That’s a fair question about dairy cows

“How did Julie do at the fair?”  That’s a frequent question we have gotten from friends recently.  Our family and many other families are involved in 4-H in our county and the Trumbull County Fair.  The week of the fair was like the finish of a race after months of preparation.  An exhausting week but one filled with fun and opportunities.

Beyond the leadership, determination and social skills gained by being involved in 4-H, the fair provides an opportunity for us to share a bit of animal agriculture with the public.  Even with the oppressive heat that week, there were a lot of people who came through to see the animals.  We answered a lot of questions about the cows during the fair, and I thought I would share some of them with you.

“Are these animals going to be sold at the fair?” No, we brought Holstein dairy cows that we took back home.  These animals are being raised to become part of the milking herd.

“Aren’t all baby cows born in the spring?”  On dairy farms, calves will be born all year around.  A dairy cow’s milk production decreases as she gets closer to her calving due date.  Her body is putting her energy into growing a healthy calf versus producing milk.  The expecting mama cow gets a six-to eight-week break from milking prior to her due date.  If all the cows calved in the spring, they would all be on a “dry period” at the same time.  Allowing the cows to calve all year around ensures a more steady milk supply.

“How much does a dairy calf weigh when it is born?”  A Holstein calf will weigh approximately 85 to 110 pounds.  There have been occasions when a calf has weighed more than that.  Twins can weigh less.  By the way, there were two calves born at the fair, one to a beef cow and one to a dairy cow.

“They have no horns, so these are girl cows, right?”  Nope.  All dairy cows, male and female, grow horns.  With the close proximity with other cows and people, we choose to remove the horns when the cows are young.  A young boys asked whether it hurt, and the analogy I gave him was it is like getting Novocain before a dental procedure.  Not painless but necessary to prevent the animals from injuring each other and the people who care for them.

“How old are the cows when they have a calf and what is the gestation period?”  The target date for an animal to have her first calf is 24 months.  That may seem young, but dairy cows grow fast and are mostly grown to full size at that point.  The gestation period is nine months, same as humans.  This question often came up when people saw Julie’s animal, Aletta.  She is quite large and will be 2 years old in December and is due to have her first calf in January.  We enjoy sharing information about the animals.  Plus it is a lot of fun watching people, young and old, pet a dairy cow for the first time.

If you missed the Trumbull County Fair, our surrounding counties will have fairs coming up – Ashtabula County’s is Aug. 9 to 14; the Randolph Portage County Fair is Aug. 23 to 28; and over Labor Day – Sept. 1-5 – you can visit the Canfield Fair or the Great Geauga County Fair.  I encourage you to go and have a fun agricultural experience.  And please come visit us next year at the Trumbull County Fair, July 11 to 16, 2017

Mary Smallsreed is a member of Trumbull County Farm Bureau and is the President of the county board.