let's talk farm animals

Debunking the bunk on cow calf farms

Jean L Clavelle

A friend has recently begun to show me articles circulating through social media that pertain to farm animals to ask “does this really happen?!”.   These are the frustrating ones to those of us in agriculture. They are brilliantly written in that a tiny nugget of truth is wrapped up in propaganda and misinformation and sometimes blatant lies so that livestock agriculture appears to be nothing short of horrific (which is generally the point of these articles – to convert animal loving meat eaters into animal loving vegans).

I expressed my frustration with the most recent article she showed me to which she replied why hasn’t agriculture done a better job of sharing what actually happens on farms then? Good point. So today I would like to share with you some of what happens on a cow calf farm.  Because managing cows is a little bit complicated we will only cover what happens during the summer and discuss other seasons in future articles.

cow calf PICCows (mature female cattle) and their babies (called calves) are brought to pasture with bulls (mature breeding males) in the early summer. In Saskatchewan, pastures are generally large tracts of land (often up to a mile by a mile square or more) of grass or hay referred to as forage. This land is often too hilly infertile, or otherwise not suited to growing food crops for human consumption. On pasture cattle are able to eat, sleep, play, run, lie down or do anything else that a bovine wishes to do.

Cows are turned out to pasture for a number of reasons. The first is that forage is an efficient way of providing a nutritious feed source for beef cattle. Did you know that 80 to 85% of all feed consumed by cattle cannot be eaten by humans? This is because forage is mostly fiber which humans simply cannot digest. Cattle have four separate stomach components which allows them to digest a very fibrous substance – forage – into something they can use. It’s a lengthy process too. A cow will spend about six hours a day grazing (eating) and then another 8 hours a day chewing its cud – this is kind of a cool process where they regurgitate the recently eaten feed in their rumen (the first of their four stomachs), chew it and then re-swallow it to be further digested through the remaining 3 stomachs. As you drive by a herd of beef cows lying in the grass slow down and check out a cow as she methodically chews the feed she’s eaten that day.

The next important objective for the summer months is to ensure cows are bred. Cows have a 9 month gestation (pregnancy) so the next calf will be born in the early spring in time for the new grass. Calves will begin the summer nursing but as they grow they will begin to consume more and more forage in their diet.

Beef cattle are gregarious, that means they enjoy the companionship of other beef animals (this is known as a herd). In Saskatchewan the average beef cow herd is around 75 cows and these are all usually managed together as one for the summer months.

On a regular basis producers will check their animals to ensure they are all healthy, active and present. Any sick animals are treated on site and if that isn’t enough they are taken to a veterinarian. In addition to forage, producers also provide minerals to ensure they have a healthy balanced diet. A balanced diet as we all know prevents disease and helps maintain good health.

Cows seem like gentle giants and they are for the most part. Some cows however can be very aggressive. A small proportion of cows – about 6% -aggressive cow will attack anyone or anything that gets close to their calves. This incredible picture shows a herd of cows attacking a black bear that attempted to steal a calf.

And that’s where we will end for now. Stay tuned this fall as we discuss more of what happens on a cow calf farm in the next season. If you decide you just can’t wait till then, please visit farmfoodcare.org or skstockgrowers.com.





Posted by Farm and Food Care on June 9th, 2014 :: Filed under Uncategorized
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