Raising Dairy Cows, Part II

In this second installment of Raising Dairy Cows, the author provides tips on bovine reproduction and calf care.

| September/October 1981

 "Raising Dairy Cows, Part I" covered the selection, housing, and feeding of a homestead milk-producer. Now it's time to explore the all-important subjects of bovine reproduction and calf care.

VI. Be Aware of Your Cow's Cycles

A well-planned breeding program is one of the key aspects of dairy cow management, because each new freshening (birth) brings about that flow of nutritious milk. It's important, therefore, that you become very aware of Bossy's natural cycles.

Most cows will let you know when they're in heat by bawling, pacing along the fence, and generally acting ill at ease. These cycles will begin when the animal is about a year old and will occur every 21 days. They last, however, for only 12 to 18 hours, and—since your animal should be bred during the last half of that period—you'll have to keep a fairly close watch on her. Sometimes you'll see a slight bloody discharge about two days after a heat. If you do, you can then be prepared for the next cycle to begin 18 days later.

It doesn't make sense, of course, to own a bull if you've got only one cow, but artificial insemination services—using semen from top-quality, proven sires—are readily available in all parts of the country. Just check with your county extension agent or a local dairy farm to find out the location of your nearest AI service.

Dairyfolk generally breed their heifers at 15 months of age, a practice which—since the gestation period lasts nine months—allows a cow to have her first youngster when she's 24 months old.

Once your milker has become a mother, she should be bred again during the first heat that occurs more than 60 days after she gave birth. This will not only bring you another calf, but will also assure a 305-day annual lactation period. (You can expect Bossy to be in her milk making prime when she's six to eight years old, and to continue producing well for two to nine years after that.)

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