Let’s talk cow(tipping)

Hi everyone! There is absolutely no denying that cows are one of the most loved animals. And for many, it starts from a very early age. Go through any baby books, toys, nursery decor…you’re bound to be overwhelmed with how much “cow” there is. But really can you blame them?? From the big, loving eyes all the way down to their um…tail… and everything in between, there is nothing to not love about cows! Today I thought it would be fun to share some cool facts about our bovine besties.

Bos Taurus-Cattle as we like to call them have over 800 breeds under that affiliation. Buffalo, bison or brown Swiss all these beauts fall under classification.

Cattle are quadruped mammals with cloven hooves. What does this mean? They walk on all fours and their hooves are split into two “toes”. Goats, sheep and pigs all also fall in the cloven hoof pack, animals like donkeys and horses have one. 

Cows spend between 10-14 hours of their day lying down. They will only spend about 4 of that actually sleeping(the rest of their rest is thinking of ways to cause trouble). Cows do have REM state(just like people)and although none of them have ever said, I’m pretty sure they dream. If you happen to catch a cow in their REM state, you’ll see ears twitching, mouth quivering, eyes rolling back in their heads…kind of seizure-like but just like your dog when he’s dreaming he finally caught that rascally rabbit. 

Some cows will lie flat out when they sleep, especially if it’s a nice sunny day and they’re stretched out outside. This will then give the poor farmer a heart attack and he will yell “hey are you alive???” And she will slowly wake up and turn her head to the farmer and give him the dirtiest look you can ever imagine and then go back to sleeping. Oh, and since we’re on the topic, cows don’t sleep standing up. I’ve caught a few on occasion leaning their heads against a pipe or board and they were “resting their eyes” but if you plan on being a pro cow tipper you may need a back up plan. If a cow is napping, she will wake up when you touch her. If she’s not, she’s not going to let you just come up to her and start pushing. In fact, she will probably not only push back but also win. There is actually a whole science behind cow tipping(who knew?!) and it takes something like 6 full grown men to exert enough force to actually tip a cow. That’s without her fighting back. Not sure why you’d want to anyways? That is NOT how milkshakes are made!

Since we’re talking about cows being outside, a cows ideal temperature is right around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it hits that, you’ll see farmers start opening up the barn doors and curtains and letting spring into the barn. (Cows internal temp? 101.5)

So let’s go back to the cow tipping for a minute. So you have your 6 burly men and you’ve managed to sneak into the pasture(shame on you for trespassing into the cows home!!!), the only way a cow won’t see you coming is directly behind her. Cows have 300 degree vision, so unless you’re at her derrière (haha get it? Dairy??) she will see you coming. Oh, and you better have rolled in some of her manure(about 115lbs of it per day are produced by a larger Holstein-jerseys are much more petitie and lady like so less poo) because cows can smell up to 6 miles away! Not related to cow tipping, cows are also red-green color blind, so when the bull fighter is waving his red flag, it’s not the red that gets the bull going but the waving. Oh and also, cows can get easily scared so if so much as a blade of grass twitches the wrong way, it’ll send some one off bucking to the barn, and the rest will follow.

The rest will follow because cows are herd animals. What does this mean? It means some animals like the solo independent life, like tigers and some are herd animals and stick close together. Cows even have friends. Most of the time cows will have a friend(normally someone who was a calf with them) and they tend to stick together all the time. We have quite a few pairs who when you see one, you see the other. Interestingly in that pair, normally one is more dominant and the other more laid back. Farmers have also noticed cows may know their family members. There’s several farmers I’ve talked to who have noticed moms and daughters or sisters hanging together. On the flip side, cows also have enemies. You can’t blame them, I mean we all have at least one person we don’t like working with. There is also a pecking order in the barn and as soon as a new animal arrives, she must quickly learn what the order is. 

