No, I’m not talking about the cheese wedges. A month ago I posted a picture of one of our lovely ladies who had their picture professionally taken by a cattle photographer. Yes, for those of you not in the ag world, there are people who do this. It can be a real pain to get your cow looking just right, but these people know how to go about it so you get just the right shot. After getting the picture back I posted it to my personal Facebook page, my Of Kids and Cows page (if you haven’t checked it out yet, please do!), as well as my Instagram and Twitter. It go lots of likes, favorites and a few questions.
A fellow Agvocate asked the following question “she looks healthy and everything, but why is she so skinny?”. Well for starters we have dairy cows, not beef cows. Reba and her herd mates are fed a ration, which is balanced by their own personal nutritionist, to make them give lots of milk. The reason you can see her ribs is not because she is malnourished or underfed. When this photo was taken of Reba she was making over 110 pounds of milk a day. To milk like that they have to eat a lot. Believe me this one is an eater. A mature milk cow milking like that will eat over 100 pounds of feed a day. Far from malnourished.
A milk cows ration is designed to help her make lots of milk and maintain her weight. Notice I didn’t say gain weight. When dairy cows have big weight fluctuations it is hard on their metabolic systems and problems arise. Ketosis and fatty liver syndrome are no fun.
A cow will also have natural weight variances due to how she is milking. Cows who have calved more recently tend to be thinner because they are producing more milk. Cows about ready to go dry (their 2 month vacation prior to baby) tend to be heavier because they are milking less. They are also 7 months pregnant at this time so some “baby weight” is expected.
Most beef cows are fed to maintain their weight and produce enough milk for their calf to eat. They are also bred to be a heavier animal, hence why we use them for meat. Dairy cows are bred to make milk all year round. This makes them naturally a little thinner.
Genetics also play a role. Just as some people are heavy while some people are thin, cows are the same way. Reba was bred to be a cow exhibited at shows. We want her to appear fit and angular (a little ribs showing). Think of it this way, she was selectively bred to be a model. People picked her skinny genes for her. Why was I not this lucky? In the above picture she is also all shiny and styled for a cow show. This means she’s had a hair cut, her udder is full of milk to show how large it is and she has had a shiny spray put on her to make her hair coat very pretty. She is essentially all dolled up to go to town.
So what’s Reba look like on an every day basis?
While she is still thin, she is in perfect condition for a dairy cow making a large quantity of milk. I wandered the barn taking more pictures so you could see the body condition of some of our other ladies.
While her back bone is still prominent, her ribs are covered with a layer of fat. She is about half way thru her lactation (period of time being milked) and this is where we like to see them. Cows that are too heavy have a hard time conceiving a calf and can encounter health problems more easily once they calve.
#94 is nearing the end of her lactation. She’s heavier because she has slowed in milk production and she’s starting to become very pregnant. While not the most photogenic cow in the barn that day, you can see she has quite a bit more fat cover.
Peggy is on her vacation time in this picture. She is very heavy. Lots of fat cover in this picture. I was honestly worried she would have metabolic problems that come with fat cows when she had her baby. But thankfully she calved problem free, her and “Patricia”, her calf, are doing just fine.
Our dairy cows are thinner because their job is to make milk, not meat. Due to specified ration, milk production and genetics they appear more thin than your average beef cow. This doesn’t mean they are not healthy. If we don’t have healthy, well cared for animals they don’t produce milk to the best of their capabilities.