Friday, September 2, 2016

Dairy FAQ: Are dairy cows pregnant all the time?

We know that dairy cows need to have a calf before they start producing milk, but how often are they pregnant? Are they pregnant all of the time? A lot of people seem to think so, so let's shed some light on this, shall we?

I was reading one of my fitness magazines last week and came across an article about nutrition and eating the right foods. Randomly, in the middle of the article, a psychologist says how we shouldn't drink milk because cows are pregnant all of the time. First of all, that was random. Second, that's just not true. Third, has she ever been to a farm?

People have asked before why we keep the cows "pregnant all the time" and how it's just not good for them. Well, I agree. And we don't. Cows are pregnant for nine months just like humans. After they have their baby, they get extra attention to ensure their bodies are functioning properly. Right after calving is prime time for metabolic disorders, so it's very important to pay close attention to whether the cows are eating, eating enough, moving around, etc. 

A lot of dairies use artificial insemination to improve the genetics of their farm. This allows them to choose from the best sires (dad bovines) in the world to mate their cows to to improve certain traits. It's also a lot safer than having a bull around. Bulls are dangerous. They can be mean. Cows can be mean too, but it's no comparison to a bull. They can hurt people and cows and in my opinion, it's just not worth the risk. We have a herd bull in with our beef cows and I stay away. 

Most dairies that use artificial insemination have a voluntary waiting period, which is a period of time they wait before breeding the cow after she gives birth. For a lot of farms, it's 60 days but it can vary. This gives her body time to recuperate. Generally speaking, until her body is ready to carry a calf again, she won't get pregnant (or stay pregnant) if she'd bred. While it's ideal to have a calf every year, it's very hard to have a calving interval (amount of time between calvings) be exactly 12 months. 13 months is really good, but oftentimes it's more than that. 

Now, if the cows are in with the bull, it's much harder to follow a voluntary waiting period unless you wait until that time has passed before putting the cow in that pen. Good luck telling a bull no, ha! 

So, the cows are not pregnant all of the time. 

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