Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Cow farming basic ideas and how to care of them

Cow farming basic ideas and how to care of them

Rearing cattle is a lot of hard work but a rewarding experience. It takes a fair bit of knowledge in nutritional, physiological, reproductive and metabolic aspects of these domestic animals.

Feeding the Critters

Cattle are herbivores, which means they eat plants or any kind of plant matter that they eat themselves or are harvested, stored then fed to them. This can be in the form of or based on grasses, forbs, and legumes. These plants are fed as a hay, silage or grain, or can be harvested by the cattle themselves as pasture. Most cattle are let out to pasture from late spring to early fall and fed hay and/or silage during the winter months. Some areas are mild enough to allow cattle to graze on pastures all year round.

The physiological needs of cattle affect their nutritional demands. For instance, a lactating cow requires a greater quantity and quality of feed than dry cows do. Growing cattle need less protein as they get older; The young, just weaned calves have a protein requirement of around 16%, whereas yearling cattle have a protein requirement of around 12%. By the time they reach the feedlot stage, they have a protein requirement ranging from 8 to 10%. The minimum protein requirement for all cattle is 8%.

As far as cows are concerned, their protein requirements are different. A rule of thumb to figure is 7% protein requirements in mid-gestation, 9% in late gestation, and 11% at calving and start of lactation. A cow's peak nutritional requirements occur later in lactation--at 2 to 3 months post-partum.

Dairy cow health problems

With all the numbers above, you need to allocate and figure your feed sources according to the animals' physiological and reproductive requirements. Lactating cows need to put a lot of energy into producing milk and for themselves, which is why they have higher requirements than calves or dry cows or even bulls. Figure that all bovines have a maintenance requirement of consuming 2.5% of their body weight per day.


Knowing the diseases and illnesses that are common in your area is a great help to better caring and raising of them. Many diseases are associated with cattle, some of them being the following:

Bovine Viral Diarrhea
Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis
Bovine Respiratory Disease
Red Water Disease
Milk Fever
Hardware Disease
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
Foot and Mouth Disease
Fescue Toxicity
Grass/Winter Tetany
Note that many diseases can be non-treatable, or even have no vaccinations available for them. Others are metabolic, anti-equality factor diseases, or sexually transmitted diseases. Some diseases are more prone to affect certain types of livestock than others. For instance, milk fever and ketosis is more likely to affect dairy cattle than beef cattle. There are also several diseases where a veterinarian's expertise is needed to save the animal.

Whatever diseases are common in your area or for your animals, make sure that you are aware of them and understand which ones you can vaccinate for and common-sense management practices can prevent simply which ones.

How to care for a pet cow

Hormones—Are they Necessary?

In my personal opinion, not if they're absolutely necessary. Growth hormone promotants are only there for producers to used to give their cattle greater growth and feed efficiency, and is only used in cattle that are raised to be later slaughtered for beef. Some people believe that cattle are "constantly pumped" with hormones or are "fed hormones" or all cattle are given hormones at some point of their lives. All of these are not true. Hormones are only administered after the time when they've become ineffective, which is a period of around 100 days after application. They cannot be fed because they are rendered unusuable once in the stomach. The only site that hormones are injected is in the ears. Lastly, only most feeder/stocker cattle are administered hormones and the majority of the United States' conventionally raised dairy cows. But bulls, beef cows, replacement heifers, and young calves are not given hormones because they are not necessary.

It is really up to the producer to use hormones in their cattle. It is neither right nor wrong if you choose to use or not use growth hormone promotions in your feeder/stocker cattle.

Dairy farming

Reproductive Knowledge

If you're into breeding cattle, it's important to know some things about bovine reproduction. Cattle are not monogamous animals; they are polygamous. This means that one bull can breed around 25 to 50 cows per breeding season, depending on the pasture size and proximity of the cows to be bred. Young bulls will breed fewer cows than mature bulls because of their inexperience--as virgin bulls, this shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Expect a yearling bull to breed around 10 to 20 cows per breeding season. However, young bulls can breed more cows if the breeding season is longer than the benchmark, which is around 45 to 60 days long.

