Thursday, October 22, 2015


Lessons I learned on the farm






# A milking cow should be revered

If she rates a place in the milking area of the barn, in our case it was metal stanchions, and eats grain in the manger, then she is royalty. These female bovines (Bos taurus) not only supply the precious fluid milk that is prized and salable, but they also are the mothers of future herd replacements that are the life-blood of the farm. I also must hasten to add that at the end of her milking life she still supplies edible meat.


A female calf (a heifer)  born of a good producing cow gets special attention and nutritional supplements not to mention medical care to be sure the young calf stays healthy and thrives. Male calves (bulls) have lesser value, unless of course his mother is an exceptional milker. He then can be raised to become the herd sire. Otherwise he is sent to market immediately or is castrated and raised for meat when he reaches 800-1000 pounds.


Heifers are allowed to nurse their mother for the first 48 hours to get the benefit of mom’s colostrum milk then she is taught to drink from a pale and is fed milk replacer or a nutrient rich powdered milk. She is watched during her first few months of life to be sure she is healthy, strong and shows traits of good body conformation of a potentially good milker.


When the heifer is a year old she is approaching sexual maturity and has to be watched closely for signs of ovulation so that she can be impregnated within those next few months. She needs to be bred by 15 months of age so that she can freshen (have her first calf) by the time she is two which allows her to become a producing member of the herd.


That is the rotation that takes place constantly in a producing dairy herd. But on a small farm with a small herd...like the one I was reared on, milking cows are more than a continuous lactating machine and an annual producer of calves. They become members of the barnyard...with names and personalities that make the drudgery of daily, repetitive labor almost fun. Such was the experience I had beginning as a small child and accelerating during my teen years.


The first members of the herd I remember were Star, Dolly, Marge, Walnut, and Flo. They were my big, warm, sometimes smelly friends that greeted me daily. Their daily production was logged on a chart as a reminder of how they were progressing in their lactation (the time after they gave birth) and to determine how much feed they would be given to maintain their milk production.


Thier personal information...like when they ovulated, when they were bred and when they were due to calve was kept on a simple calendar supplied by the local feed mill. All these technical names had farmer names: ovulating...bulling;  breed or bred….to impregnate; with calf...pregnant; give birth...freshen; dry off...to stop lactating. It was all very natural and we understood the terms as they related to the barn and did not interchange them when it came to the same cycle with humans.


Yes, a milk cow is honored and respected for her economic and nutritional value. For example, I was raised on raw milk until I was 10. Pasteurization was for milk shipped to the city from the dairy, but farmers drank milk straight from the cow...strained and cooled, of course, but rich whole milk containing lots of butterfat.


Farmers are paid for their Class A fluid milk by the content of butterfat. Whole milk purchased in the store contains 3.25% butterfat. But milk prices at the farm are based on a base of 4.0%. Depending on the breed cattle average from 3.7% for Holsteins to 5 or even 6% in Jersey cows. So the farmers I knew milked Holsteins for volume and kept some Guernsey or Jersey cows in the herd to keep the butterfat in their milk at over 4.0%. It paid more to do it that way.


Bless you Bossie...you are truly the boss (Bos taurus) of the farm.

1 comment:

patrick price said...

Thanks "TEACH" learned some new things today! My brother-in-law majored in agriculture at "MOO U" MSU. He became the principal at the largest Jr. High in Tampa.Chasing hormones with feet, not cows. Acres behind their house had cows, of course now a shopping center.