Dairy Truths

When cows don’t get pregnant

As a dairy farm the success of our business depends on selling milk. Cows need to produce milk to secure a place in our barn. This is that line that as a farmer I hoover over; to one side I make business decisions because my livelihood depends on it, to the other side I let my heart fall in love with each of my cows and treat them as such. It can be a very real struggle to not consider these cows my pets.

When all is good — a cow will calve, she will enter her natural heat cycle, she will become bred by our bull within 2-4 months, she will be confirmed pregnant by our veterinarian, we will stop milking her two months before her due date, she will deliver and the cycle begins again.

We are a bull bred herd, meaning we run a bull with our cattle to breed them on their heat cycle. A heifer is a female who has not yet delivered a calf. Once she has delivered a calf she is often called a first lactation heifer but is technically a cow. These names are just ways for us to communicate about the general age of an animal.

  • Heifer – female newborn to roughly 24 months of age.
  • First lactation heifer – female who delivered her first calf.
  • Cow – female that is producing milk.
  • Lactation – the number of milk cycles, or pregnancies, they are in. Example, #49 is in her 5th lactation, she had delivered 5 times.

When a cow doesn’t get pregnant her lactation gets longer and longer and longer. Her milk production will decrease, her body condition may become unhealthy to become pregnant, and eventually we have to decide if she is still contributing enough to offset the cost of her being here.

We have to look at the amount of milk she is providing and determine if it’s enough to pay for the cost of her feed and her space in the barn.

We generally have 20-30 heifers deliver their first calf and move into the milking herd, logically we need to make sure they have feed space and resting room — larger, older cows will push younger ones out of the way. If we want to keep a decent balance then the cows not producing enough milk and not pregnant are actually hindering our younger cows from doing well.

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It’s hard to make the decision to cull, or sell, a member of our herd. Even the day we sold Liger, the very cow I despised, I hesitated and held my head down. But the reality is that cows don’t live forever and I cannot afford to keep a barn of pets.

When a cow can’t become pregnant anymore she becomes part of the beef supply. She will provide a healthy and nutritious food for families.

My children ask, and I explain as such: we give our animals the very best life we can while they are here, and if we treat them with kindness and allow them to live in a healthy environment we also owe them a humane end, and I’m proud of the life we’ve shared with them.

If you have any questions please leave a comment. Xo, Nicole