Many people believe that once a cow begins to produce milk, they produce milk for the rest of their life. While milk cows do produce for much of their life, they do get a break for many reasons that involve the health of the cow and the calves and because they deserve the vacation!
Before a cow becomes a cow, they are actually called heifers. Heifers are female cattle who have yet to give birth. Heifers are raised on the farm until they reach the appropriate age and weight to reproduce. Once the heifer has had her first calf, she then becomes a cow.
Much like humans, once the calf is born, the cow begins to produce milk in order to feed her young. The first stages of milk production are when the cow produces colostrum. Colostrum is full of antibodies and nutrients specific to what her calf needs. This is not true milk, but is very important for the health of the calf in those first few days after birth.
Once the cow’s milk truly comes in, then the cow can be milked for human consumption. This is when a cow is considered a milk cow. These cows are milked for as long as they are producing milk at their normal level.
Because cows have to have calves in order to produce milk, a cow’s milk production will begin to decrease over time. In order to keep up milk production, the cow must be bred again and give birth to another calf.
Because of the way milk production and reproduction works, milk cows must go through a dry period before giving birth. The time period for which a cow is dry is dependent on the cow and the farm.
This dry period occurs somewhere between 45-90 days prior to giving birth. These days give the now dry cow a chance to recover from their months of milking before giving birth again. This helps their bodies prepare for birth again. This dry period gives the cow a break (they work hard – they deserve a break!) and helps to make their milk supply as good as it can be. This dry period is as great for the cow as it is for her calf. Without a dry period, the cow will not produce colostrum, which is essential for calf health in those first few days.
Throughout each of these stages of a cow’s life, their diets and their lifestyle changes. Each stage requires a particular diet to help meet the needs of the cow, whether they are milking or not. Regardless of which stage the cow is in, we do our very best to keep our hard working girls safe, happy and healthy, so that your dairy products are the best they can be.