What Does the Cow of the Future Look Like? - Food Dialogues

Better Cows, More Efficient Farming: A Top Priority For Dairy Farmers

By: Mary Faber

Tags: , Animal Welfare

My husband and I are both fairly tall (I am 5’11” and he’s 6’2”) so when we decided to start a family we were both confident that our children would be too. Each are currently measuring in at the upper 90th percentile for height at their well-baby visits, so you can see where they each get it! Our calves also inherit genes from both their dam (mom) and their sire (dad). Of late there has been discussion regarding cows being selectively bred to produce larger and more productive offspring. What does this mean and what does the future of the bos taurus species look like?

A bit of background: a broad overview of USDA statistics show a fairly steady increase in milk production, and a consistent decline in the number of dairy operations matched by a continual rise in the number of cows per operation. This boils down to fewer cows producing more milk. How is this possible? Are farms pushing the limit regarding milk production?

Better feeding management
Here on our 5th generation dairy farm, our per-capita milk production has increased. This is in part due to better feeding management. For example, we strive to grow and harvest high quality corn and alfalfa forages. Feed management means samples are regularly taken and analyzed by our nutritionist who customizes the cattle’s diet based on specific nutrient requirements. This is completed by ingredient analysis and by balancing the available nutrients. The saying, ´´you are what you eat´´ does not just apply to humans – our cows benefit greatly from a healthy diet.

Selective breeding
The second improvement has to do with animal management and selective breeding.  At Mackinson Dairy, our goal is to breed cows with strong feet and legs, and udders that last generations.  My brother Matt then matches the dam to an ideal sire. Then we cross our fingers and wait approximately 283 days. All dairy farmers hope for a healthy heifer (female calf) that will become a productive adult and carry on the ideal characteristics…We wait two years before entering a new heifer into our milking herd.

Better cows, more milk
While there is no standard practice for dairy farmers across this great country, I did ask two other dairy farmers about their own personal breeding philosophy. Nate Chittenden of Dutch Hollow Farm in New York milks 700 Jerseys and echoes our breeding philosophy. “We breed our cows to make milk but we focus on well-built udders that last,” Nate said. In other words, more milk from better cows. Bobbi Frost of Harrold’s Dairy milks 400 head of mostly Holsteins in beautiful Oregon. “We have never made selections purely based on milk production,” Bobbi said. Three completely different dairies, even different breeds of cows, but we all have the same objective: good management. Thus, regardless of whether you are on the Atlantic, the Pacific or in the Midwest – smart management means more milk from fewer moderately framed cows.

Future outlook: efficiency
I envision the dairy cow of the future to be efficient. She will undoubtedly be a beautiful animal, one that is mobile and strong regardless of her coat color. She will exhibit the strength and physical characteristics which lead to a long, healthy and productive milk producing life.  Some farmers may have animals that are large in stature and they excel in their operation because the farms are actually designed around those cows and their needs, and the same goes for farms with smaller sized cows.

Answering your questions
As a consumer you may have questions and you may want to get to know us, the people – the lives behind the product. For this reason, our barn door is always open, so feel free to ask your questions.

The bottom line is healthy cows produce milk and dairy products, which can provide your entire family with a unique package of nine essential nutrients. The increased efficiency and milk the cows produce does not come at the expense of the animals; it’s a result of how we manage our farms and cows, for the better.

In reality, the only time size matters is when deciding how many scoops of ice cream to enjoy in your sundae.

Mackinson Dairy Farm is owned by Mary’s parents, Donald and Rita; her uncle, Roy; and her brother, Matt. Mary’s great-grandfather began the farm over 150 years ago with a handful of cows and 161 acres of land. Today, her family continues to live and farm those same original acres, plus a few more. Without a doubt, farming is more than a livelihood for these four. Each has a true passion for the land and the cows. While Mary doesn’t work on the farm full time, she’s still actively involved and manages the farm’s social media presence. Visit their website to learn more http://mackinsondairy.com/ or connect on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/MackinsonDairyFarm/info/?tab=page_info