“What type of cow is that?” asked Jane, a visitor to the farm, pointing to Belle. When I told her Belle is a Milking Short Horn, Jane asked, “And when do you start milking her?” Astonished by the question, I realized that maybe Jane didn’t know why cows produce milk.
A cow produces milk for one reason; to feed her calf. She doesn’t produce milk to create ice cream or cheese or yogurt. Just like a woman produces milk for her baby, a cow does the same for hers.
Dairy cows are bred to create lots of milk; more milk than one calf could consume. Soon after the calf is born, it is taken from its mom and raised separately. The cow is milked twice a day, and that milk is processed for drinking or turned into cream, cheese, butter, ice cream, etc.
As harsh as it may sound, the calves have to be separated. If they were pastured with their moms, they would be in great danger of getting trampled by other cows at milking time. There are health factors, too.
Because dairy cattle produce so much milk, one calf can not drink all the milk the cow produces, and that can cause the cow to get mastitis which occurs when the udder is not completely emptied. On the other hand, if the calf drinks too much of the abundant milk, he can get a disease called scours which is diarrhea and can be deadly. If milk is available, calves will consume way more than they should, just like me at a breakfast buffet!
Some smaller dairies share the cow’s milk with her calf, letting the calf nurse once a day and milking the cow the other time. On most farms, though, it’s best for the cow and the calf if they are separated soon after birth.
If you are looking to buy locally–produced milk, there’s no need to look farther than the grocery store. Most milk sold in New Hampshire is produced right here in “Cow Hampshire”!
We raise beef cows at Miles Smith Farm who, unlike dairy cows, only produce enough milk for their calves. The purpose of a beef cow is to create a fat calf, not extra milk for a latte.
Belle, the Milking Short Horn, was given to us as a result of a relationship break-up. She is a sterile twin and, despite the name of her breed, will never give birth and so will never produce milk. I know I wouldn’t enjoy milking a herd of dairy cows twice a day. It would cut into my beauty sleep! But I’m sure glad someone does it. What would root beer be without a scoop of coffee ice cream?
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Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm (www.milessmithfarm.com) in Loudon, N.H., where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.