1. Markings and Spots
Ginny – Beef cows can come in many different colors. They can be black, red, white, or any combination of those colors with spots and stripes and more. In the US, there are more than 20 different breeds and each breed began with its own distinct color pattern. The most common colors include solid black, solid red, red with a white face or different shades of solid white. There is even a breed of cow that is black with a white belt and looks like an Oreo Cookie.Liz – There are 6 main breeds of dairy cows. The most popular is Holstein, with the black and white spots. Holsteins also have a recessive gene which can result in a red and white marking.
2. Does my butt look big?
Ginny – Beef cows tend to be shorter and stockier than dairy cows. It’s kind of like comparing a body building competitor to a marathon runner. The beef animal uses its energy to build muscle and store fat. That’s why they taste so good.
Liz – Dairy cows are naturally taller (except for Jerseys) than beef cows and usually appear skinnier than beef cows. That is because dairy cows use the energy in their food to produce milk not cover on their body.
3. Battle of the Sexes
Ginny – Most male calves that are born in the US are steered (castrated) and fed so that they grow and can be used for their meat, just like a majority of the male dairy calves. The very best male calves get to remain intact and are used to breed the females to produce the next generation. Just like dairy cows, before a female beef animal has a calf, it’s called a heifer. After it has had a calf, it is referred to as a cow. The cow’s main job in life is to raise a baby every year so that we continue to have new animals that we can use for their meat.
Liz – Females, prior to giving birth, are called calves or heifers. Once they give birth, female dairy animals are called cows. All cows give milk once they have a calf. Most male dairy cows or bulls are raised for beef just like beef cows.
4. The next generationBoth beef and dairy cows have a 9 month gestation period.
Ginny – Most beef farmers use a bull to breed most of their cows naturally. You have to be careful when handling the bulls though, because they grow up and there’s definitely a lot of BULL. Some farmers also use artificial insemination (AI), using the best bulls out there, to help produce the next generation of beef cows. The bulls that get used via artificial insemination are often so expensive that most farmers can’t afford to own them themselves, but by using AI, they can benefit from the good traits that those bulls have in their genes.
Liz - Due to the size of dairy bulls and safety concerns most dairy farmers use artificial insemination to breed their cows. Could you imagine 2,000 pounds of bull hopping on your back…yikes!
5. What’s on the menu?
Both Dairy farmers and Beef Cattle producers feed rations (diets) that are formulated by a nutritionist. It would be like every family having a dietitian to help them plan their meals everyday!
A cow has one stomach with four different chambers, which is why many people say that a cow has four stomachs
Ginny – Beef cattle can eat many different types of feed. Most beef animals start their life at a cow-calf operation where the cows graze on pasture and may be supplemented during the winter or dry periods with hay, silage or by-products such as distiller’s grains from ethanol plants. Once the babies are weaned, usually after 6 or 7 months of age, there are a lot of options available to farmers. Some chose to move the animals to a feedlot where they get a specially balanced diet of corn, roughages such as hay or silage and supplements to help them grow and these animals are usually ready in about 12 to 14 months of age. Some farmers move the calves to other pastures and let them eat grass and may provide other supplements as well. It is very difficult to get grass to grow all year round so these calves tend to grow slower in some months, require more land (which isn’t cheap) and take more management to be efficient. It often takes up to 18 to 24 months for these animals to reach market. No matter how the beef animal is raised, they spend the majority of their lives grazing on grass pasture.
Dairy – Dairy cows eat nearly 100 pounds of feed a day which is a combination of hay, grain and silage (fermented corn or grass). They drink a lot of water too – up to 50 gallons a day.