Okay… so dairy or beef cattle? Cattle come in all kinds of breeds, just like dogs or cats. Some breeds are primarily used for the beef they can produce; some breeds are primarily used for the milk they can produce. Just like certain breeds of dogs are bred for their speed (Greyhounds) or their size (teacup Yorkshire terriers), certain breeds of cows are bred for their ability to make milk (Holsteins or Jerseys) or to grow muscle (Angus or Hereford).
Dairy breeds of cows are capable of making much more milk than one calf would need. Some dairy cows can produce up to eight gallons of milk a day. Most beef cows just produce enough milk to keep one (and sometimes two) calves fed and happy, but not much extra. This is usually 1-2 gallons a day.
These photos are all of dairy cows (all girls). The first four cows are Holstein cows.
This cow is not lactating right now. She is pregnant, and is getting ready to calve (have a baby) in about two weeks. As a pregnant dairy cow who is not lactating, she weighs a little more than cows who are lactating.
This Holstein cow calved about two months ago and is lactating (milking) now. She is in the breeding pen at her farm, so hopefully she will be pregnant again soon. You can see that this cow is skinnier than the cow in the photo above. That is normal in dairy cattle. They make a lot of milk, so even with appropriate nutrition they tend to get skinnier while they are lactating.
This Holstein cow is in the same pen as the one above. She calved about two months ago and is milking now. She is also in the breeding pen, so hopefully she will also be getting pregnant soon. Just like people, cows need to have a baby before they can make milk. The cows get a break from milking when they are getting close to calving – that way most of their nutrition can go into growing the baby instead of making milk.
This is a Brown Swiss cow. A Brown Swiss is just a different breed of cow (like Labrador retrievers are a different breed of dog from Golden retrievers), but they are still very good at making milk. She is about half-way through her lactation. Brown Swiss have a different body type than Holsteins, and don’t tend to get quite as skinny, but you can see this cows’ ribs a little bit, and her hip bones are sticking out just a little. Again, this is normal in dairy cattle. They are built differently than beef cattle, so they should look different.
All photos are courtesy of Kelsay Farms. Visit their website, their Facebook page, or take a farm tour and visit their corn maze this fall!
Are you planning to talk more about beef cattle in your next post??
Dr. Marybeth Feutz says
Yes, Carla, beef cattle on Friday.
Different breeds also produce different versions of milk. Some breeds produce milk that has more fat content than others. Or like holsteins they can produce a high quantity but not always the best in quality aka proteins and fats. Each breed has its own benefits a lot like dogs.
Dr. Marybeth Feutz says
Doublej, you are absolutely right, different breeds of cows do have different amounts of protein and butterfat in their milk. That doesn’t necessarily mean milk with lower protein or fat content is lesser quality, though. Even “whole” milk you buy at the grocery store has a lower protein and fat content than milk right out of the cow. I’ll talk about this in more detail later on.
Some cows are beef cows and some cows are dairy cows and some are both
Linda Ponzetto says
So, ONLY a pregnant cow of any kind makes milk? Every cow that we see in a pasture would be pregnant? At what part of a cows milk does it actually become Colostrum? Our Rottweiler has Bone Cancer and we are trying to get a grip on cow colostrum . Thank you.
Good info! I’m doing a comparing and contrasting essay and this was very hepful!!!
Hi Linda. Only a cow that has just had a calf makes milk. She will produce milk for about 10 months after the calf is born. Not necessarily every cow you see in pasture will be pregnant, it depends on what kind of farm it is and what kind of cows they are. A cow produces colostrum instead of milk for about the first 24-48 hours after she gives birth. This is thick, sticky milk and is very high in the immune proteins that a calf needs to survive.
Can you milk beef cows and drink there milk
Marybeth Feutz says
You can, milk from beef cows and milk from dairy cows is exactly the same. But most beef cows won’t stand very still for you to milk them. And they don’t make as much milk as a dairy cow does.