Breeding dairy cattle need special care to maintain good body condition and conception rates prior to mating and calving. The welfare of dairy cattle must be top-notched because the quality and quantity of the end product (milk) is dependent on the health condition of the cow. After calving, dairy cows may be more vulnerable to heat stress and deficient in some minerals lost during calving. Young calves are also at risk for heat stress and low immune systems leave them more susceptible to common cattle ailments such as acidosis and scour.
Looking at cattle in their natural environment, a large herd of cattle roams together with their young ones. Their daily routine can be predicted to sourcing for nutritious grass in various vegetations with young calves. After long hours of grazing, cattle find a cool spot to relax and ruminate. Rumination is the pre-stage of digestion of food in ruminant animals, like cattle, goats, and sheep.
Dairy cattle may not be reared using this traditional method because their output is very important to the enterprise. This is dairy production is regarded as being capital intensive.
Modern Breeding Techniques And Breeds Of Dairy Cow
Dairy cows are strategically bred to maximize milk production. As a result of this breeding technique, the average milk yield per cow has risen dramatically over the years. Calves naturally require about eight liters of milk per day for healthy growth. Contrastingly, modern breeds of dairy cows on commercial farms produce up to 50 liters per day, and as much as 12,000 liters of milk per year. Hence, while the number of cows on dairy farms in Europe has declined over the years, with optimum care, the volume of milk produced has increased. Producing milk at such a synchronized rate is physically exhausting for cows. In order to produce a single liter of milk, a cow’s body must pump half a tonne of blood through her udder.
Just like all mammals, cows produce milk only after calving. In order to maintain steady milk production levels in commercial dairy farms, the cows are inseminated each year. Like humans, cows gestate for nine months. During this time, dairy cows are milked up until the seventh month of their pregnancies. Newborn calves are separated from their mothers within a few hours of birth since the mothers’ milk is the primary production goal. The separation is traumatic but highly needed since the cow will be inseminated again six to eight weeks after giving birth.
#1. Welfare Of Dairy Cows
Worldwide, more than 270 million dairy cows produce more than 650 million tonnes of milk annually. Living conditions vary considerably, ranging from pasture grazing to intensive indoor confinement. In the EU, there is no specific legislation concerning the welfare of cattle.
#2. Cows Are Intelligent And Sensitive.
Cows are extremely sensitive and intelligent animals; they are easily domesticated and very adaptive to local conditions. They exhibit high-end qualities such as long-term memories and imitation of one another. They also have distinct personalities and can keep lifelong friendships. The bond between a mother cow and her calves is particularly strong. Like humans, cows usually mourn the loss of friends and family members. Cows are affectionate mothers and share the responsibility of watching over their playful calves with other females in the herd. Keeping dairy cow in a conducive environment where all they need to thrive such as forage grasses, freshwater, and good housing conditions, enhances the better display of these characteristics
#3. Feeding Dairy Cow
In contrast to popular opinion and what goes around on media, pasture-fed dairy cows do not spend all their time in pastures. They generally have access to pastures for less than five months per year. The rest of the year, they usually live in either tie stalls or cubicles; this reduces the vulnerability of the cow to diseases and infection. Cows seen grazing outside are typically beef cattle or young dairy cows before their first calving.
#4. Restrictions Of Dairy Cow
On many dairy farms, cows live in cramped stalls, tied in place with a chain or rope. These conditions are so restrictive that, for much of their lives, cows in tie stalls are unable to walk, turn around, groom, look to the side, or interact with other herd members in a natural way. Also, Dairy cows can live in a cubicle of 3.4 to 4.0 m², where functional areas for resting, walking, feeding, and milking are adequately provided. If the cubicle floors consist of concrete slats, it is best to apply bedding materials to prevent the floor from being slippery and stressful for cows to move around.
#5. Dehorning Dairy Cow
Just like their bull brothers, dairy cows grow horns. Horns are used for several purposes such as to communicate between herd members, self-defense, and resolve conflicts. For instance, cows position their horns to signal other cows that other herd members should come closer or move away. Meanwhile, most modern dairy farms dehorn calves to save space and reduce the risk of cows injuring each other due to the stress of their living conditions. Dehorning is a painful procedure in which the nerve endings and blood vessels from which the horns grow are burned off, usually without anesthetic.
#6. Dairy Cow Slaughter
About 7.5 million dairy cows are slaughtered annually in the European Union. Worldwide, commercial dairy cows are usually slaughtered as soon as their milk production starts to decline, generally between 4.5 and 6 years of age. Other conditions for slaughtering dairy cows are; 10 Cows who fail to conceive after their first insemination, as well as those who do not produce sufficient levels of milk after their first calving, are slaughtered at even younger ages.
Prior to slaughter, cows are rendered unconscious by knocking with a stun bolt gun. Whereas, a significant number of cows are improperly stunned and left to bleed to death while fully conscious. In Germany, for example, that number varies from 5% to 9% of individuals slaughtered. Between 10% and 20% of cows are pregnant when they are slaughtered. Because the stunning bolt affects only the mother cows, in many cases the unborn calves are conscious during the ordeal. Thereafter, they are killed by the workers.
Calves Management In Commercial Dairy Farms
Although calves are not the primary goal of keeping a dairy cow, they can be sold to generate more income or raised to replace the mother. Most female calves born to dairy cows face the same fate as their mothers; they are isolated in small pens for the first eight weeks of their life, then spend the remainder of their lives producing milk for the dairy industry.
Male calves and females are most commonly sold to fattening farms, where they spend a few weeks gaining weight until they are slaughtered and sold as veal. In 2016, about 636,000 tonnes of veal were produced in the European Union, a lion’s share of this figure came from dairy cattle breeds. Over 300 million cows are slaughtered for beef around the world each year. Beef production in the Amazon rainforest is the biggest cause of deforestation, as well as a major contributor to climate change and decreased biodiversity.