Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Beef and Dairy Go Head to Head

With six years of school left, I am working hard to make some money to save up this summer which has resulted in me getting two jobs, both at local golf courses.  Being a waitress gives me a great way to connect with many different people on a daily basis.  I often find conversations eventually leading to the fact that I live on a farm.
The other day, a girl asked me if we milked our cows, and I responded "no, we have beef cattle on our farm" assuming that would be enough of a response.  However, the girl just looked at me and said "So what is the difference from a milk cow to a beef cow, can't you use them all for everything?"
It seems so obvious to me why we would use certain types of cattle for milk and certain for beef, but I guess not being raised around farmers, and on a farm, I might not really have a reason to know.  
So I began to explain to her the difference between milking cows and beef cows. 
First of all there are two common divisions of cows, with many subdivisions.  In one corner we have the "beef" cows, the cows that we use for meat and human consumption.  In the other corner we have "milk" cows, the cows that are raised to make milk, cream and dairy products.

The "Beef" Category

A male cow is a bull. Great Blue Marble on the Farm features farm animal images, farm animal animation, farm animal cartoons, farm animal facts, and farm animal sounds.
In the "Beef" category, you can break the category into many different breeds!  With over 800 different breeds of cattle identified in the world, it is no wonder that there is confusion when talking about cattle!
Below are some of the most common breeds in North America!

Aberdeen Angus                      Beefalo                       Beefmaster                           Belted-galloway

Blonde d'aquitaine                 Brangus                       Charolais                            Dexter
English longhorn                   Galloway                       Gelbvieh                      Hereford
Highland                               Limousin                                          Lowline                               Murray grey
Maine Anjou                             Red Angus                                       Salers                                     Simmental     
Speckle Park                            Texas Longhorn                          Welsh Black                                       Zebu    

Other beef breeds: Africander, Aubrac, Barzona, Bazadaise, Belgian Blue, Belmont Red, Bonsmara, Boran, Braford, Brahman, Brahmousin, British White, Buelingo, Canchim, Caracu, Chianina, Composite, Corriente, Devon, Drakensberger, Droughtmaster, Gloucester, Hays Converter, Hybridmaster, Lincoln Red, Luing, Marchigiana, Minature Herefor, Mongolian, Nelore, Nguni, Parthenais, Piemontese, Pinzgauer, Red Poll, Retinta, Romangnola, Sanganer, Santa Cruz, Santa Gertrudis, Senepol, Shetland, Simbrah, South Devon, Square Meaters, Sussex, Tarentaise, Tuli, Wagyu, Watusi, Welsh Black, Whitebred Shorthorn

For links to the list above please go to  http://www.thebeefsite.com/breeds/beef

Beef cows are raised primarily for the purpose of meat for human consumption.  Females are kept on farms to produce calves, and often it is the male calves and lower performing female calves that are sent to be made into beef.

Beef cows are not usually used for milk and once their calves are weaned they dry up, usually only producing milk for 6-8 months out of the year, less than the ten months of the dairy cow.  If you wanted to milk a beef cow you could, however, they have generally smaller udders because they are not bred as much for udder structure and milk production as the dairy cows are.
On our farm we have to milk our cows sometimes when a calf is sick and can't eat on its own.  When this is the case, we do our milking by hand and then tube feed the baby calf to make sure that it is getting the right amount of nutrients to try and nurse it back to health.
Trying out some Beef milk, right from the cow!
The "Dairy" Side

Domesticated cows are called bovines or cattle. Great Blue Marble on the Farm features farm animal images, farm animal animation, farm animal cartoons, farm animal facts, and farm animal sounds.
In the "Dairy" category, there are 11 breeds that are most commonly found in North America, with approximately 40 common breeds across the world.  I wanted to know just what the breeds were like, so I did some research! Below I have included pictures of all of the common dairy cattle in North America, as well as a link.  This link will take you to a site which has pictures, news, information and history about each specific breed.  If you want to learn more about one of the breeds just click the name of the breed below the picture and it will take you to that breeds information!
 In Canada, the Holestein breed is the most common breed, with over 90% of dairy cattle being Holstein
Common to North America
            Holstein                                    Aryshire                                         Canadienne                                       Jersey                   
Dutch Belted                                  Kerry                                    Brown Swiss                                   Guernsey  

Milking Devon                Dairy Shorthorn                 Norwegian Red
Other breeds of Dairy cows: BusaEstonian RedFriesianGirolandoIllawarraIrish MoiledLinebackMeuse Rhine IsselMontbĂ©liardeNormandeRandall, and Sahiwal

Typically, when one thinks of a dairy cow, we get the image of a skinny black and white cow, with a large udder and a well defined topline (spine), well this is what image comes to my mind at least!  In reality, there are actually a diversity of color and shape of dairy cows, all with the same quality of being able to produce large amounts of good quality milk.
Dairy cows are not usually used for meat because they are generally much skinnier than beef cows, lacking the muscling, fat and finish that you see on most beef cows.  A good beef cow is one that is well conditioned (quite fat), and a good dairy cow is usually one that is quite slender, not much fat on their body.
On the average North American Dairy farm, the cows are milked twice daily, with roughly 12 hours of rest time in between.  This means that Dairy farmers are getting up anywhere from 4-6 AM to milk the cows, so that they can finish them that night between 4 and 6! That's early! If the cows are not milked within the 12 hours, their udders often get too full and they can start to become uncomfortable for the cow.  If you stop milking a cow completely, she will dry up and will not produce milk anymore until she has another calf.  After having a calf, the cows are usually milked for 10 months before they are dried up and about to calve again.  The cows are always bred at different times so that they calve on different days all year round.
A good friend of mine has a dairy farm and her family always has baby calves running around.  They have their operation set up so that they are always milking roughy 200 cows, with about 30-40 dry cows that are about to calve.  This way they are always milking the same amount.  On their farm they artificially inseminate all of their cattle (meaning they don't use a bull to breed the cows, they inject the sperm on their own).  This allows them to choose what day the cows are bred and gives them an idea of the exact day that each cow will calve.  Lucky for me, they live close to our farm and were able to AI my little Charolais heifer for me this year, hopefully they used the right straw of semen and I won't be having a tiny Holstein showing up next spring!

So what about the babies!

On a beef farm the calves are kept on their mama's until they are weaned at roughly 6-8 months.  This means that the babies rely on their mamas for milk for every meal.

In comparison, on a dairy farm, the calves do not spend their lives relying on their moms.  Dairy calves are taken away from their moms shortly after birth and rely on the farmer to feed them.  The farmers use the milk that they milk from the dairy cows, so the calves are still getting mother cow's milk, they are just not getting it directly from the cow herself.  Up to two or three months old the babies are kept in individual little houses where they are given special attention, personal milk and food.  When they are a bit older they are moved to group pens, where they are still given milk in troughs, just not individually anymore.

Dairy calves drinking bottles.jpg

If you have questions on dairy cattle, check out this link, it has a bunch of questions with answers, from where the milk goes to the age of cows, all things that take place on a dairy farm are covered in these answers so check it out! I learned a great deal even though I knew a fair amount of knowledge about dairy farms!  Dairy Farm Questions Answered


Have a great week everyone!!


  1. Are you single? You sound like the coolest person I have yet to meet. I live on a beef/cash crop farm in Onatio.

  2. not the best way to intrduce your self to a women bro.i myself work on a dairy beef cattle farm in pa its a hell of a good time lol.