How to Buy a Safe Raw Milk Cow

IF you are looking for safe raw milk to drink you want to be sure to buy a safe milk cow (or find a herdshare that tests at least yearly). Many cows today are sold as “family milk cows” when they actually come right off a non-tested, non-raw milk dairy. Brokers sometimes make a deal with dairies to take their cull dairy cows that the dairy would otherwise sell at an auction yard, or the brokers buys cattle at an auction yard; puts a “story” on the cows and sell to unsuspecting families. I have known too many families who have purchased cattle like this only to have their family member get very ill. I myself bought a “tested” dairy cow from a RAWMI listed diary only to test again and find the cow to be positive for Q fever. I was sick for 3 years, in and out of the hospital every few months with respiratory distress; and will always be disabled from this disease. Yes, most people get over q fever with no ill effects. My husband and daughter both caught it from this same cow at the same time and have had no issues other than a sever “flu” like cold for a few weeks. With our dairies being such petri dishes of disease; most of the dairy cows in the US now and indeed most of the world are now affected. Bob and I having both been vet techs and having a vet tech daughter; we knew enough to quarantine all cattle coming onto the farm. NONE of our cattle caught Q fever because the minute we take them out of the trailer they get tested, EVEN if the owner gives us vet paperwork. They go into a Q pen isolated from all other cattle until all the tests come back clean. DO IT. This particular cow had a cut teat and we doctored her every day, I wore gloves but not a mask. This is an airborne bacterium, and it infected my lungs.

Do yourself a favor and test!


  1. What is her date of birth. Sire? Dam?
  2. What has she been tested for and can I see hard copies of the results
  3. Has her milk every been tested by an independent lab and do you have hard copy results?
  4. Milked once a day or twice a day?
  5. Hand or machine milked?
  6. What have you been feeding her for the past year?
  7. Can i get a video of her being milked? In the pasture? With people?

Most sellers will not get past question 2, it’s ok. Move on.

We have found the best place to buy cows is from other breeders/milkers or a university farm. We look for a farm close enough for a drive up to see the cows, check herd health. look at records together. Here is the protocol we use when selecting a new cow.

We have often found the best cow is the cow that does NOT LOOK like a dairy cow. They are healthy with shiny coats, bright eyes, well attached udders . Why aren’t they Jersey’s or Holsteins? That is because in most countries, dairy cows have been bred for generations to produce milk from grain. The gut biome of these cattle have completely changed so that they are less fertile, more likely to come down with Milk fever or Acidosis, and have trouble with reproduction and liver problems. Did you know the average lifespan of a dairy cow in the US is 5 years? Not five years of production, but 5 years of age? The number one reason for this is that they will not rebreed.  Second is milk fever and third, mastitis. So why are you looking at a dairy cow that was raised on a dairy and expected to be culled when she is 5?

What you should be looking for are cows that produce good rich milk on grass alone. In other words, the perfect HOMESTEAD cow. Not so easy to find any more. Experts in fact will tell you it takes 17 generations to take the gut biome back to where the cows can produce milk from a grass fed diet alone. We will have to change our attitudes and accept the fact that we are NOT looking for a cow that produces 14 gallons a day; but a small, fertile dairy cow that produces 7 to 8 gallons a day over 5 to 16 years of production.

our second generation homebred Guernsey
Shiny coat, bright eye, alert. This cow has good flesh for a grass only cow. Many times the cross bred cow is the much better buy

So let’s list what you should be looking at BEFORE you go look at cows.

  1. What are my feed conditions? A milk cow will need 30 to 40 pounds of grass a day to produce milk.
  2. What should the cow be tested for?    First and foremost clean cows! Never buy a cow that has not been tested for e. coli 0157H7 . At a minimum, you should look at that first, then do an SCC (Portacheck) and only consider if under 100,000. She should be BANGS vaccinated or have a bangs tag if it is a requirement in your state. TB tests are a must, as are testing for BLV and BVD, Johnes, Q fever, Brucellosis, Neospora if in your area (API and UBRL). If she is in milk, get a mastitis test (API).
  3. What should a good quality milk cow look like? Well, there are as many opinions on this as there are cattle breeds, however a healthy cow will always LOOK healthy. She will have a bright eye, be curious and have a shiny coat. For a cow that will be a grass only cow, she MUST have good condition, too many Jersey’s or other straight bred dairy breeds can not hold up on grass alone, so if that is your goal, pass up those sorrowful eyes! With a cross bred cow you get hybrid vigor; something missing in most purebreds so do not discount the cross bred cow. Purebreds will generally cost more and be harder to find.
  4. What should I pass up?  We NEVER buy horns, only takes one head swing to put an eye out, and horned cattle can be dangerous to other livestock as well. Dry cows that are open should also be passed up, don’t believe the “I don’t own a bull”, while that may be true, it is the number one excuse the cattle broker uses. Swinging udders cause problems while milking. Hard udders that feel hot, never buy them as you will not likely get rid of the mastitis. Cows that have not been tested, you are taking a huge chance on. Cows without a history generally indicate a cow that came straight from an auction. Cows with an unexplained low milk production; this is a hard one for a beginner. If a cow just freshened and is only giving a gallon or two a day, may be just fine but MAY be staph a. These cows are dangerous to you as they can pass this to your herd. ALWAYS test for staph a, and the CMT will not do it, only API or a similar lab can test for this. Lastly, never buy a heifer that is not pregnant. It is very common for brokers to try and pass off a twin heifer to an unsuspecting buyer. These twins (bull and heifer) are called “freemartins” and few can get bred. They are generally infertile. You can, with a practiced eye, determine if a heifer is a freemartin; but best to leave that to vets. IF you do buy a young heifer, get it in writing that she is NOT a freemartin. IF they won’t do that, then go someplace else.
  5. What should I look for at the farm where my cow is? What are the condition of the cattle? What are they eating? Is it a complete diet? Is there mastitis in the herd? Broken tails usually mean the cattle have been mishandled. Bobbed tails or switches mean the cow is off a dairy (never buy off a dairy, why would they sell a good cow?)
  6. What should I look for in a seller? I look for passion and commitment to clean healthy cattle. Are they willing to talk with you? Are they willing to test, this is HUGE. I have been told too many times “I will not test because if she is A1 I have to drop the price.” If I pay for the tests, the results are MINE and I do not share with the seller. IF they really wanted to know they would test. Costs $25 to test for A2, about $50 to test for mastitis indicators, I have the SCC kit I take with me, a health certificate is also a must. I run a blood test for BLV and BVD carriers (not always obvious), Q fever, brucellosis and Johne’s. All in all about $200 worth of testing; but can save my entire herd so it gets done, no excuses.

Published by Bob and Dusty Copeland

Bob and I have successfully managed the largest on-line supply of goat meat for years. We retired and decided we wanted to give back to our community. We began the first and only RAWMI listed farm share co-op where local families can come and learn by doing. 14 families milk the cows daily, our special needs daughters manage the chickens. Families collect their own eggs. How can we help YOUR family?

3 thoughts on “How to Buy a Safe Raw Milk Cow

  1. I want to thank you so much
    I’m interested in starting a small dairy and this information you have sjared is priceless and necessary thamk you so much


  2. Hello I live in weed and would love to buy milk and eggs from you please let me know what I need to do to join so I can purchase healthy food also will you deliver to weed I live by dollar general


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