Since we touched a little on the poo factor, we’all talk about food. Cows are ruminants. They have one stomach with 4 separate compartments. Cows eat and their food goes down into their rumen, where it mixes with some acidic juices and forms cud, and it is then regurgitated and chewed. And chewed. And chewed. For like 8 hours a day(not continuous, but after each meal.) Can you even imagine chewing for 8 HOURS a day??? I guess if your lying down for 14 you need something to do! Anyways, once the cud is properly chewed, it is sent back down to the other parts of the stomach. What are they doing all that chewing with? 32 teeth(people have 32 also!!) but they are different kinds, more molars and none on the front top. That’s just a pad. So if you see a cow smile, you won’t be seeing pearly whites up front. 

Cows eat around 100lbs of food per day, bigger the cow, or the more they milk, the more they eat. Most cows are fed a mix of grain, corn silegae and haylage. Cows will drink between 30-50 gallons of water per day(to the moms out there that have breastfed-you know you are thirsty. All. The. Time.) 

What else about cows? Cows are pregnant for 9 months(just like humans). Their cycle is a little shorter, around 21 days. When a cow comes into heat, she will very pleasantly inform you by bellowing as loud as she can 24 hours a day, chasing her friends around and trying to…do things with them which they can’t since they’re girls. But they try. We will leave it at that. (Any breeding questions feel free to check out my last blog). You can see Icy in the pic below concentrating very intently and giving her best go at breeding her fellow cow. It didn’t work. 

Let’s just talk a little terminology. First you have a calf. That’s a baby. They can either be a bull(boy) or a heifer(girl). (Or both-it does happen on rare occasions). So a heifer is a young, immature female. Once she has a baby, she becomes a cow. Most farmers will still refer to them as heifers that first year of milking, kind of as a warning to others since they tend to be a little crazy. So that bull calf, if he keeps his manhood will always be called a bull. If his manhood is no longer entact, he is called a steer. 

Lastly, let’s talk about dairy cows since that’s why we’re here. There’s 6 main breeds of cows that are our main dairy girls:

 Holsteins. These are the big black and white or occasionally red and white ones you see all the time. They’re the biggest and tend to produce the most milk. A Holsteins spots are as unique as a persons fingerprint. Holsteins weigh in around 1300-1500 lbs on average. They originated from Germany.

Brown Swiss. These gals are brown or grey and have these ears that make you want to scratch them all day. They’re next in size and look like a cross between a donkey a cow and dumbo. Some say they tend to be a little (or a lot) on the stubborn side. Swiss weigh in about the same as Holsteins. They originated from Switzerland.

Jerseys. Jerseys are a lot smaller, weighing around 850-1000 pounds. They tend to have a higher butterfat and protein, making rich, creamy milk(whole milk at the store is around 3.5% butterfat, our jerseys average around 5%). Jerseys have a reputation as being trouble makers, as they are extremely curious and very nosey!! They originated from the Isle of Jersey. 

Those are the three most common, next are still as awesome but not quite as common.

Ayrshires. Some Ayrshires are bigger and almost look like a red and white Holstein, but generally have a darker, mahogany color. They can have spots or be speckled. They tend to run a higher fat and protein as well. They weigh in around 1200 pounds. They originated from Scotland, and are known for their ruggedness. Also, if the horns are left on, they are quite a sight! They curl slightly and getting very, very long. 

Guernsey. Guernseys, once again with a higher fat and protein are around 1000lbs. They are more of a light brown spotted or speckled color. They are from the Isle of Guernsey(close to the Isle of Jersey!) These islands are in the British Channel and there was one more type of cow, Alderney(from the Isle of) but is now extinct. 

Milking Shorthorn. A little bigger around 1300 pounds. They have a really neat speckle to them and have higher fat and protein. They originated from England. The first shorthorn arrived in the US in 1783.

I hope you enjoyed getting to know about cows a little more! I will also add on a personal note, they love long walks in the pasture, back rubs and scratches and are free with their kisses to those deserving(which by the way is like a big cat tongue-fun but ouch!!!) Lastly, since we named three ways people and humans are alike, did you know you shared 80% of the same DNA? 

