s calf can keep her company, or you can buy a feeder steer to turn into beef to provide companionship. If you really don’t have the space or money for an extra cow or a calf, a goat, sheep, dog or even a donkey will help her feel more secure. Cows are wonderful creatures, and in comparison to many other forms of livestock, they are fairly low-maintenance farm animals to have around. When you provide for your cow’s needs, she will come to regard you as a part of her family. Each morning, she will wait for you at the fence, and soon, she will seek you out, basking in the attention that you give her.