Anyway, time for some "Farm Fact Friday"! There are four main stages of a cows life: calf, first calf heifer, dry cow, and milk cow.
Let's start with birth. On our dairy, like most, we raise all of our own milk cows. The calves that are born every day grow up to become the cows that produce milk, so farmers make it a priority to get them off to a healthy start. They get to live in spacious hutches that protect them from wind, rain, and cold. The hutches provide a way to give individual nutrition to each calf, and allows for personal health care for each baby!
The babies will receive fresh milk from the cows, it's just in bottles that are portioned out to give the calf a healthy amount of nutrition. I've said before: a healthy baby is the best baby.
After the calves are strong enough and have built up a strong immune system, they will go into an open pasture to be co-mingled with other heifers and later become bred when they are old enough. In this phase, they are called "first-calf heifers". This heifer is one that has just been turned out in the pasture, she will just spend the next few months just growing, she is about 4 months old.
Note: a heifer is a female that has not had a calf, a cow is a female that has had one or more calves. Heifers will have their first baby at about 2 years of age, and will have one baby every year after that.
The first calf heifers are given extra attention, and additional nutrition since this will be their first time to have a baby. Here is a first calf heifer that is coming up on her second birthday. She should calves in about 2-3 weeks.
After they have their calf, the calf will go into phase one (as mentioned above) and the momma cow will then go into the milk pen. For the next nine months she will be in an open pasture with about 600 other cows of various ages - that's on our farm, other farms may be different.
Professional nutritionists help dairy farmers develop a balanced and nutritious diet for their cows. Fun fact: cows have four components to their stomach and eat about 100 pounds a day.
Once the cow has been in the milk cow pen for 9 months, she should be about 6 months pregnant, at which time she will be moved out of the milk cow pen and into the "dry cow" pen. This means she gets a 90 day vacation! All she does is eat and sleep. It's a pretty dandy life.
Being a "dry cow" means that they do not give any milk and their udder's will "dry" up until right before calving. A dairy cow's main purpose is to give milk, and the cows like it, they like their routine - they get pretty fussy if we get out of the dairy routine! So, at first, they don't like the dry cow pen. But, then they figure it out and enjoy eating as much as they can. Then, they have their baby, and the whole process repeats itself.
So, there is your Dairy Cow 101. Have a great weekend!