I often read questions on discussion forums and Facebook groups from individuals asking if they should buy a calf or a cow as their family's future milker. There is not a black-and-white answer to that question, and what works great for one family might not work at all for you.
My first milk cow started out as a 9-month-old heifer; my second cow was a 2-year-old that was already milking. In this post my goal is to give you a few of the pros of buying a cow versus buying a calf.
Pros of Buying a Calf:
You can raise and train a calf the way you want, but keep in mind that training takes time and isn't always easy.
A calf will often transition to a grass-based farming model easier than a cow.
Pros of Buying a Cow:
When you buy a cow, there is little to no waiting time before you can start milking. Waiting for months and months before you can start drinking fresh milk is a test of patience!
A cow is already trained to stand for milking, which is a bonus if you've never milked a cow before. At least one of you is a pro at the whole milking process. ;)
Since a cow is already milking, you know that she's given birth to at least one calf. One risk of buying a calf is that you don't know if she is a freemartin. This is where the heifer in a set of mixed (male/female) twins is not fertile.
And finally, you might be shocked at a milking cow's price tag, but it's nearly always cheaper to pay the extra money for a milking cow. Trust me, raising a calf from birth to freshening not cheap.
What do I recommend? Your choices might be limited by what's for sale in your area, but if you've never milked a cow before I highly recommend buying a trained family milk cow rather than a calf.
When you look at my Jersey Sales page, you may notice that here at Birdsong Farm I always sell trained family milk cows rather than baby calves or bred heifers. This is partly because I am building my herd, and partly because many of the families that are buying a Jersey from me are first-time cow buyers.