Note: This post is sponsored by U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance & they will also be sharing on their blog as well. As always, I am sharing what happens on our farm. The views and opinions are my own.
A cow has to give birth to produce milk.
When does a cow give birth to her first calf?
It varies from farm-to-farm, but on our farm, a heifer—young female that has not yet given birth—will calve around 24 months of age. During her pregnancy she will be on her first “lactation,” which simply means time producing milk between each calf.
When will she get pregnant again?
Our farm is primarily bull bred; meaning almost all our cows are bred by a bull. We split our herd into two groups of cows. One group has a herd bull, while the other does not. Every cow that recently gave birth goes into the group without a bull. We want her to have plenty of time to recover from delivery, and make sure she has no post-calving issues. At 45-60 days, we will move her to the group with the bull; sometimes longer depending on the cow. This doesn’t mean she will get pregnant right away. She still has one heat (ovulation) every month. She could get pregnant her first, second or third heat, though typically, it happens during her first or second. Every cow is unique. We have a cow who has been milking for over a year that we will not allow to get pregnant again. She is an older cow, and we do not feel like her giving birth again would be right. She will stay on the farm until she is done producing milk, and we will then have to decide where to go from there—to the sale barn to enter the food supply, or to provide food for our family.
How long are cows pregnant for?
Cows are pregnant for nine months.
Are cows milked their entire pregnancy?
No, they are not.
On our farm, we like each cow to have at minimum of 60 days off at the end of her nine-month pregnancy. This is what we call a “dry period,” and she is referred to as a “dry cow”. Usually, a cow will go down in milk production, or even stop producing, as she nears the end of her nine month pregnancy. There are also cows that will produce consistently all the way through and we will not have to “dry her off”. Each cow is different, like my favorite cow, 6199. She would not get pregnant, then after multiple attempts, she was finally expecting. She had an eight month dry period. Of course, that is the exception to the rule, because she is a favorite and gets special treatment. She spent the summer out on pasture with the heifers.
What happens if a cow does not produce milk?
Simply put, she enters the beef supply. 20% of beef in the U.S. is from dairy cows.
Each farm has their own rules on which cows stay and who go. I will be completely honest, we keep cows that probably shouldn’t be kept. The reason I say that is because our farm is a business. We have to run our farm as a business to keep the roof over our heads. We do not need much—we just need to pay our bills. Sometimes, it means sending cows to the sale barn in order to make that happen. But often times, when a cow takes longer than expected to get pregnant (like 6199), or for whatever reason she gets sick or injured which ends her milk production early; we give them second chances. Shhhhh… sometimes, they even get third chances. When you spend every single day with these girls, it’s hard to just say “oh down the road you go.” Farmers do get attached, and as long as there is another cow producing enough milk to pay for her feed—and the cow in question—we break the rules and give her another chance.