A cow's estrous period lasts an average of 21 days in length. Her estrus period (also known as the time she's "in heat") lasts an average of 24 hours. This is the same with heifers. A heifer can be expected to be ready for breeding by the time she is around 15 months of age. The time she reaches puberty, though differs depending on her genetics and breeding. Some heifers can reach puberty as early as 5 to 6 months of age; others won't until they're over 18 months of age. You can expect the latter age of puberty from Brahman heifers, the former from Jersey heifers. Even some beef heifers of Angus, Murray Grey or Gelbvieh often will reach puberty at an early age.

Cow pregnancy stages

The gestation period for a cow is an average of 285 days in length, or 9.5 months long. Actual gestation length differs with the breed, just like with age of puberty above. Gestation is another word for length of pregnancy, the time when a calf is growing in the cow's uterus and she shows no signs of estrus.

Once the calf is born, either by herself or by your assistance (if it was needed), the cow produces "first milk" called colostrum, which contains crucial immunoglobins and antibodies that the calf needs for its health. After 24 to 72 hours the colostrum milk turns to "normal" milk. The calf is raised on its milk, and slowly introduced on the forage that its mother eats on its own until weaning time, which is around 6 to 10 months post-partum (after giving birth).

The cow ideally should be bred 80 to 90 days post-partum, though a lot of other producers prefer to have their cows bred a month sooner--which is around 45 to 60 days post-partum. A cow should begin to display normal estrus activity at least 18 to 30 days after calving. The breeding period should be 45 to 60 days long.

All of these numbers may seem daunting, but they're necessary to know when timing breeding, calving and weaning, as well as making culling decisions in your cowherd.

Selection of dairy cattle

If you are raising a breeding herd, no matter if it's dairy or beef, you need to sell certain animals that will potentially bring down your herd further if you didn't sell them and replace them with the next generation of better breeding stock. Quite frankly, if you choose to keep both the old and new animals, you will be facing major over-stocking issues. Thus culling, or taking out unproductive inferior-quality animals out of your herd, solves these issues. Certain culling criteria to consider are:

Open (non-pregnant) cows. If some cows or heifers remain open after a certain breeding period, they should be sold.
Temperament or disposition. Cows or heifers with a bad temperament—flighty or aggressive—should not be kept around. The same thing goes with bulls.
Confirmation. Feet and leg conformation need to be of importance in your cow herd, especially if they need to be travelling a fair distance every day. Any animals with lameness issues should be gone. Udder and teat size is also important: cows need to have tight, square udders and small teats. A calf cannot latch onto a large coke-bottle-sized teat because it is just too big for its mouth. Other things to consider are pelvic size, depth of rib, heart girth, length of body, depth of the hindquarters, and uniformity throughout. Bulls must also have the excellent conformation to be keepers in a cowherd.
Milking ability. Though not as much of an importance in beef herds as in dairy herds, if a beef cow isn't producing enough milk for her calf she needs to go.
Mothering ability. If a cow or heifer will not accept her calf or does not provide the care for it, she must go. You can give her one chance, but if she fails the second time, she needs to go.
Health. A cow that is affected with a non-ambulatory and non-food-safety-issue disease like Johne's Disease or BVD should be culled, as these diseases are non-treatable, the latter easily spread throughout the herd. Cows with cancer-eye should also be culled.
Poor performance. Cows that raise poor or below-average quality calves need to be culled. Below-quality calves result from poor milking ability, poor health, or poor genetics.
Prolapse. Cows that experience vaginal prolapse need to be culled because it is a genetic condition that repeats on their daughters. As a result, the cow's daughters should also be culled.
Mouth. Majority of cows that have no teeth or have their molars worn down to their gums cannot subsist well on the same feed fed to other cows with teeth.
Age. Most cows should be culled on the above criteria, not age as well. As long as they are in good shape, produce good calves and still have good teeth, they can still stay in the herd as long as possible.
Sheltering Them

Depending on your operation, you can have shelter available ranging from treed areas or windbreak panels to lean-to sheds or one-sided pole barns. Cattle can also be kept in buildings like utility barns like what most dairy barns are comprised of. The majority of beef cattle don't need to be housed in barns; dairy cattle are though, even though they also don't need to be. It's more of a matter of convenience that they're confined to barns than out on pastures.

