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Udder understanding

Milk as a maternal trait has become pure confusion. Truth is we only need just enough.

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke, Blogger

March 15, 2019

3 Min Read
Cow with poor udder and teats
High milk production is genetically tied to large, poor udders and big teats.Alan Newport

With very few exceptions, pretty and soggy 7-month-old calves are from cows that are overly persistent in lactation.

In other words, these pretty calves’ mommas are milking too much and for too long. At 200 days in lactation, a really good beef cow does not need to be giving more than one quart of milk daily. At 300 days, it should be one pint.

Quality colostrum and quality high-fat milk cannot be overemphasized for newborn and baby calves, but by 65 to 90 days the amount needs to be limited. Two quarts of high-fat (6%) milk daily by 90 days postpartum is likely near perfect, but may be slightly too much. Note that this drop should happen when the cow gets pregnant.

A good sequence that fits the natural model with an 800- to 950-pound cow would be similar to the following:

  • 1 gallon of quality colostrum at calving.

  • 1.5 gallons of 6% milk that peaks in volume at 60 to 70 days.

  • Successful breeding and conception at 60 to 90 days postpartum.

  • One-half gallon of 6% fat daily by day 90 after calving. (Pregnancy should drop milk production a bunch.)

  • Maximum of 1 quart of high-fat (6-7%) milk by day 200.

  • One pint of high-fat milk by day 300.

  • The cow should wean the calf on or about day 300.

Lactation or actually the persistence of lactation and the volume of milk production likely has a lot to do with whether a cow weans her calf. Cows with an udder full of milk are not interested in weaning and actually tend to allow other calves to nurse them and often “steal” baby calves from other cows, especially heifers. This can be a management headache.

Remember that calves that learn or naturally nurse from behind can rob milk from most any cow. Few cows are capable of kicking straight back. The key here is actually a lack of milk production.

Most of American cattle production of the last 70years and more has emphasized traits that have resulted in a decrease in our profitability and certainly the amount of fun and enjoyment. I’ll be honest and say that fun, enjoyment and profitability are all closely tied together. Hard work may be a wonderful attribute but the truth is that most of us would rather do less than more.

In the past I have talked and written about the "near perfect cow” and evaluation. I recommend starting with perfect feet. I’ve not changed. But as we move our eyes up from the feet we need to take a good look at the udder and teats with consideration of the age of the calf and the cow or heifer.

A dry cow can be tough. A cow with a month-old calf should be easy. An aged dry cow often requires that we have a goodly amount of focus and discipline to pick the girls that will work and stay around for years to come. Worth considering: Cull cows were recently selling for $450 locally. This was 1/3 to 1/2 what pregnant cows are often priced. Every time we make a mistake it can easily be $500.

The truth is that a good beef cow needs an udder that is mostly tucked in her flank with really good attachments behind and in front. It needs to be level and the four faucets (her teats) need to be the size of and half the length of your middle finger if you wear a size 7.5 glove.

Cows that have udders slipping to or below the hock are not what you want. The same is true of four-inch long teats that fit easily into the palm of your hand. These are “hand-milking” cows and you can plan to hand-milk them if you make the purchase.

Teddy Gentry and Dr. Allen Williams warn us in their book that bulls should be inspected as to scrotal teats. I’ll address bull selection in the future.

For more on this thinking, a good book to read is Before You Have A Cow by Teddy Gentry and Allen Williams. If you would like a copy, try Kathy Richburg at (256) 996-3142. The cost is $19.95.

About the Author(s)

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke


R. P. "Doc" Cooke, DVM, is a mostly retired veterinarian from Sparta, Tennessee. Doc has been in the cattle business since the late 1970s and figures he's driven 800,000 miles, mostly at night, while practicing food animal medicine and surgery in five counties in the Upper Cumberland area of middle Tennessee. He says all those miles schooled him well in "man-made mistakes" and that his age and experiences have allowed him to be mentored by the area’s most fruitful and unfruitful "old timers." Doc believes these relationships provided him unfair advantages in thought and the opportunity to steal others’ ideas and tweak them to fit his operations. Today most of his veterinary work is telephone consultation with graziers in five or six states. He also writes and hosts ranching schools. He is a big believer in having fun while ranching but is serious about business and other producers’ questions. Doc’s operation, 499 Cattle Company, now has an annual stocking rate of about 500 pounds beef per acre of pasture and he grazes 12 months each year with no hay or farm equipment and less than two pounds of daily supplement. You can reach him by cell phone at (931) 256-0928 or at [email protected].

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