You see them around the county, and you smell them in the form of fertilizer in the fields. But how much do you really know about “cows”? We use quotes here because they aren’t all “cows”!!
- Calf – a baby
- Bull – a male that can breed
- Steer – a male that has been castrated
- Heifer – a young female cow that has not yet had a calf
- Cow – a female that has had a calf
- Artificial insemination – inserting semen into the heifer or cow for breeding purposes.
- Freshen – when a cow gives birth to a calf.
- Bulk Tank – Large tank that holds the milk from the cows until the truck comes to pick up
- Producer – farmer
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 partially dried), regular hay (cut later than haylage and dried in the field), 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. Most farmers feed cows in what is called a free-stall barn – this is a large barn that has rows of stalls for the cows to lay in. These stalls usually have a mattress-like padding for comfort. A top layer is added to the padding most often lime to keep harmful bacteria at bay.
Mastitis an 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 milk from a cow being treated for mastitis is not sent to the bulk tank. Her milk is dumped or used elsewhere on the farm so that antibiotic residue is not in the milk we drink. Each medication used in dairy medicine is labelled with a specific number of days to hold milk and meat so that they do not end up in our food.
Milk Fever most commonly happens after the cow freshens and their blood calcium levels are too low. A cow with milk fever will be 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 – difficult birth. Dystocia is often seen in first calf heifers but may occur in an older cow that has had multiple calves. A calf may be too big for the cow to have or the calf is positioned incorrectly. Our veterinarians and some of our producers know ways to correct the positioning of the calf so that it can be delivered. In most cases both cow and calf can be saved. If the calf cannot be positioned correctly or the cow has been laboring for a long time, our veterinarian is able to perform a cesarean section to save the cow.
Cycles and breeding are an integral part to a successful dairy farm. A heifer must produce a calf to produce milk. The milk is used for the human food industry. The reproduction cycle of the heifer or cow is monitored via ultrasound during a monthly herd health check. Her cycle is recorded, and the producer is instructed to breed at the proper time. Gestation is approximately 9 months. Monitoring the calf development is important to continue to process of making milk. The producer and veterinarian work together to ensure the heifer or cow are receiving the best care to provide quality calves and milk.