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The Must Have List When Getting Your First Cow

Posted by on December 2, 2014

We’re getting a cow. We’re actually getting two cows. Well, technically we’re getting a bull calf and a heifer or cow. The bull is coming home with us on Saturday. The heifer or cow will be arriving hopefully this spring or summer. (A heifer is a female cow that has not given birth yet.)

The bull calf is a Dexter/ Scottish Highland cross with some other dairy cow breed thrown in there too. He’s almost exactly what we want. Thanks to the Dexter side, he’s small. His parents were both under 46″ tall. Thanks to the Highland, he’s shaggy ­čśÇ

The Must Have List When Getting Your First Cow - IdlewildAlaska

A lot of people will warn you against getting a bull to keep for breeding, stating artificial insemination (AI) is easier, safer, and more cost effective. One of the main reasons we’ve been looking at both the Dexter and the Highland cattle, is because they’re both known for their very calm demeanor, even in the bulls (We learned this after much research and talking to several breeders). As for the easier and more cost effective… We both like the idea of doing things the natural way, the way God created it to work.

Like I said, the bull will be coming home with us Saturday. We’ll be driving┬ásouth to Homer, Alaska┬á(a six or so hour drive) and picking him up. Depending on his “cowinality,” we’ll probably be naming him either “Shamus” or “Bruce.” The hubby hasn’t quite decided yet. (I get to name the girl.)

This whole idea of getting into cows came up rather quickly for us. It’s only been a couple weeks since we decided to take this leap. Now that we have snow on the frozen ground, it makes preparing for him a bit more interesting. However, starting off with just a bull is easier than getting a cow already in milk thankfully.

Cattle Size Comparison Chart

After talking to several cow owners around Alaska (thanks to numerous Alaskan farm groups on Facebook), we’ve come to realize all the bull┬áreally needs is a good sturdy fence (which thankfully we already have), hay, a water trough with a heater to keep it from freezing, and a three-sided shelter with a roof to give him somewhere out of the wind to stay dry. Many cattle owners here in AK just let the cows hang out under the trees, but there aren’t any in our fenced in area. Our bull calf is going to be living in our garden, but just until this spring when we can get a larger area fenced in. Just think of all that wonderful manure…

You have a whole other Must Have List When Getting Your First Cow, especially when you’re milking her. Thanks to my Alaskan Farmer friends, I’ve got a great list of things to get stocked before she joins us on the homestead.

The Must Have List When Getting Your First Cow - IdlewildAlaska

Picture from

Steel toe boots (These would be good to have for a bull or heifer!)

Minimum of a three sided roofed shelter (If you’re in a cold climate and milking, you may want more!)

Good source of hay

Good grain

Water trough with heater (If you’re in a cold climate like me)

Mineral Lick

REALLY good fences. Electric is a popular choice. Barbed wire isn’t quite unheard of still too.

Good relationship with the neighbors for when the cows get out (They will. Just accept it.)

A couple of halters. Spares are always good.

Three lead ropes, because as I was told you need “One to use, one to break, and one to loose.”

Good vet’s phone number to keep on hand. Find out who everyone local recommends. (I asked around and EVERYONE said the same vet. That tells me she’s the one to go to!)

(Additionally for the dairy side of things…)

Hand sanitizer and baby wipes (You MUST keep your hands clean when milking!)

Milking stanchion (Click here to learn how to build your own!)

Seamless stainless steel milk bucket x2 (It’s always good to have an extra one close in case someone feels like kicking…)

Large jars to store milk (1/2 gallon wide mouth canning jars are popular)

Strip cup

Bag Balm or Udder Butter

Teat spray (udder wash)

Mastitis testing kit

Brush (You don’t want dirt falling into your milk, and brushing will often calm your cow, which makes for a much more pleasant milking experience for all involved.)

A way to filter your milk

Double the budget of what you originally plan (Just like every new homesteading venture you get into, or so it seems.)

Cheese making equipment, ’cause all that milk will be GLORIOUS.


Read more about our adventure with our bull calf here.

For more info when it comes to choosing a family milk cow, visit One Ash Farm and Dairy.

The Must Have List When Getting Your First Cow - IdlewildAlaska

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14 Responses to The Must Have List When Getting Your First Cow

  1. Kristin | Life in the (907)

    My parents tried AI on the pigs, but it never took. Eventually they went back to the old fashioned way and got the nicest boar you’d ever meet.
    Have fun!

  2. Tamara

    Excited for you! I so want to get a milk cow, but we are in the process of clearing our 3 acres using pig power!! hahaha After they do the rototilling, we will plant with pasture grass and hopefully in about 2 years be ready to go. I have been looking at Dexters also due to their small stature and good disposition. I am interested in how your bull does. Love the photo!! Will definitely follow along with your posts to see how it goes! Good luck!!

  3. Lee True Hulcher

    Happy to hear about the cows, but beware of raw cow manure in your garden. They carry E-coli and foreign weed seeds in their manure. I learned the hard way about both.

    Lee Hulcher (Wishing I was home in Alaska).

  4. Jason

    We were Highland Cattle breeders here in Australia. They are just the best breed…we love them. They are good milkers, they have lovely marbled meat, and their temperament is just perfect, despite the size of their horns!

  5. Deborah

    Good list and beautiful cow! He looks like a cutie!
    Have you decided on a name for the little lady yet?

  6. Sherry

    What a cute cow with the big horns. I love cows I grew up with a whole pasture of them behind my house. Good luck with your first cow. Thank you for joining Home Sweet Home!

  7. Terri Presser

    Hi, we have a full blown highland bull and cow and they are just beautiful, George the bull is very tame (although I don’t quite trust him) and Mildred his cow is good too. We have already eaten one of their offspring and he was very tasty. We use George to breed with our dairy cows and the calves come out looking really cute. We don’t milk Mildred because her horns are two wide for the cattle crush where we do the milking but we have 3 other dairy cows so we don’t really need to. I hope you have fun with your cattle and that they go well. Thanks for sharing , blessings

  8. Janet Pesaturo

    Hi! I hope your highland bull is working out for you! I don’t have cows, but my daughter (19) would love to have them some day, but she is small and worried she won’t be able to handle them. I did not know that Highlands came in 3 sizes – that is great info. I think she would be fine with the miniature! And great to learn they are known to be calm. Thanks for the post.

  9. artificial insemination of cows

    I love it when folks come together and share ideas. Great blog, keep it up!

  10. Ed

    I added pigs to my homestead this year and will continue to raise them. I am fencing in pasture and plan to have longhorns and Scottish Highlands and mix the 2. I hope to raise 75% of my food here in NC.

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