May brings a lot of exciting things – flowers are blooming, the weather is starting to get nicer, and for most animals, this is when babies are born!  Included in this list of animals are one that most people are fairly familiar with – cows.  However, calves are born all year round, unlike some animals that are only born at certain times of the year.  Some farmers will try to sync their cattle, meaning that they may try to have more cows freshening during the summer than the winter.  This is able to be done using medications that put the cows into heat and make them ready to be bred.  This is done mostly with cows that have had more than one calf.  Heifers are typically bred for the first time by a bull, rather than by artificial insemination as most cows are.


Now, there may be some things in that first part that you may not know what they mean.  Don’t worry, I will explain what all that means!

– Calf – a baby cow.

– Bull – a male cow that is able to breed

– Steer – a male cow that has been castrated, typically used for meat.

– Heifer – a young female cow that has not yet had a calf.

– Artificial insemination – inserting semen that has been frozen into the animal for breeding purposes.

– Freshen – when a cow gives birth to a calf.


So what do cows eat?  Cows eat a multitude of things – silage (corn that has been cut down when it’s full grown, and allowed to ferment), haylage (grass hay or alfalfa that has been cut and dried), regular hay, and grain (typically from the kernels of corn that is mixed with the other feed).  These feeds contain different proteins, fats and other essential nutrients that cows need to produce milk.  The better contents the feeds have, the more quantity and better quality milk the cow will be able to produce.  Farmers will also let cows out to pasture to eat grass and allow to get off of concrete that most barn floors are made from.  Most farmers feed cows in what is called a freestall barn – this is a large barn that has rows of stalls for the cows to lay in.  These stalls usually have some sort a mattress or lining that cows lay on so that it is not just concrete.  They will also use something to cover up the mattress or lining, such as lime which is good for killing some bacterias.

Cows, just like other animals, get sick.  Here are some of the most common sicknesses that cows get:

– Mastitis – this is when cows get a bacterial infection of the mammary gland and udder tissue.  When this happens the farmer must separate out this milk so that it does not contaminate the milk that goes into the bulk tank (the large tank that all the milk goes into from all of the cows being milked).  There are treatments for this but again, this milk must be kept separate for a specific number of days so that all of the antibiotic is out of the cows system and milk.

– Milk Fever – this most commonly happens after the cow freshens and their blood calcium levels get low.  This makes them very weak and unable to stand.  Treatment for this includes IV calcium but it needs to be given slowly because if it is given too fast it stops the heart.

– Dystocia – this translates to difficult birth.  This can be caused when the calf is either too big for the cow to have (most common with first calf heifers but also can happen to cows that have had multiple calves) or if the calf is positioned incorrectly.  There are ways to correct the positioning of the calf and it is able to be pulled but it needs to be done correctly to prevent any damage to the cow.  In most cases both cow and calf are able to saved.  If the calf cannot be positioned correctly or it has been a long time since the cow has started to give birth the veterinarians are able to perform a cesarean section to save the cow.


Cows, like other animals, are vaccinated.  However, if you have cattle and want to know which vaccines are best for your herd, please call our office and talk to one of our large animal veterinarians.  They will be able to work with your specific needs and get a plan that will be best for your herd and needs.


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