When it is Time to Say “Goodbye”.

There comes a time for every dairy farmer to say “Goodbye” to a cow. Sometimes it is hard to do, sometimes it is easy. Sometimes the cows are old, sometimes the cows are young. We love our cows, treat them with respect and care for them the best we can, but there comes a time to say “goodbye”. Being born and raised a farmer, you learn about life, death, and culling cows at an early age. Culling cows is removing cows from the herd based on certain criteria. The cow may be sold to another farmer, but commonly these cows are sold and slaughtered for beef. On our farm, we cull a few cows once per month. Why cull a cow? What criteria? Why doesn’t she stay on the farm until she dies of old age?

Some cows will live their entire life on our farm, but many will be sold before they die of natural causes. The important thing to remember, is that farming is a business and just like any other business we have to make decisions that increase profitability.  Our farm family has mouths to feed, clothes to buy and bills to pay just like your family.  The bills cannot be paid, unless we make smart decisions. There are many reasons a farmer may want to sell a cow. Here are a few:

1. The barn is full. When the barn is at maximum capacity, it is necessary to sell cows to avoid over-crowding. The farmer may choose to sell the cow for slaughter or sell the cow to another dairy farmer who is interested in growing his/her herd.

2. Bessie ain’t milking much anymore. When a cow is no longer producing the desired amount of milk, she is no longer profitable and must be sold. Bessie might not be producing much due to genetics, old age or unknown reasons. Whatever the reason, we cannot afford to feed and house the cow if she is not producing milk. Its time she moves on in the food chain.

3. Baby maker is broke. In order for a cow to continue to produce milk, she needs to be able to reproduce. Reproduction is also vital for the business, as we need new cows to replace the cows leaving the herd. On our farm, we will attempt to breed a cow 5-7 times via artificial insemination before we label her a DNB or a do not breed. Now hold the phone, the cows aren’t bred 5-7 times all at once. We will inseminate the cow once every estrus cycle (approximately every 21 days) for 5-7 cycles.  If we are unable to impregnate her, she will simply live out the rest of her lactation with the herd.  Naturally, the open cow’s milk production will decrease and we will eventually have to cull her.

4. U-G-L-Y. You ain’t got no alibi.   Sometimes cows are just born ugly.  There are cows that are born with bad feet, poor immune systems, udders that hang too low, etc.  Cows need good feet to get around, good health to remain happy and profitable, and good udders that decrease their chances of infection.  These criteria increase the longevity of the cow’s life and is something we breed for in our herd.  A cow with poor features probably won’t last long and we do not want her to replicate those genes in her offspring.  We will label her a DNB and sell her when her milk production decreases.

Dairy farming isn’t just a way of life for my family, it is a business. We have to remain profitable and in order to do that we have to sell cows that are no longer an asset to the farm. It sounds callous, it sounds mean, and it can be difficult when it is your favorite cow’s time to enter another area of the food chain.  But, it is part of farming and at the end of the day, farming is a business.  My parents and grandparents taught me about the circle of life and the food chain; I learned that nothing should ever be wasted.  Just because our cow can no longer produce milk for our family, doesn’t mean she is waste.  We can butcher her and eat very well for months.  To this day, we still butcher and eat our cull cows.  We don’t have bellies big enough to eat all we have been given, so we sell cows that can be sold to feed other families.

Selling cows and saying goodbye can be a tough thing to do, but it is part of the farm life.  I’m very thankful that the dairy industry allows my family to provide not only dairy products, but also beef to a hungry and growing population.