Where do Baby (Calves) Come From?

We’re stepping out on a limb here today at the Cow Docs and risking a conversation about the birds and the bees. Or the cows and the bulls. Or some other metaphor like that.

The Birds and the Bees

Am I the only one who is curious and slightly disturbed that birds and bees became a symbol for reproduction? How?

In order to make more beef it is imperative that another generation of hamburger and brisket production is sired. But the process isn’t just a simple as turning out some bulls with some cows and forgetting about it. Cattle breeding needs to be done with forethought, to create the type of calf that will excel at all stages of life.

For starters, it may seem simplistic, but the calf needs to be conceived. This means the both the bull and the cows have to be fertile. On the cow side, this means the cow needs to be in proper body condition–not too fat and not too thin. But a lot of pressure rests on the bull, as one bull usually is required to breed twenty-five cows. This means that each bull needs viable sperm and testicles that have the capacity to cover that many cows.

Marriage of a cow and a bull.jpg

Bovine monogamy doesn’t exist, so sorry Bessie if you were hoping for Prince Charming.

Then the calf needs to be carried for 283 days (about nine months) and then born successfully. A successful birth often depends on the genetics of the bull and the cow. Due to years of research, we know how big a calf is likely to be when it is born. So bulls are selected that sire calves that will be the right size, and not too big, for the cow to birth on her own. Of course, it doesn’t work 100% of the time due to a number of variables, but for the vast majority of calvings the cow has the calf on her own.

Obviously then the calf needs to nurse and grow until it is weaned, which is usually around 6 months of age. But in the meantime, the cow needs to get rebred, since she needs to have another calf next year. So the key factor at this point is to make sure the cow receives the appropriate nutrition to fully recover from calving within 50 days. Sometimes this can be done on green grass alone, but in other cases it will require some supplemental feed, usually high in protein.

And so breeding season starts again. The goal is to have all the cows bred within a 90 day window (I prefer 45 to 60 days, but to each their own). The cows are checked for pregnancy three to six months after the cows are first exposed to the bull, and any cows that have not rebred are culled from the herd.

Now if you’re wondering if I was going to describe the actual process of conception in bovines, I’m not. You’ll just have to talk to your folks about the birds and the bees if you want to know that kid ;).