We have been asked quite often about how long a cow milks or if she milks her entire life, so, this post talks more about that.
A dairy cow’s primary responsibility is to produce milk. In order to do so, she must give birth (like all mammals). At about two years old, a heifer (young female cow that has not given birth yet) will give birth to her first calf. Up until that point, she has not been producing milk.
In the past, the care and feeding of the dry cow was not high on the list of priorities for many dairy farmers. Dry cows were often neglected and placed on the back foot but thankfully today, dry cow management is seen as an integral part of dairy herd management. Getting the dry period right can help towards easier calving, improved milk yield and better fertility. Getting it wrong can lead to many health issues such as milk fever, retained placentas and metritis (white discharge). All of these affect profitability and can eat into a dairy farmer’s most limiting factor, time!
Each cow is different. Some cows will produce large amounts of milk while others struggle to produce any. We will have cows that milk for a year with no drop in milk production while many others will need to give birth again to continue to produce milk. So on average you could say that cows gives birth each year.
A common misconception is cows milk their entire nine month pregnancy. This is simply not true. Every cow has a “dry period”. The cows is sent on “vacation” for the last 45-90 days of her nine month pregnancy. It varies from farm to farm. Most will fit into 60 day time period while some might calve (give birth) a bit early or others will drop in milk production so we will send them on an early vacation. We have to evaluate each cow differently.
The “dry period” is incredibly important. Why is it so important?
[li]Their health. They need time to rest, eat & prepare for giving birth.[/li][li]The calf. If they do not have a dry period, they will not produce colostrum. Colostrum is absolutely essential for calf health.[/li][li]Their milk production. If a cow does not have a dry period, her next lactation milk production will be negatively impacted. We need each cow to at least produce enough milk to pay for their feed.[/li][li]Well it’s simple really, they do so much for us that they deserve a break.[/li][/ol]
So what is a dry cow? A cow that is on vacation of course!