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Appreciate a Cow Today

July 29, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cow is one of the most under-appreciated animals by the public. People talk of the horse’s roll in settling America but forget that many preferred oxen – cattle – to till and move loads. They were slower, but stronger and usually less apt to spook. They were also something that could be raised from the family milk cow.

When twitter users were asked what they appreciated about cattle their hindquarters on a grill came to mind for some – cattle provide meat as burgers, steaks, stews and more. Another added “everything – from the “fertilizer they produce I appreciate everything about cattle. From the meat that I eat, to the leather on my feet. And don’t forget, the cowpox they gave milkmaids which led to a vaccine for smallpox.”

Still another appreciates cattle because “feed us both financially & physically & it’s fun to play with the calves!!” This is one of the fun parts of raising cattle – the calves. It almost makes one forget the frozen water tanks, fence fixing and long days watching cattle to make sure they calved ok.

There is an official designation in July of a cow appreciation day which comes and goes without a word said, much like the cattle that are unseen by the public but go to the milking barns around the world on a daily basis. They ask for little other than food and water, shelter and basic care.

Many years ago a short break in the day a co-worker and I looked over contented cows lying in the barn, chewing their cud. All was right with the world when a visitor spoke up and said the cows had it easy – eat and hang out. The other side to that however is a dairy cow has two jobs – deliver a healthy calf every year and produce a good amount of milk. If she fails at either of those it’s a severe dismissal from the job!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADairy cattle are often seen as the common black and white Holsteins or the smaller brown Jersey. However there are several other breeds that have served as dairy cattle each with their own merit.

Cattle in years past had to be triple purpose – they provided milk, meat and oxen for draft power. Some of the breeds that excelled at this were brown Swiss, Charolais, Limousin, Simmental, Devon and shorthorns. As farming changed and specialist animals were needed, breeds shifted with the Brown Swiss moving to the dairy camp but still retaining many characteristics from tradition. Charolais, Limousin and Simmental have largely moved to beef cattle, with udder development and milk that raises big calves. Still other breeds such as the Devon and Shorthorn split entirely, with some lines making the milking Devon and milking Shorthorn and others remaining for beef.

Today the Milking Shorthorn and the milking Devon are both considered critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy – less than 200 per year are registered and it’s estimated less than 2000 remain globally.

Cattle can be endangered – in the 1960s the Guernsey was second only to the Holstein, and was valued to produce branded “Golden Guernsey” milk. Today Guernsey cattle number less than 10,000 worldwide with less than 2500 born each year here. This designation is shared with the Ayrshire, a beautiful red and white cow said to be one of the best grazing dairy animals on the planet.

Still other unusual looks in the cattle world show you can have exotic looking animals even among the domestic ones – the massive horns of the Ankole-Watusi and the shaggy look of the Highland are different as is the Dutch Belted, the latter critically endangered and first imported to the USA for circus acts.

Our own USA developed cattle such as the Florida cracker, Pineywoods and Randall lineback offer a glimpse of history but their critical status indicates without preservation they won’t be around for long.

Many breeds were developed here for a need – the influence of Brahma to create breeds such as the Charbray, Gelbray, Santa Gertrudis, Salorn, beefmaster, brahmousin and others added genetics that adapted well to hot weather. Not surprisingly these breeds are popular in the hot areas of the south and Gulf States.

Several miniature breeds of cattle exist also. Dexters are a small breed as are the Kerry. More recently miniature versions of zebu, Hereford, angus and other breeds have been developed.

470_46717Oxen are usually over 4 years of age although training for an ox begins much earlier. Often as young calves they receive short lessons and as they grow they work with light loads, such as hauling a manure cart. Once mature a matched pair of oxen trained as a team can bring $3000 or more. Normally oxen are used in pairs but just as horse teams added more ‘horsepower’ so have farmers added oxen, with 20 plus animals used for heavy loads.

Cattle can make use of feed products that people cannot such as distiller’s grains, corn cobs, corn stalks, roughage on pasture and in some areas discarded breads from people food. None of these can be the majority of the diet as they need proper protein and other nutrient levels. But the cow is an amazing animal in her ability to adapt to our world.

Manure is reused as fertilizer to keep the fields fertile. Some critics talk about cattle being helpless but anyone who’s tried to take a calf from a wily range cow can assure you cattle are NOT helpless. She’ll come running like a freight train with pitchforks on the front at a threat to her calf. Some individual cows even in a farm setting will be quite determined to protect their calf. A cow doesn’t know or care that the calf needs certain vaccinations or identification – all she knows is her calf is distressed.

Cattle are much more a contributing member to our lives than many people realize. Appreciate a cow – and those who care for them – today!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 2, 2014 12:35 PM

    I appreciate them very much…plus, they are rather pleasant to be near. They are gentle creatures who provide so much to us by way of food, clothing, necessities of life. If you’ve ever pet one, you’ll be hard-pressed to notice any odor at all on your hands…same with goats and sheep.

    • August 2, 2014 1:35 PM

      I wouldn’t call them gentle, but they’re definitely incredible animals. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.

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