Caring for a Pregnant Dairy Cow

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As you probably know, a dairy cow must have a calf for her to produce milk! After breeding, caring for a pregnant dairy cow isn’t very difficult but there are a few things you should do to keep her healthy and happy until calving.

Two jersey dairy cows laying down in the sun

We have two beautiful Jersey dairy cows at our home here in Alaska. As of this writing, they are both due to calve in just a few months.

Breeding a dairy cow is essential for her to go into milk, which is the reason to have her in the first place! The average gestation for a dairy cow is about nine months, with the exact number of days depending on the breed.

But what do you do with your cow during those nine months? Here are some important ways to care for a pregnant dairy cow so she’ll stay healthy and happy until the arrival of her calf.

Daily Care

If your cow is currently in milk during breeding and pregnancy, then you’ll be able to continue your normal milking routine with her until two to three months before calving, when you will dry her off.

If she’s a first-time heifer and hasn’t been in milk, then you’ll also continue her routine of caring for her every day.

There isn’t much that you need to do a daily basis to care for a pregnant dairy cow. The waiting is the hardest part! Just continue to enjoy her company and spoil her with your care and attention.

Make sure to check on your pregnant dairy cow every day to see that she has a comfortable place to lay down as needed, fresh food and water, that her area is kept clean, and that she is looking and acting normal.

Some extra brushing and scratches will keep her extra happy also!

She will spend her days relaxing, going between standing up and moving around to laying down

Side view of a jersey dairy cow laying down

Feeding a Pregnant Dairy Cow

The most important thing your pregnant dairy cow needs is fresh hay or grass, depending on your land and situation. We feed our cows hay most of the year here in Alaska.

It’s important that a pregnant cow has good-quality hay. Moldy hay is not healthy so avoid it!

Typically cows do not receive grain during pregnancy but this will depend on your feeding routine and their needs.

A pile of bales of hay

We give our cows access to loose minerals at all times. This will depend on your location and the nutritional needs of your specific cow.

A pregnant cow eating hay

And, as always, make sure your cow has constant access to fresh, clean water. Keep her tank filled and remember that she will drink a lot more once she’s in milk.

A small water trough might work while she’s young and not in milk but once she calves, you will definitely need a larger trough. A dairy cow should never run out of water.

Training a Heifer for Milking

If your cow will be calving for the first time and hasn’t been in milk before, it’s the perfect time to begin training her for milking.

Although the first milking can be difficult until you get into a routine, taking the time to train her while she is pregnant will make it much easier when you are ready to milk her after calving.

A dairy cow eating grain from a milking stanchion

Here is how we trained Honey and are currently training our heifer, Buttercup:

  • Bring her to the location of where you are planning on milking her. We use a stanchion to milk Honey so now it’s Buttercup’s turn to try it out. We use a halter to walk her out of the stall and into the stanchion. If you’re not going to be using a stanchion, use a halter to tie her up wherever you plan to milk.
  • Give her a bit of hay or grain to snack on and enjoy while she’s standing there.
  • Brush her and practice your milking routine. We always brush before milking to remove any loose dirt. It’s also enjoyable for the cows!
  • Gently touch her udder…but DON’T squeeze! Gently, run your hand over her udder but don’t squeeze her teats. They have a plug in them to keep bacteria out and if you push it out, she will be susceptible to infection. Just gently touch her udder to get her used to you being there so it’s not a surprise when you milk her for the first time. If she kicks, keep trying!

Doing this every day, or as much as possible, will get her into a good routine that she’ll already know when it comes time to really milk her.

More Tips for Caring for a Pregnant Dairy Cow

  • Be sure to have an established relationship with a large animal veterinarian who can be available throughout your cow’s pregnancy if you have any questions or concerns.
  • Also check with your veterinarian if there are any vaccinations your cow will need, depending on where you live.
  • Cows love attention! Lots of scratches, brushing, and hugs will make her extra happy.
  • Start preparing well in advance of her due date and make sure you have everything ready for calving as well as milking.
A pregnant cow laying down

Waiting for a cow to calve is an exciting time that seems to take forever! Focusing on taking care of your pregnant dairy cow will help the time pass. Enjoy spending extra time with your cow before the business of milking and caring for a calve begins!

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11 Comments

  1. Great information! We don’t have a cow, but it is definitely a future goal. I’ll keep this in mind when it is time 🙂

  2. Love this! It’s a dream of mine to have a dairy cow, so I’ll hang onto this post for when the time comes!

  3. Such great information! I hope someday to own my own diary cow — I really love that I know where to find all this great information for when that day comes. Thanks!

  4. As urban homesteaders, my wife has been asking almost daily to move a bit further out of town to become full on homesteaders. As a doula, I’m sure she’ll be doubly excited for this blog post

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