While you might recognize our business for our milk or our cheese, we are also in the business of breeding cattle. Without careful breeding, our products wouldn’t be what they are. Through careful selection of bulls, we are able to raise our own dairy cows and beef cattle from start to finish. Raising our future dairy cows properly is important, starting with their genetics and ending with their nutrition and breeding.
There is a lot that goes into breeding to get the best dairy cows we can, and it starts with selecting the right breed to breed our lovely ladies with. Our breed selection depends largely on our plans for that potential calf.
In the fall, we use artificial insemination with a selected dairy bull in hopes of getting a heifer (female that has not had a baby) who will eventually become one of our dairy cows. For those bulls, we look to the dairy breeds: Holstein, Jersey, Brown Swiss, Ayrshire, Guernsey, and Milking Shorthorn. Most of our herd are Holstein and Brown swiss, so those are our preferred breeds. In the spring and summer, however, we allow Angus bulls into the field to breed about 50 percent of our herd. These calves will either be raised on our farm for beef or sold to other producers who will raise them.
When selecting the bulls we use for breeding, we are looking for several characteristics that could be passed down to his calf. In addition to a bull’s health traits, feet and legs, we also look for whether the bull is A1 or A2. For the last four years, we have been selecting 100% A2 bulls. This means their calves (should they eventually produce milk) will produce A2 milk.
While genetics are important, the proper nutrition and breeding practices also greatly impact our future herd.
A heifer is a female cow that has not had a baby yet. On a dairy, these heifers are raised to eventually become milking cows. Until they reach the appropriate age and weight to reproduce, they spend their days gaining weight. Many heifers are bred around 12 to 14 months old. This is when the heifer reaches puberty, a necessity for breeding. We aim for our heifers to be at least 55 to 65 percent of their mature weight. From the time of birth to the time the heifer gives birth is about two years. In those two years, the heifer’s only job is to eat well and stay healthy.
Our products are a direct result of careful breeding selections and nutrition. While milk and cheese might be what you see on the shelves, we couldn’t do it without also being in the business of breeding.