Thanks for reading along friends! Remember to join me on the facebooks for more shenanigans!

Let’s have “the talk”

Hey gang! Today I thought I would give you a little lesson in cow breeding and pregnancy. Since Mut is still a little young to know of such things, this is Muts mom writing this. In order for any mammal to give milk (barring a few exceptions) they first need to give birth. So how do cows get pregnant?

On most farms today cows are bred using artificial insemination (A.I.). This is for a few reasons. One, bulls can be nasty. Some farms will keep a bull around for “cleanup”, or to breed the cows that are having a hard time getting pregnant, but it is done with caution. One day I was feeding calves around dusk and looked up and saw a cow out and standing in the yard. Something caught my eye and I looked down and noticed the “cow” had something else besides an udder and realized it was our bull Carl. The annoyed “how did she get out” feeling quickly turned to terror as Carl was not very nice and my husband was not in screaming distance. Luckily my husband heard his phone when I called him and after much chasing Carl was back in the barn. Why am I telling you this story? Because it could have ended a lot worse for me and/or Carl. Bulls are aggressive and can kill you. Period. 

Bulls can also hurt the cows. Not on purpose, but they are a lot bigger than cows and not to be too graphic but if a cow is in heat, they are what’s called “standing”. This pretty much means that if a bull (or another cow) was to ride them they will stand there for it. If a bull is riding a cow all day-they generally aren’t a one and done type kind of guy- that cow could have some pretty sore legs and back by the end of the day, or he could easily injure her. 

So that leaves us with artificial insemination. What this is is semen frozen and stored in tanks with liquid nitrogen. When a cow is ready to be bred, a straw of semen is taken from the tank and thawed. It is then placed in a breeding gun, which the whole thing being smaller around than a pea. The farmer will insert one arm into the cows rear, and the breeding gun(a lot smaller than a bulls…you know…) into her vulva. With the arm that’s in the cows rear, the farmer guides the tube into the cows cervix and pushes a plunger that’s on top of the gun, and it deposits the semen into the cow. Voila. No poor cow being ridden for hours, just a few minute wham-bam-thank you ma’am. Quick and easy and painless. Most cows will just stand there and chew their cud during it.

Besides not keeping bulls around, why else do farmers use A.I.? Genetics. You can improve your herd by selecting the right bulls. For example, you have lazy cows that don’t milk. You can choose a bull who is proven to carry genes of high milk production. That’s just an example but what are some genetic traits farmers look for?

      * milk, butterfat and protein. These things are how we get paid.

       * Reproductive health. 

      *A cows physical appearance- feet and legs, udder form, etc… all these traits add up to a healthy cow, so you would want to breed to have a healthy, solid cow.

      *Polled. This is huge, and will probably just keep getting bigger. Polled means that a cow is naturally born without horns. Why does this matter? People are against farmers dehorning their cows. I have no idea why as we administer pain medicine and it is done quickly and humanely. It is generally done shortly after birth, with a little paste that burns the horn bud and prevents it from growing. Like I said, pain meds are administered and the calf forgets about it within an hour. But it is sooo important, as cows with horns are very dangerous not only to their farmers, but also to their fellow herdmates. Cows like to play, they like to run and butt heads and be silly and it is so easy for a cow to lose an eye or get jabbed by a horn if they stay on. Long story short, if a cow is polled you never have to worry about dehorning or anyone losing an eye. 

      * A2. This is something you will probably be hearing more about in the coming years. This is something that prominent in colored breeds(I think I read around 80% of jerseys were). Most milk contains the beta-casein proteins A1 and A2. There is a very slight difference between A1 and A2 however, research has found that milk products that contain only the A2 type are easier for people to digest. This would not help someone with a milk allergy but it would help those people who maybe don’t consume too much dairy because it gives them discomfort. Cows either have this trait or they don’t, but it is something you can look for in a bull to pass down to his daughters. A simple genetic test is done to determine if a cows milk is A1 or A2. 

