Cattle Breeds and Quality


Natually Raised Farm Products - Rockwood, Tennessee

Does the Breed really matter?

Don't all cattle give milk?

Yes of course they do, and you can drink the milk from any cow regardless of the breed. Just like you can drink the milk from any goat, sheep, etc. In fact, if you could figure out a way to milk a deer, a horse, or even a cat, you could drink that milk too, and it wouldn't hurt you one bit. With regard to cattle, I seriously doubt that in a blind taste test, anyone could distinguish the milk from one breed of cattle to the other.

Why all the hype about different breeds? People study breeds, milk types, cream content and a whole lot of other factors, and they believe that one is better then the other for many different reasons. Some people have put forth the effort to become knowledgable, and indeed know very much. That's what we did and why we chose to have Guernseys; we think they're better, and they are for us. It makes us happy, and we want others to be happy also regardless of the breed of choice.

I can tell you that if I were a beef cattle farmer, and I wanted milk, I'd go out and milk one of those cows too, and I'd use it. Beef cattle just don't give a lot of milk volume compared to the modern dairy breeds which have been bred to produce more milk volume as opposed to meat volume. That's the difference in the two categories. You could still use the milk, and I would.

There is no breed of cattle that eats anything but vegetation naturally; not one. No breed is bred to eat grain either. Grain is to cattle as sugar and chocolate is to humans. If grain is put in front of cattle, they won't stop eating it until they find the bottom of the container regardless of the breed of cattle the grain is offered to. A Jersey or a Guernsey will look for the bottom of the bucket as much as a Holstein.

Cattle Feedlot(In the photo, a cattle feedlot in Missouri) Cattle raised for beef are contained in feedlots where there is nothing else to eat. As you can see in the photo to the left which I took myself, there are a large volume of cattle in a dirt lot with two long feed troughs where the grain is fed. It's dirt because that many cattle in such a small area keeps it trampled to where nothing can grow. These feedlots are plentiful, and this particular one has a small volume of cattle on it by comparison. On a typical lot you will find many different breeds of cattle, but the majority will be steers.

It takes the same amount of food to keep a 1500lb beef cow as it does to keep a 1500lb milk cow. The difference is that the beef cow isn't going to produce near as much milk. Thats why dairy farmers have milk breeds. Another great difference is that if you drive by a dairy farm and can get a close look at the cattle, you will notice that their udders are even in shape, and very large as opposed to a beef breed which will have a much smaller udder that is nearly always lopsided. This lopsidedness is caused by calves not nursing evenly which they never do. Cattle udders have four quarters which if milked evenly stay very consistant in shape which is exactly what dairy farmers do. With beef breeds, calves are left to nurse on the mother from day one until the farmer seperates them usually at about six months of age. With dairy breeds, calves are not permitted to nurse at all to prevent the uneven udder problem. Once a cows udder becomes lopsided or in extreme cases a dry quarter, they do not recover ever.

What about calves and the milk cycle

Fresh Raw Milk(In the photo, a quart of natural milk with the risen cream visable) Like other mammals, a cow won't produce milk until she births a baby. When the calf is born the mother's first milk is colostrum which is significantly higher in nutrients and antibodies. She only produces colostrum once during a lactation cycle just before birthing and it only lasts a day or two in a diminishing quantity, similar to a human mother. The newborn calf needs to consume this colostrum milk within 30-minutes of birth, and throughout the first day or two of life to be healthy. Since dairy calves are seperated from their mother immediately at birth, they don't normally receive this milk at larger commercial dairies. That is the biggest reason for so many sick dairy calves at auction. The mortality rate of auctioned dairy calves is 50% or worse, sometimes as bad as 90% if they have spent much time in large groups speading illness amongst each other. There are some exceptions with smaller dairies that take the time to bottle feed their calves colostrum as we do. Beef calves on the otherhand, are always left on the mother in the grass pastures and remain much healthier with a mortality rate somewhere around 10%.

A cow will continue to produce milk as long as she is milked regardless of whether she is nursed by her calf or milked by a mechanical method. The amount of milk a given cow will produce has to do with how frequently she is milked out which causes an increase in production, and how long it has been since she gave birth, a decreasing trend. In dairy breeds the cow is dried off annually at 60 days before she is due to birth again. In beef breeds, the cow dries off when the calf is sold or removed at about six-months of age. In both cases, the cow is bred back usually within three-months of calving. It is necessary to dry the cow so that she can again develop colostrum and full scale milk production. Many inexperienced people who own a cow or two believe that you need to gradually dry the cow by milking once a day, or every other day. This is a bad technique that causes udder problems and mastitis; a cow will be much healthier if she is dried abruptly.