Buying and selling cattle for profit

You have several means to buy and sell cattle: through dispersal sales, the auction mart, or direct. Most cattle are purchased in $/lb /Rs or a certain amount per hundredweight (as $/cwt). Prices change week to week and differ from one auction location to the other. Purebred cattle are sold and bought differently, based on physical and genetic quality, not in dollars per pound. Prices for a prized purebred cow can go as high as $50,000 or more. Even bulls can go over that amount, some up to or over $100,000.

To start a cowherd, you don't need the most expensive cows or the most expensive bull. Just look for cows that are good quality to start with and go from there. If you're backgrounding cattle instead, calves that are healthy and in good quality are good to go for.

When it's time to sell, sell them where you think is the best place to sell. It can be a matter of convenience or a matter of how much money you want to get for them. Don't sell your cow herd via dispersal sales if you don't intend on selling all or most of your animals. Sell via auction barn for your culls and calves. Direct can be useful if you intend on selling the meat from your animals directly to customers. Note that it takes a lot of marketing to be able to do that successfully.

Whether you're managing a small herd, or operating a large one, it is useful to know anything about cattle should it come to some importance. Everything from reproduction to health is crucial to know when raising cattle, no matter what you raise or how you raise them.

Raising cattle

The benefits of raising cattle. What a phrase that strikes up a lot of controversy from either end of the raising of, caring for livestock like cattle! You've got the extreme right end saying that nothing can compare with raising cattle, and the other end that argues that there are absolutely no benefits to raising cattle. Where I stand is somewhere in the middle, but I tend to lean more to the right than the left. But this article is not about arguments about whether there exist any benefits to raising cattle, but rather what are the benefits of raising these critters.

There are moral benefits, environmental, emotional, physical, economic and other benefits to raising cattle. Each has their own level of importance to every producer, some being more so than others. I didn't list finances as being a benefit because it seems for many producers that more money is being put in to raise the dad-gummed critters than what comes out! Really -there is not much financial benefit to raising cattle, even if you're striving to be a low-cost producer. More money needs to go into the care, feed and welfare of these animals than what you can get out of them, no matter if you're selling your meat direct or selling your cattle to the local sale barn.

For many though, raising cattle can get you tax exemption. I'm not exactly sure how or how the whole process works, but I do know that if raise cattle or some form of livestock for profit it can act as a tax exemption. Cattle is a large economic benefit to many countries as well, contributing to billions of dollars annually upon the sale, export and import of live animals, carcasses and boxed beef. Too bad it doesn't reflect it on the people that raise them...

Regardless, the hard work that is involved is worth it in the end. It is said that raising livestock is 90% hard work and 10% satisfaction, and I believe it is that 10% satisfaction that many producers strive for--seeing new calves hit the ground and grow into strong, healthy animals, and seeing them get sold off to market when they're good and ready to go. This is where the moral benefits come into play. Raising cattle takes a ton of hard work and you have to diligent, just about a jack- or jenny-of-all-trades, and not be the type that likes to stick with normal everyday routines. The reason I say this is that your farm duties change with every season--calving in the spring, putting bulls out in the summer, haying in the summer, processing calves in the fall, preparing for fall-winter-spring feeding, etc. Fences need to be checked regularly, cattle checked on a regular basis, keep up to date with times to vaccinate, preg-check, put the bulls in and pull them out, wean calves, the list goes on. Some producers have more machinery to maintain and fix than others do, and this is also a chore in itself and can take up a lot of time and effort.

Raising cows for milk

There will undoubtedly be times when you just wonder why you even got into raising cattle in the first place. It can be an emotional drain if you've gotten into something that you didn't expect to be that difficult. But it can be an emotional reward when you see all the blood, sweat and tears you put into your operation come out in the form of a good-sized paycheck for the cattle you worked your rear off to raise, or see your cows give birth to and raise some nice baby calves. It may even come as a reward when you are able to buy some new and improved handling facilities or a new tractor. I don't think anything gets a farmer more happier or excited than a new tractor!!

