In Which We Ask Another Question

Can someone who actually has been involved with raising livestock answer this:

Is it necessary for a dairy cow to have given birth recently (and then have the calf taken away) in order for her to produce milk? Or will she produce milk no matter what (or is there a third option of which I am unaware)?

Related to this, must a chicken breed with a rooster to produce eggs, or will she produce and lay unfertilized eggs?

To lay my cards on the table, I’m wondering what sort of manipulation (if any) of the normal order of reproduction for these animals is necessary for us to enjoy the culinary benefits. (Just information, please: No angry diatribes. I just saw Rage Against the Machine in concert recently and I’m all full up with vague, unfocused self-righteousness at the moment).

8 comments on “In Which We Ask Another Question

  1. Kelly says:

    Hey Ben…

    Cows do have to be bred to produce milk, and they have to be re-bred regularly for the milk to continue tasting well. I haven’t raised cows, but both my grandparents did – the milk starts to taste bad, and the cow has to be re-bred within 9 – 12 months after calving.

    Whether you have to take the calf away will depend on the cow’s breed – how much she produces. A modern production breed will make enough to feed a calf and a family, but you may have to keep them separated at night so you can milk her in the morning. The cow and calf can be turned out to pasture together and the calf can nurse whenever he wants throughout the day, and then you won’t have to have an evening milking. If the breed isn’t such a heavy producer, the calf will need to be removed at some point. Matt and Sora Colvin butchered their Jersey calf when he was a couple of months old because he was taking too much milk. I have no idea when they would wean if they were allowed to nurse as long as they wanted to.

    Some diary goats have been known to be capable of “milking through,” that is, producing milk for more than one season after being bred only once (they do have to be bred the first time in order to produce milk at all). Our two Alpines (a breed known for high production) probably would have been able to do this, but we weren’t aware of this concept at the time that we had them bred last fall. Our Nubians, which have a higher butterfat content, are lower producers and probably wouldn’t be able to milk through, but my husband says that the woman who helps us with them sometimes breeds her Nubians every other year.

    This is similar to the way it works with humans – the mammary glands undergo a preliminary level of development at puberty, but they don’t reach the final stage, able to produce milk, until after conception.

    Chickens will lay eggs even if they aren’t fertilized, but my understanding is that fertilized eggs have a healthier HDL/LDL ratio than unfertilized eggs do. Also, hens are happier when they have a rooster around – he’s their protector (sounding the alarm when a hawk flies over) and provider (clucking to them when he finds food), and they know it.

    Added to all this, if you want to have young animals to replace old ones you have to breed sometime, and by breeding from your own animals rather than relying on someone else, such as mail-order hatcheries for chicks, you’re able to improve your own stock and oversee all stages of the process – which will be morally and philosophically important to the conscientious husbandman.


  2. Kelly says:

    Oh, something else I thought of – when we first bought our goats, we heard that they wouldn’t really settle in and feel at home at our place until after they’d given birth once. Apparantly the birth process causes the doe to make a close connection with the place where she gave birth and the people who helped her during that time. And we did notice this to be the case, especially with the one goat that was the most fearful when we first got her. She seems much more content now, and isn’t afraid of the little children the way she was when we first got her.

    To summarize – it seems the best to work within the natural order that the Lord has already established, providing some guidance as far as which animals should be kept (the strong, healthy, and good-natured ones) and which culled (the bad-tempered, the ones that have trouble during birth or give birth to weaklings, the ones that are prone to illness…). I believe that they suffer these ill effects because of our sin and it’s our duty minimize this kind of suffering as much as we’re able to.

  3. thanks for the info., Kelly.
    my parents raised nubians when i was little, and though i do love cities (and am desirous to move “further up and further in”, as it were), one of the primary arguments in my mind for moving to a rural area is goats.

  4. Kelly says:

    It’s too bad the whole country is so ridiculously zoned. Residential here, agriculture there, manufacturing and commercial way the heck over there… All of life so compartmentalized. It would certainly be a good thing is light agriculture were allowed in residential zones, and if neighborhoods were designed to allow for it.

  5. There are actually places in the county where you could own a goat. The Settles have one. Dunno if they’re technically zoned for it, but at least they get away with it. ;-)

    Also, in case you don’t know the connection, the aforementioned Matt Colvin is Grant’s brother.

  6. kelly,

    i agree whole-heartedly: single-use zoning is one of the awful curses of “efficiency” worship.

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  8. Unfortunately, cows do need to be bred again and again and again to keep producing milk. On these big factory farms that are so prevalent today it’s a pretty awful life for them. The calves are always taken away within a few hours of birth, and the mother cow and her calf will call out for each other for days. It is heartbreaking. The female calves typically join the dairy herd, whereas the male calves go to veal farms (just google “veal farms” to read more about that horrible process if you are interested). Finally, when the cow is “spent” – ie, she can’t breed anymore, she is sent to slaughter for hamburger meat. Really, in my mind the dairy industry is even more cruel than the meat industry in a lot of ways.

    I applaud you for thinking about these things and considering the morality of it all. So many people never ever question where the food on their plate comes from.

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