From Our Farm to Your Table

Do We Milk Our Cows? Sometimes

Tue, 2017-03-21 19:31 -- Carole Soule
Flash nurses on his own after a rough start

The two day bull calf was weak and not interested in nursing on his mother, a red Scottish Highlander cow. The mother cow's teats were too large for this little fellow to get in his mouth. If we didn't do something he would starve.

Beef cattle, like the Scottish Highlanders, produce just enough milk to nourish their calves. Beef cattle are, well, beefy with backs and butts that are well muscled to produce steaks and roasts. A good beef cow has smaller udders which are easy for baby calves to nurse on. On the other hand dairy cows are bred to produce milk, not beef. The back of a dairy cow might look thin but their udders, where the milk is, are typically large.

Most dairy calves are removed from their mothers shortly after birth so that the cow can be milked and we can all enjoy ice cream, cheese and, of course, bottled milk. Most beef calves are left with their mothers to nurse for four to eight months.

Despite a rough start, Flash's mom cares

Large udders on a dairy cow are a bonus and can mean good milk production. Large udders on a beef cow can be a problem which was the case with Flash, the bull calf who wasn't nursing. Most beef cattle are not used to being milked so we Flash's mother in a secure place, a squeeze chute, where we could safely milk her. We then tube fed Flash for a few days. We put a tube through his mouth to his stomach and gently poured his mother's milk through the tube. After two days he was strong enough, with help, to nurse on his mother. For about a week, I would hold his mother's teat so Flash could grab hold. Soon he was strong enough to nurse on his own. He made it and grew up to be a thousand pound steer with amazing horns.

For me, the answer to the question, “Do you milk your cows?” is, “Yes, sometimes.” We milk them to help the calves but not to collect milk for human consumption. I have tasted Scottish Highlander milk. It's deliciously sweet and would make a great drink but there's not enough of it for me and a calf.

Dairy Cows have large udders

Next time you see a cow, look at its rear end. The dairy cow will look thin and will have large udders while a beef cow should have a big rear end and small udders. So now you know. A dairy cow is udderly different from a beef cow!

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