Since dairy farm calves are only necessary to keep the cattle milk volumes up, historically, the bull calves were more of a pain in the butt than a productive part of the farm. The bull calves weren't worth much and in some cases such a burden that they were sometimes simply disposed of immediately upon birth. This has changed recently since the the beef shortage as a result of the herd die-offs due to the massive drought that occurred a few years ago in Texas and continues elsewhere. Since dairy bulls are also beef, they are now bringing good money providing a secondary income to dairy farmers except that they are usually sold immediately after birth, often even the same day. The heifer calves on the otherhand are sent to heifer farms or lots and raised as replacements for the herd and returned to the farm two years later where they will birth their first calves.

Beef farmers make their money from their calves, so the bulls are steered immediately at birth and they are raised on their mothers usually for six months. The heifers are raised to grow the herd or as replacements. The steers are sold at auction and moved to feed lots where they are kept in containement and fed grain until their slaughter date about two years later. A beef calf brings it's highest rate-per-pound at six-months of age, when it weighs 5-600 lbs. The beef steer will be worth $2-5 per pound at the six-month age where at two-three years old it will be worth about $1.50-$2 per pound, but will weigh around 1,700 pounds depending upon the breed. A dairy steer of a similar age will weigh around 1,500 pounds. The beef from either raised in similar conditions will be nearly identical. The reason for raising on grain is two-fold; marbling of the meat, and rate of gain.

Breed Prejudice

There are many fine breeds of cattle; I just think the Guernsey is better for my own personal reasons. There are three famous dairy cattle "Heritage Breeds", all from the Channel Islands. Those breeds are the Alderney (now extinct), the Guernsey and the Jersey. However over time, as with all other dairy breeds, they have been bred to produce more milk. Just as beef breeds have been bred to produce more beef. The two remaining Heritage breeds are believed to be more like their ancestors than other breeds of dairy cattle. However, all the claims or hype about one breed verses the other means absolutely nothing if it isn't backed up with DNA testing. If a farmer hasn't had DNA testing on each and every cow, even they don't know what they are producing regardless of the breed.

There are indeed subtle differences in natural milk by cattle breed though most people would be hard pressed to tell by taste, however it can be noted visually in the amount of cream that rises to the top of the milk. This doesn't hold true with commercial milk. Commercial dairies remove all milk fat and only the required amount is put back; the dairies get to keep more for butter that way. With commercial Whole Milk that content is precisely 3.25%. Of course 2% and 1% are self explanatory. The 3.25% milk fat content of commercial whole milk is quite different from the 4.7% that our Guernseys produce. Anyone can tell the difference between natural milk and commercial milk in a taste test regardless of the breed of cattle the milk came from.

Just plain BS

  • I was reading a web site last week where the owner was claiming that goat milk was naturally homogenized. Homogenization is a mechanical process which alone would make that statement clearly false, but there are other factors that also make the statement false as well.
  • I was reading a web site where someone had asked the question of whether the number of calories consuming wine during a diet countered weight loss where the site author falsely stated that the health benefits of wine outweighed the negatives, and that it wouldn't negtively affect a diet. Completely false on many counts.
  • I read yet another site where the author was selling Duck eggs claiming that they are more healthy than chicken eggs. The nutrient levels are greatly different, but that doesn't make a Duck egg more healthy; not by a long shot. Unless you think consuming twice the cholesterol is healthy.
  • The moral of the story is the easy for to tell. Believe nothing. Do your own research and see just how hard it is to sort the BS from the truth. Be suspicious of everyone who has something to sell and is claiming that their product is superior without scientific evidence. Always remember that talk is cheap and science is deep.

Study and Document

Do your own studies and document everything in great detail. What you observe without documentation carries no weight whatsoever, it is just hearsay. At our farm, we document everything we do, and everything we see the cattle do as well as anything else that takes place on the farm by nature or of our making. This gives substance to what we do. When you log everything that occurs, that process removes doubt. That is why documentation regardless of who did it, carries so much weight in a court of law. END Jump to Top