The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Milk production depends on sex of firstborn calf

Lactation graphI don't usually post found facts from the internet here, but this study was just too good not to share.  Scientists studied the lactation records from 1.5 million cows, and discovered that a cow's milk production depends on whether her first child is a girl or a boy.  The cow produces 2.7% more milk if her first calf is female.

Ed Yong goes on to say:

"The first pregnancy is crucial.  It kicks off the development of the cow’s mammary glands, and creates a baseline that affects all later pregnancies."

In other words, it makes a big difference for the entirety of the dairy cow's life whether her firstborn is a son or daughter.  And that doesn't have to be left up to chance.  Yong continues:

"If they wanted to, dairy managers could ensure that most of the calves they breed are females, but they’d need to separate semen by sex to do so.  In the past, some people have argued that this isn’t cost-effective, but it might be worth it if it leads to a 2.7 percent bump in milk production."

On the backyard level, where dairy-cow owners are probably breeding their own replacement milk cows, it's worth knowing that a heifer whose firstborn is a son isn't going to be your most productive cow.  Maybe that's the one to sell, and you should try again with her daughter?

Anna Hess's books
Want more in-depth information? Browse through our books.

Or explore more posts by date or by subject.

About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

Want to be notified when new comments are posted on this page? Click on the RSS button after you add a comment to subscribe to the comment feed, or simply check the box beside "email replies to me" while writing your comment.

Will definitely ask this question when we shop for our first milk cow. Thanks!
Comment by Aggie Sun Jan 26 09:17:49 2014
A three percent difference isn't much. If you weren't measuring carefully or weighing I don't think you would be able to tell the difference. I'm sure there are plenty of other factors in how you feed and care for your cows that could make more difference. I would guess there is more cow to cow t difference than that normally. They can probably only see these small differences using such a large sample size.
Comment by Jim bryson. Sun Jan 26 12:10:09 2014

...or the one to keep. A family cow that produced less than industry standards would be ideal. Two gallons+ a day for the raising of the calf, and the rest for home dairy production. Dairy cow genetics from the 50's were about right, nowadays they have taken breeds that used to produce 5 gallons per day and bred them up to 10 gallon a day cows. That is too taxing on the cow.

Cheese, yogurt, butter, milk and beef all from one cow. Pretty sweet really if you have the grass :)

Comment by Nita Sun Jan 26 13:35:43 2014
Nita --- I'm glad you chimed in since I wrote the post thinking of you!
Comment by anna Sun Jan 26 16:51:03 2014

I forgot to add that historically heifers from first calf heifers were not desirable and thought to be not worth keeping in the herd. Many used to become family cows and not kept for the milking string. This is due to the fact that heifer herself is still growing and has not reached full dentition while being pregnant.

I've had a few of those myself and they make perfect family cows because of lower production. Interesting study Anna!

Comment by Nita Sun Jan 26 20:43:39 2014
I wonder if this is the same for humans? Probably tougher to gather that data.
Comment by Craig Mon Jan 27 15:21:00 2014
Just based on what I've heard, Nita's argument sounds about right-- you might want the cow that produces slightly less milk for home production. I know a few homesteaders who have found themselves overwhelmed with fresh raw milk from a few productive cows (and with large families, too!). Some of the drawbacks I've heard about the standard Nubian dairy goat is that they produce a lot more milk, which means more milking and more planning for what to do with the excess (of course if you have pigs or other animals that will consume it, maybe not so much of an issue.)
Comment by Sara Wed Jan 29 11:25:21 2014

profile counter myspace

Powered by Branchable Wiki Hosting.

Required disclosures:

As an Amazon Associate, I earn a few pennies every time you buy something using one of my affiliate links. Don't worry, though --- I only recommend products I thoroughly stand behind!

Also, this site has Google ads on it. Third party vendors, including Google, use cookies to serve ads based on a user's prior visits to a website. Google's use of advertising cookies enables it and its partners to serve ads to users based on their visit to various sites. You can opt out of personalized advertising by visiting this site.