Buying your first cow or group of cows is a big step. You will have to live with this decision for a long time and you will probably be spending a lot of money, so think it over and take your time. Here are several considerations that you should keep in mind as you make this decision.
If you've never had cows before and you are just learning, don't worry too much about the breed of your cow. Choose one of the breeds that are common in your area. A cross bred cow will be perfect for you to learn on because you won't be making mistakes on an expensive, pure-bred animal.
Look at lots of cows before you buy one. Start by looking at the breed registries of many common cattle breeds. Even if you don't plan on buying a registered cow, checking out pictures of high-producing cows will teach you what a good cow looks like. Whatever the breed whether they are beef or dairy, good cows will have a few things in common.
A good cow will look feminine. Her face, neck and body will be graceful and, well, pretty. If she looks masculine at all, you should pass on her.
You can tell a whole lot about the health of a cow by looking at its eyes. A healthy cow has eyes that are bright and alert. She should be paying attention to what is going on around her. Her eyes should not have goop leaking from them, and they should not be dull.
Your cow should not be too fat, because too much fat can make calving harder. However, she should not be too thin either. Cows that are overly thin may not breed well, nor will they give as much milk as they ought to. One tool to help you judge the body condition of cows is the Body Condition Scoring Chart.
Keep in mind that dairy breeds of cows are judged differently from beef cows. Beef breeds are scored on a nine-point scale, and a healthy cow should be 4 or 5 out of nine points. Dairy cows are judged on a five-point scale and a healthy cow should be at 2.5 out of 5 points.
Good cows will have a well-shaped udder that is firmly connected to her body. If it is long, saggy, and dangling, you should pass on her. She or other cows will end up stepping on a teat, and you will have to pay the vet to come stitch her up.
Her legs should be set at the proper angle and she should move gracefully. Pass up any cows that are limping or have an awkward gait.
Sound cows are not swaybacked and their hips should slope downward rather than upward at the tail to ensure easier calving. Her body should be long to help her carry a calf with ease.
Beef cows are usually more skittish than dairy cows, but they should not be too nervous. If they start acting crazy when you or the farmer who owns them gets close, as a beginner, you probably don't want that cow. When people aren't around, the cows should be fairly quiet and calm.
The best way to buy a cow is to take an experienced farmer with you as you shop. Someone who has studied a lot of cows will notice things that you may not.