Never Too Old to Learn Something New

Being a novice to agriculture, the best way for me to learn is to research about the subject.  I decided my first blogging venture would be dairy production.  Sounds simple enough and yet to understand it totally, I will need to milk the internet for answers.

Dairy production plays a vital role in American agriculture.  A dairy fact is that one cow produces 6.5 gallons of milk per day. Milk has always been and is still today a staple in the diets of most Americans.  The average American drinks about 20 gallons of milk per year.   Another fact regarding cattle is that the first cattle made its way to American with Christopher Columbus.

In the U.S. milk comes from breeds of cows genetically selected for milk production.  Black and white Holstein cows make up 90% of the U.S. dairy herd, due to their ability to produce large volumes of milk.  The Jersey cows are next accounting for 7% of the U.S. dairy herd.  The last 2% are made of other dairy breeds (e.g. Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Milking Shorthorn).

Dairy cows look a lot different from beef cows with huge udders and pointed hip bones that help support the weight.  After the calf is weaned, the cow will keep producing milk as long as she is regularly milked. Milk from these cow is collected and sold as milk or other dairy products.  Each breed gives a slightly different milk product that varies in nutrient content (i.e. protein and vitamins).

080530-01-Clandeboye-Champion-WillowThe black and white Holstein dairy cow is the most popular among dairy farmers because it produces more milk than the other breeds.  The Average Holstein produces almost 9 gallons of milk per cow per day.

I would think that it would make sense for farmers to milk herds of pure Holsteins since they give the most milk.  Many farmers choose to mix their breeds, because cows that are slightly mixed tend to be stronger than pure Holstein.  This is what accounts for the difference in appearance that you may see in a herd of dairy cows.  Holsteins can weigh in at 1300-1600 lbs.  A Holstein’s spots are like fingerprints- no two cows have the exact same pattern of spots.  They tend to thrive in mild climates.  They don’t like colder temperatures or the heat of tropical areas.

p15705pcThe Jersey cow is smaller than the Holstein, weighing from 800 – 1000 lbs. Their coloring is all shades of brown (from the lightest tan to almost black).  Due to the slightly lighter weight, the Jersey cow requires less maintenance, they have higher fertility and easier birthing of calves.  They can thrive on locally produced food, and their milk has a higher butterfat content than other breeds which is good for the production of ice cream, whipping cream and butter.  Jersey cows can adapt to hotter temperatures, so they can live in hotter climate areas around the world.

What else did I learn about dairy cows? Like humans, there are different names given to cows depending on their sex and stage in life. For example, a female cow younger than 3 years old that has not had a baby is termed a heifer; a male is called a bull; and a castrated male is a steer. So a dairy cow is a female that has given birth to a baby. That baby is called a calf.

So the next time I enjoy a tall glass of ice cold milk, I will think a bit more seriously about the cow, who produced it.  I can’t wait to drive passed a farm and check out the Holsteins and Jerseys!


One thought on “Never Too Old to Learn Something New

  1. Pingback: What’s Cookin’? Chocolate Milk! | Iowa Agriculture Literacy

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