The two-day-old bull calf was weak and not interested in nursing on his mother, a black Scottish Highlander cow. The mother cow’s teats were too large for this little fellow to get in his mouth. If we didn’t do something, he would starve.
Scottish Highlanders are beef cattle that produce just enough milk to nourish their calves. Beef cattle are, well, beefy with backs and butts that are well muscled to produce steaks and roasts. A good beef cow has small udders which are easy for baby calves to nurse on. On the other hand, dairy cows are bred to produce milk, not beef. The back of a dairy cow might look thin but their udders, where the milk is, are typically large.
Large udders on a dairy cow are a bonus and can mean good milk production. Large udders on a beef cow can be a problem which was the case with Flash, the bull calf who wasn’t nursing. Most beef cattle are not used to being milked so put we Flash’s mother in a secure place, a squeeze chute, where we could safely milk her. For a few days we “tube fed” Flash his mother’s milk by inserting a tube through his mouth into his stomach and gently pouring the milk through the tube. After two days he was strong enough, with help, to nurse on his mother. I would hold his mother’s teat so Flash could grab hold and after about a week he was strong enough to nurse on his own. This was 2012 and he lived through this episode to grow up to be a thousand pound steer with amazing horns.
At Miles Smith Farm, the answer to the question, “Do you milk your cows?” is, “Yes, sometimes.” We milk them to help the calves but not to collect milk for human consumption. I have tasted Scottish Highlander milk. It’s deliciously sweet and would make a great drink but there’s not enough of it for me and a calf.
Next time you see a cow, look at its rear end. The dairy cow will look thin and will have large udders while a beef cow should look fat and have small udders. So now you know. A dairy cow is udderly different from a beef cow!