Hard work can come with physical benefits as well. Who needs to go to a fitness gym when they've got all the physical labor needed on a ranch or farm that raises cattle? Not only do you have no time for going to a gym--let alone work out on your own fitness equipment at home, if you have any--but farming is a lot more physically demanding than most realize. Though there still is a lot time spent sitting on the tractor, you still need to be strong to spread straw, cut and pull strings off bales (which is no easy task, mark my words!), shovelling manure out of a barn, pulling a calf out of a cow that's having a hard time pushing it out, lifting and moving salt blocks to replace the ones already eaten, moving small square hay/straw bales by hand, fixing/building fence, the list goes on. I heard of a story where a cattleman had one of his city friends out to help a little with some fencing on his farm. His city friend was the type that jogs every day and goes to the gym every day and keeps in good shape. The cattleman himself didn't look like much a fitness fanatic compared to his friend, but his level of strength and endurance when out doing some fence-building outdid his city friend by a long shot. By the time they had one section of fence-line completed, the producer's friend was exhausted, and the producer was fixing to keep on going!

You get tougher and stronger when you've lived on a farm for a long time. You learn quickly that there's no time to be grossed out because you got cow-crap on your hands or pants, nor to complain about something so trivial as a broken fingernail when handling or working with cattle. The cows don't care, so neither should you. A person from the city won't understand the kind of skin you must have until they've gotten in your shoes and done it themselves. Jokes that more than likely will offend them may be something to laugh about with your fellow-cattlemen friends or neighbors. No, you can't be thin-skinned or much of a tender-foot to be a part of the cattle business.

It also takes a fair bit of smarts and fair amount of scientific knowledge to do well in the cattle business, especially if you want it to pay off environmentally. The only way that this can be done is if you become a steward of your land, and graze your cattle so that you are taking care of the land. Grazing cattle responsibly through managed intensive grazing will help by improving soil quality, increasing organic matter content, restore and maintain wildlife habitat areas such as wetlands, sloughs and marshlands, and increase both above and below-ground biomass content. The manure from cattle goes back into the soil where it belongs and doesn't stay out in the dry lot in a fermenting pile. The micro-organisms in the soil and the pasture plants themselves utilize the manure that cattle drop into the ground and use them for their own benefits, just like what always occurs in Nature. Even though grass-fed cattle do give out more methane than feedlot grain-fed cattle, this is still offset by a huge amount as to the benefits of raising grass-fed cattle. There are a lot of naysayers--mostly animal rights advocates and the like--that say that grass-fed beef or raising cattle on grass is the worst thing you can do for the environment, because of the "massive methane emissions" and the "vast amount of land needed to raise grass-fed cattle"; but what I'm seeing all here are simply excuses for these people to never switch their vegan diets. A lot of what they say about grass-fed beef being bad for the environment is unfounded.

Cattle reproduction cycle

The age of a female bovine affects her fertility in several ways: genetically, environmentally, nutritionally and even physiologically. For the purpose of this article, a "cow" will not be used colloquially because I wish to avoid confusion between what the general term of cow is and the true meaning of "cow". As such, I suggest that you do best to ignore the colloquialism in the title of this article. By definition, a cow is specifically a mature female bovine that has given birth to and/or raised at least one or two calves. A heifer, though, is an immature female bovine that has never given birth to a calf. This article will primarily discuss the age when heifers first show signs of "heat" or estrus and thus are ready to breed. However, it will also discuss the fertility and breeding range of a mature cow, both beef and dairy and what affects a cow's fertility and longevity in the cow-herd..

A heifer generally should be ready to breed at around 15 months of age. Note that I said generally because even this age is varied depending on breed/genetics, nutritional level, body condition, and management factors. Majority of the time, though a heifer is ready to breed based on weight, not age. Therefore a heifer should be at least 60% of her mature body weight or of the average mature cowherd's weight when ready breed. The best explanation for this is due to the heifer's size and physical conformation. By even 15 months of age a heifer still may be too small to be ready to be bred, not to mention her pelvic size or overall conformation is inadequate for her to even give birth to a calf. Such conformational inadequacies may prove to be a problem by the time it is time for her to give birth; dystocia or birthing problems may result and the products most likely will have to assist in either pulling the calf out, or have the vet come out to perform a cesarean section on her to get the calf out as quickly as possible.