So that’s what we breed our cows for. So then a cow either gets pregnant or she doesn’t. We discussed pregnancy checking in a previous blog about our veterinarian but we will do a quick recap. If a cow does not get pregnant she will come in heat again, generally around 21 days. If she is pregnant, she does not come in heat and we can have our vet do an ultrasound around 28 days to confirm. Between 60-70 days give or take our vet can even do an ultra sound to determine the sex of the calf or if there’s twins. 

Humans are pregnant around 280 days, any guesses on cows? Exactly the same! Give or take, some breeds are a little longer or a little shorter. Heifers(cows having their first baby) generally tend to calve a lot closer to their due date, older cows are normally a little later. If it’s a bull calf, 99.9999999% chance that calf will be days (sometimes over a week) late. But we all know how that goes. I was 9 days late having my baby. I’m pretty sure they tell you that due date just to make you feel better, when in actuality you could have weeks left.  

Cows get dried off two months before they calve. This means they stop getting milked and as we call it “go on vacation”. The next two months are spent in a special area of just dry cows, full of fluffy straw. They get a special diet to give their body all the nutrients it needs the last few months, as well as to prepare them for calving and coming back into milk. 

Then it’s time to have a baby! Calves come out front feet first, generally up to their knees and then the muzzle starts coming too. Rest of head and legs, and then once the shoulders are out the rest of the calf glides right out of there. Occasionally you will get something twisted or things aren’t right where a C-section is required and you call in your vet. After the calf is out, the cow will generally get up and start cleaning the calf off, although some are (understandably) lazy moms and choose not to. The placenta comes out after the calf, sometimes right away, sometimes it can take a few hours, just depends on the cow. And I believe that the theory is cows would eat the placenta so animals like wolves and coyotes would not smell the blood and be attracted to the area, because if they did come obviously that new calf would make an easy target. The majority of our cows do not eat it. I would say probably over 90% don’t. I know that’s an in thing for people right now and hey, you do you, but don’t do it because cows do. Because they don’t.

That’s the miracle of life right there folks. You know what’s fun? When you walk into the calving area and see these little hooves sticking out and wiggling at you. Or when the head is out and the calf will wiggle her tongue or blink at you even before the rest of her is out. It is truly a miracle and even if you see it every day, it is still a mind blowing experience to be a part of. I like to be there when the girls are calving, giving them a pep talk and telling them “okay, one more good push”.  Some appreciate it, since they know me and trust me, some do not. Some want to be left alone. I can relate to the latter. I didn’t want my husband to make eye contact, let alone talk to me when I was in labor. 

You may hear a very nasty term from anti dairy people about us farmers getting our cows pregnant. The truth of the matter is, we do what we do because it’s the best thing for the cows. It would be a lot less work for us and a lot less money to just use bulls instead of us breeding them. But we don’t for a reason. Just like it would save us A LOT of time to leave the calves with their moms forever but we don’t because it’s the best thing for both the cow and the calf. Not us. Them. They are the important ones here. And yes we do get them pregnant so they can have babies and give milk but that’s what cows do. They milk. That’s why God put them on this Earth. Just like He put dogs here to keep us company, or cats to knock things off tables, or spiders to scare the crap out of you, or us farmers to take care of our animals. So don’t let someone make you feel bad about enjoying your ice cream. Cows like getting milked(if you’ve ever breastfed you know oxytocin is a very powerful hormone. If you haven’t, you know that feeling when you’re in a brand new relationship and head over heels and giddy about everything? Thats oxytocin. That’s the hormone that is in charge of milk let down. That’s what cows feel when they get milked.). They are happy animals and are treated with all the love and respect any mother deserves. 

It’s been nice chatting! As always, if you have any questions be sure to ask! Oh, and for those of you that follow Mut on the facebooks, that picture is one of Jagr having Jocelyn, who you all helped name. Both are doing great! Until next time!