Questions about Dairy Cows' mothering instincts

Discussion in 'Other Pets & Livestock' started by Sunny Side Up, Feb 16, 2009.

  1. Sunny Side Up

    Sunny Side Up Count your many blessings...

    Mar 12, 2008
    Loxahatchee, Florida
    I'm wondering if the mothering instincts are being bred out of any dairy cow breeds, the way that broodiness has been bred out of many production laying chicken breeds.

    Last month I spent 2 weeks working the poultry tent at our county fair. Next to our tent was the "Mooternity Tent" where dairy cows were brought to deliver their calves. It was a popular event at the fair, crowds of people would wait & watch the calves being born.

    So I learned a lot about dairy cows and modern milk production methods. I learned that the cows are first bred at age 2, deliver their first calf almost a year later, and then seem to spend the rest of their lives pregnant and/or lactating. The calves are taken away from the cows and raised separately. They drink milk from cows on medications that cannot be sold to humans. The heifers grow up to make milk, the bulls grow up to be beef.

    This is not a criticism, my family & I drink lots of milk and eat lots of dairy products and I know this is the way to keep milk from costing $10 a gallon.

    But as I watched the cows with their new calves I wondered if they had less mothering instincts than cows allowed to nurse their own calves and keep them at heel. These cows seemed rather disinterested in their calves, left them lying in the corner of the pen, didn't sniff or lick them much, didn't nurse them. Is that the way cows typically act towards their calves, or is this because of their breed as dairy cows?

    I know it is to the livestock keeper's advantage to have animals that will keep to their "jobs". If you have an egg ranch you don't want hens that will go broody, but will instead lay 'em & leave 'em as often as possible. If you're a dairy farmer, you want cows that will give lots of milk after birth, and not get all mopey missing their calves.

    Does anyone know if dairy cow breeds have been selectively bred to diminish their mothering instincts?
  2. B. Saffles Farms

    B. Saffles Farms Mr. Yappy Chickenizer

    Nov 23, 2008
    Madisonville, TN
    Hmmm I dont know but that is a very interesting question. Ive never actually thought about it that way. [​IMG]
  3. Amyable

    Amyable Chillin' With My Peeps

    Dec 16, 2008
    Greenleaf, WI
    Not sure if the instinct is being bred out deliberately. I worked on a dairy for 3 years in college, and when calves were born, those cows were allowed to clean off their babies before they were taken away (the owner said it stimulated letdown.) They also collected the colostrum of fresh cows separately and fed it to the new calves.
    Right after a calf was born, all the heifers nearby would be staring and bellering at the baby right along with the mama cow. They seemed pretty interested, and these were mostly holsteins with a few jerseys. After the first milking, the cows seemed to forget all about the calf, as they were then put into the freestall instead of the barn. I wonder if the genetic characteristics of the "super producers" are in conflict with any of the mothering instincts? [​IMG]
  4. ThreeBoysChicks

    ThreeBoysChicks Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 19, 2007
    Thurmont, MD
    It has been a while since I have been around Dairy Cattle, but I can remember getting chased through a field more than once from a mother when we went to bring her calf in from the field.
  5. Chatychick

    Chatychick Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 9, 2007
    Blue Mound, Kansas
    It all depends on if they are allowed to clean and bond with the baby or if it was stressful birthing. I know my girls get up after a few minutes and start cleaning them if I am there but when I am not out there they get busy and jump right up. If the cow has never dont it then she may be a little slow on the uptake and dont know what to do and depending on her age also. Most dairy cows calve and the baby is taken before she gets up and so she isnt sure what happened. Also if its a Fist freshener she is in the dark also as to what is going on...
  6. she-earl

    she-earl Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jan 17, 2009
    Lancaster County PA
    We are da;iry farmers with holstein cows. When a calf is born, we do our best to get the cow to take care of her calf. Some heifers that just had their first calf don't seem to know that they are to care for their calf. If it is cold, we like to have mom dry off the calf before we remove the calf and put a blanket on it for warmth. Also, once a calf is on its feet, it is more likely to try and drink off the few other cows that are in the "hospital area" with mom. We prefer that the calf doesn't just drink off any cow. We keep frozen colostrum and will thaw to get milk into newborn within the hour. My guess is that if these cows were not in this area very long before calving. Therefore, they may have been "out of sorts and uncomfortable" in a new environment with a lot of people around. As a result, they were not as relaxed to care for their calf. We move our cows to the maternity pen three weeks before they are do to calve.
  7. agnes_day

    agnes_day Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 29, 2008
    wouldnt that upset the cows, having to give birth in front of crowds of people?
    poor things. [​IMG]
  8. Cara

    Cara Chillin' With My Peeps

    Aug 30, 2007
    I'd imagine the stress of giving birth while hundreds of people are gawking at them doesn't help.
  9. Katy

    Katy Flock Mistress

    Our cows get upset if anyone but my husband or me is around while they're calving.
  10. Farmer Kitty

    Farmer Kitty Flock Mistress

    Sep 18, 2007
    I have a dairy cow with a new calf this aft out to the barn right now. I would not want to get between her and that calf! If they are allowed access to the calf they bond and do just fine. Ours are allowed to clean the calf and usually we'll leave the calf by mom for a day or two.

    I also do not feed treated milk to my calves. If they are treated for mastitis you are introducing the mastitis bacteria to the calf by doing so. They get their mother's milk for a couple days and then it's on to milk replacer.

    Last edited: Feb 16, 2009

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