It is ironic to note, however, that some heifers can be bred at a lighter weight and younger age than what the guidelines above suggest. I have heard several stories of such a thing happening, and several anecdotes mention that the producer didn't even know a certain heifer was pregnant until there was a calf on the ground and she suckled that calf. The heifer may have just been weaned and already been bred either by one the bull calves in the herd with her, or one of the herd bulls themselves. This comes to a little surprise to me considering how much the fertility of cattle have increased over the years, from the mid-1800s to today. During that time period, a steer was deemed fit to the butcher when he was about three to four years of age. A heifer was ready to breed about that age. Fast forward a couple hundred years and heifers have decreased in the age at which they reach sexual maturity considerably.

Stages of the estrous cycle in cattle

With more focus on important production factors such as cowfertility in order to decrease overhead costs, I am finding more stories on heifers reaching puberty and being ready to be bred much sooner and at lighter weights than what is expected of them. Interestingly, some producers have taken advantage of this in order to reduce feed costs. From the time a heifer is typically weaned, which is at around 6 months of age, it takes around 9 to 10 months of feeding before a group of heifers are deemed ready to be impregnated via natural service or artificial insemination. Since more heifers can be ready to breed as early as 9 to 12 months of age, this can reduce the feeding period of these replacement heifers by a third to even half. In other words, instead of having a 10 month-long feeding period, you may end up having only a 3 to 6 month period. I must caution you, though, to not do this if you have a herd that is not highly fertile or of Brahma/Zebu breeding.

Most heifers of Brahman or Zebu breeding will, on average, maybe ready to breed at around 20 to 24 months. Those of composite breeding, like Brangus or Beefmaster which are European-Brahman cross, often can be bred a little sooner such as at around 18 months of age. Some Brahman heifers may be good at being able to be bred at this age, depending on their genetics. A herd not of Brahman or any Bos indicus breeding may, unfortunately, have heifers not being able to be bred at this age too, which should be a marked concern because it is a sign of decreased fertility in your cowherd. (Another sign is cows being unable to get back to normal estrus cycling after giving birth to a calf.)

Cattle reproduction cycle

Various breeds have different rates of fertility than others. For example, Jersey heifers can be ready to be bred at an earlier age than Charolais or Limousin heifers. Galabieh heifers can be seen to reach sexual maturity earlier and as a result, be ready to breed earlier than either of the latter breeds or Simmental can be. It may be different Simmental-crossbred or full blood heifers, as they quite possibly would be able to reach breeding age around the same time as galabieh or even purebred Angus females might. However, note that there's actually more variation within a breed than between breeds. Compare two Angus herds within the same location as each other: one herd may have a lower breeding age than the other. Genetics and management criteria will have a big part to play here because what one producer selects for in their herd isn't always the same thing a different producer selects for in theirs.
The Optimum Reproduction Age for a Cow

Cows are liable to be productive throughout their lives, from the time they are no longer considered being heifers to death. This means they are already of reproductive age to produce a calf. The question now is their level of fertility. A cow's fertility is actually more directly affected by the amount of fat she carries over her body, than genetics and is rated by a process called Body Condition Scoring. Heritability for fertility is very low to where some producers may consider it less significant compared to other, more heritable traits such as body weight and muscling ability. Body condition scoring is key to judge whether a cow—and a heifer--is too fat or too thin. Cows and heifers that are too fat or to thin have lower fertility than those with normal conditions. A cow of either of these extremes will take longer to come back into normal estrus cycling after she has given birth than if she were around normal condition. By the time breeding season ends, she may be still open (not pregnant), or bred later than what is considered desirable for a cowherd.

Body condition scoring in heifers is just as important. A heifer that is too thin does not have enough muscle mass or energy to sustain a calf throughout gestation; she may have calving problems because of the very high amount of energy it takes to push out a calf for the very first time. If a producer suddenly ups the quality intake of a group of thin heifers during the third trimester, he may see calving problems result because all that good-quality feed is being put into the late-term fetus, not the heifers. Thin heifers and cows also may not produce as much milk as is needed to feed a calf. This may be different in dairy heifers because they are selected for higher milk production than their beef counterparts. At the other extreme, a heifer that is too fat will also have trouble birthing because of the fat deposits in the birth canal will hinder the progress of the calf as it is pushed through. A fat heifer may experience reduced milk production because the fat deposits in the udder will reduce the amount of milk being produced. This is often a problem with show-heifers that are fed to look rounded and fat for the show-ring.

