The Best Mamma Cow

John was just getting mail from his box out at the road when I pulled into his driveway.

“John, how are you this morning?” I asked as I came to a stop in the middle of his drive. “I was just passing by and thought I would stop and talk a bit before heading back to the zoo at the office.”

“I just came in for a bite of lunch,” John said. “I was out and walked through my mama cows. Everybody is doing well. They should start calving this weekend.”

I had just stepped out of my truck when Ron pulled into the driveway behind me.

“You two are just who I need to talk with today,” Ron said. “I am going to the sale tomorrow to buy a couple of momma cows. What do you think I should be looking for?”

“That’s an interesting topic,” I said. “You guys might not have enough time for my discussion.”

“It’s simple, Ron,” John said. “Just get a couple of black baldies, and you can’t go wrong.”

“Ron, make sure you get a cow that fits your herd schedule,” I said. “That is probably more important the breed. If you buy a cow that is going to calve three months following the last cow in the herd, you are going lose a year of production from her somewhere down the line, or you will end up with two calving seasons.”

“That’s a good point, Doc,” Ron said. “I hadn’t given that a thought. I just wanted to get the best mamma cow that I could.”

“So, go ahead, Doc, give him your spiel on the perfect mamma cow,” John said. “I have heard this several times, Ron.”

“I listened to Dr. Wiltbank discuss the attributes of the perfect mamma cow when he was at Colorado State in 1975,” I said. “At the time, the Simmental cattle were getting popular. Ranchers were spending as much as twelve thousand dollars for Simmental heifers, and he pretty much thought they were crazy. Half-breed heifers were also popular for the commercial ranchers. He was trying to convince ranchers that it all came down to pounds of calf sold per numbers of a calf born.”

“We see some Simmental cows around here,” Ron said.

“And I do an occasional c-section on a hundred and fifty-pound calf,” I said. “Wiltbank would point out that the black baldy wins hands down when in the calculation I just mentioned.  The perfect mamma cow is not included in the research anywhere. There is no real data on the perfect mamma cow.  And those calculations fail to look at the expense side of the profit and loss statement.”

“Let’s get to the point of the discussion,” John said. “I am sure everyone needs to get back to work.”

“Okay, in a lecture, Wiltbank would list the attributes that his perfect mamma cow might have. His list would include ease of calving, birth weight, milk production, weaning weight, longevity, the weight of the cow, and her hay requirements over the winter.”

“Those all make sense,” Ron said. “I would bet that a fifteen hundred pound Simmental doesn’t fit the bill.”

“No, it doesn’t,” I said. “You take all those factors together, and you get a half-Jersey mamma cow. Now to be fair to Dr. Wiltbank, I heard say it, I am not sure that he ever wrote it down.”

“No way,” Ron said. “You never see one of those, anywhere. Even if you’re correct, where would I go to find one?”

“I grew up on a Jersey dairy,” I said. “When I got to vet school, and they started talking about pulling calves, I had never seen a calf pulled.  The shape of the Jersey pelvis gives the breed its high marks for calving ease. If you have a half-Jersey bred to a beef bull, she gives you a three quarter beef calf with a low to moderate birth weight. That calf gets the most and the best milk of any calf in the herd and will have the highest weaning weight in the fall. Twenty-year-old Jersey cows were not unusual when I was growing up. And the best of all, that seven or eight hundred pound cow will eat half the hay of those twelve to fifteen hundred pound beef cows.”

“You never answered my question,” Ron said. “Where do I one of those?”

“You might find one if you looked over at Tillamook,” I said. “If you don’t find one, the other option is to buy a Jersey cow. Breed her to a beef bull, Hereford or Angus, and she will spit you out a heifer every couple of years. Her steers will come close to one of your best in the herd with all the milk she makes. And if you ever need to plug in an extra calf, she can raise four of them.”

“If I did that, John would laugh every time he drove past my place,” Ron said.

“That’s okay, Ron,” I said. “You can laugh all the way to the bank. The pure-bred guys are looking to get a picture published with all their mamma cows out in a green pasture. What the commercial cattleman, what you are looking for, is a good weaning weight on the calves you sell in the fall. That is where you get your paycheck.”

Photo by Oriel Frankie Ashcroft on Pexels

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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