For good fertility in your herd, monitor nutrition levels in your replacement heifer and cowherd so that your females get the nutrition they need to maintain a healthy weight and a healthy body condition to settle quickly. This must carry through during the time they are carrying a calf and to the time they are lactating. Heifers should be of more concern than cows because they are still growing and developing into mature cows.

Cattle breeding techniques

Breeding cows often involves one of two choices:

Natural breeding
Artificial Insemination (A.I)
It's a matter of choosing which one to use or whether both can be helpful for your operation, however large or small it may be. Many beef operations, for example, go the natural breeding route because it is less labor-intensive than A.I. However, it is not exactly cost-effective since it takes more money to look after a good herd bull (or over one herd bull) than it does to purchase several straws of semen. It can also be a risk of safety to keep a bull--more so with a dairy bull than a beef bull, however one can be just as dangerous as the other.

Dairy bulls are that much more dangerous than beef bulls for several reasons: no fear of humans, they consider humans as one of the herds and a thing to challenge for dominance rights, and the genetic selection of more milk and feminine traits in dairy females inadvertently also selected for higher masculine characteristics in the bulls. This makes it highly dangerous for anyone to handle these bulls because the risks of injury or death is much higher. The use of artificial insemination is very popular among dairy cattle producers and the most used above natural service. AI is much  safer than keeping a dairy bull around, even though it involves more work.

Cow pregnancy test

There are a few ways that preg-checking can be done.

1. Sight: After the cow has been bred, you will see her sides grow as she gets further into a pregnancy. By her third trimester, she will look like a barrel with a head and four legs. After she has conceived she will not come back into heat for a while (cows' estrous cycle is 21 days long, so she will go into heat every 21 days). The best way to tell is to wait for 45 days after she has conceived and during that time, see if she has gone into heat a couple times. If not, then she's pregnant.

2. Bumping. This is done when she's 4 to 5 months into her pregnancy, and if she is tame enough, you can go up to her and scratch her back. If not, don't bother with this method. On her right side (not her left, as this is where the rumen is) on the belly closest to her back leg (but not too close, still along the belly), thump her belly and keep your hand there to feel for any movement. Chances are you will feel movement and will know if she's pregnant or not if you have also been paying attention to her like I mentioned in #1.

3. Rectal exam: This is THE BEST way to determine pregnancy, and it is not only used on cows but also horses. It should mostly be done by someone with a lot of experience preg-checking animals, but it can be done by you if you know what you are doing and what you are looking for. The cow has to be restrained in a headgate and chute before you do this. You need to "glove up" with a shoulder-length glove first, then pour some lubricant on your hand. Form your hand like a puppet with its mouth closed (all 4 fingers at a 90-degree angle from the knuckle joint with the thumb held straight out under the fingers, touching the first and middle fingers), and push into the anus; be sure to go in with your fingers pointing downwards at a slight angle to penetrate the anus. Then you will slowly have to push yourself in up to your shoulder. Now once you are in you are feeling the uterine horn through the rectal wall. Be strong for this, and may have to withdraw your arm to take out some feces that have accumulated in there. Now point your hand down and feel for a head, nose, hooves, or anything that resembles a fetal calf. If you feel something, a movement against your hand or anything like that, then the cow is definitely pregnant. Most cows are preg-checked when they are 3 to 5 months along, some even 45 days into gestation. It is good to preg-check as early as so you can cull out the ones not bred (or are open) before the rest of the herd calves out.

Other preg-checking methods include blood-testing and ultrasound. Blood-testing is inexpensive if there's a laboratory available that is located not very far away from your farm that does this. Blood-testing involves getting a blood sample from your cow from a vein in the tail-head and shipping off via Fed-Ex or a similar small-items transport company and waiting back from the lab for the results. Ultrasound is probably the most expensive method of preg-checking a cow because of the equipment involved, which is very expensive.

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