Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner

Believe it or not, most of the hamburger you eat comes from what are typically perceived to be dairy breeds- Holsteins, Jerseys, etc.- as opposed to what we traditionally think of the breeds that beef comes from- Angus, Hereford, and so forth. About 20% of the beef in the United States comes from culled dairy cows or “fed” dairy calves, meaning cows that were intentionally fed for beef production.

When a dairy cow reaches 5 to 6 years of age, her milk production typically drops off. At this point, a farmer will most likely make the choice to replace her in the herd with a younger heifer that will produce more milk. When a cow is culled, she is either sold to another dairy, or, more commonly, she enters the human food supply as beef. These cows make up 6% of the beef industry in the U.S. These cows are a major source of lean ground beef. Their carcass quality is lower than that of fed beef or dairy cows. They may have lesions from injections that have to be trimmed out, and they often have less marbling, or fat, in their meat. Marbling is what makes a steak high quality.

A more valuable source of beef from dairy breeds is from fed calves, typically Holsteins. Dairy bull calves have long been used for veal production- calves are processed around 5 months of age. Increasing in popularity, however, is the feeding of Holstein steers to market weight. These cattle are raised just as beef breeds would be, beginning on stocker operations where they spend a few months on grass before being fattened in a feedlot. Their market prices have risen over the years as they become more of a staple in the beef industry.



Teat to Table: How No Antibiotic Residues Make it to the Grocery Store

This is Penny. Penny is a lactating cow at a local dairy. She produces about 120 pounds of milk per day- she’s a very high producing cow and the dairy owner is very happy to have her in the herd.

One day, Penny comes down with mastitis, which is an infection of her mammary gland. The farmer is very upset to see that she has the infection, because this means that she has to be removed from the milking herd until it clears up. The farmer calls out the veterinarian that tends to the herd. The veterinarian confirms the diagnosis of mastitis and determines that it is in Penny’s best interest to prescribe her a round of antibiotics.

ANTIBIOTICS?!?! Yes, sometimes dairy cows get antibiotics. Think about what happens if your child gets sick. You will probably take him or her to the doctor, and depending on the sickness, he or she will get antibiotics. You don’t want your child to suffer from a treatable illness, and the same goes for farmers and their cows! Some illnesses can be treated with antibiotics, but there are precautionary steps in place to make sure that this doesn’t affect the milk supply.

First of all, Penny will get a red band around each of her hind ankles. This signifies that she is being treated with antibiotics and thus must not be milked with the rest of the herd. Just because she has mastitis, though, does not mean she stops producing milk, so she still must be milked to prevent other problems from happening. She will be milked after the rest of the herd, into a bucket which will then be discarded. Her milk never reaches the bulk tank- therefore, antibiotic residues never reach the tanker truck, processing plant, grocery store, or your house.

But farmers could just ignore those steps and still milk them into the bulk tank, right? Well, they could, but the industry makes it so they really, really don’t want to. How so? When the tanker truck comes to the dairy to pick up the milk from the bulk tank, a sample is taken from the farm. The tanker truck is probably going to multiple dairies at a time, so they will take a sample from each farm’s bulk tank before loading the milk on to the truck. Those samples will be tested for antibiotic residues before the milk is offloaded at the processing plant. If any sample comes back positive for antibiotic residues, the farmer whose sample it was has to buy the whole tanker truck of milk from the processing plant, because the whole truck is contaminated due to the mixing of all the farm’s milk together. The milk will be discarded from the tanker truck, which is then cleaned and sanitized as it is after every trip. That provides a pretty good incentive for farmers to not milk treated cows into the bulk tank, right?

Meanwhile, Penny is finished with her round of antibiotics. The farmer pays attention to the withdrawal time of the medication to know when she can be milked with the rest of the herd. Suppose the medication that Penny is on has a withdrawal time of 60 hours. If she receives her last dose of medication on a Monday at 6:00 am, her milk has to continue to be discarded until Wednesday at 6:00 pm. After that time, she can rejoin the milking herd and continue to produce healthy, nutritious milk!


This post is a load of crap.

Dairies produce a lot of poop. Managing it is essential to the well-being of the farm and the environment. There are a few different ways of managing manure, and all are acceptable ways to handle it.

Waste Storage Pond

A storage pond is a short-term storage area for manure, flush water, and polluted runoff. Storage typically lasts 90-180 days, then the waste must be removed. It is typically applied to land. It retains much of its fertilizer nutrients (including nitrogen), thus must be applied at a lesser volume than waste from a lagoon. Say you spread waste from a lagoon over 1 acre of cropland. That same amount of waste from a storage pond should be applied to 2.5 or more acres. Storage ponds must be impermeable to prevent groundwater contamination. They also produce an odor and therefore must be located downwind of neighbors or any public structures.

Waste Lagoon and Anaerobic Digesters

Lagoons are a long-term storage option for manure. They are typically earthen and are designed to prevent leakage of waste into the groundwater. They are often biologically treated, or have bacteria added to digest the organic matter. This biological action reduces odor and nitrogen content, which greatly reduces the land area needed for application.


Composting is an appropriate manure management system for dairies in any location and of any size. It reduces volume of manure by up to 50% and produces a saleable product. Composting essentially transforms raw manure into a biologically stable material that makes a great soil amendment. The product is consistent and can be applied to land or sold to horticultural markets, landscaping companies, homeowners, or even neighboring dairies. It can create more work for dairy workers, especially if the goal is to create a saleable product. Specialized equipment may be needed, such as an impermeable surface on which to build the compost piles. However, if you are just starting out, using a simple frontloader to turn the piles is acceptable.

Solid/Liquid Separation

Only 12-14% of excreted manure are solids. Add in bedding from the freestall barn or housing system, and the capacity of the lagoon or storage pond can be greatly reduced. Separating solids and liquids with either a settling basin or mechanical separators can reduce up to half of the solids in a waste stream. This system feeds well into multiple systems, with the solids being able to be composted and the liquids finding their way to the lagoon or storage pond.


No, It Doesn’t Stand for Artificial Intelligence

“What did you do today?”

“I had dairy lab and we AI’ed cows!”

“You did what?”

And that is the beginning of an awkward conversation with your mom. We artificially inseminate dairy cows for a variety of reasons. It is a routine, quiet process- not sexual exploitation like some groups would have you believe.

Artificial insemination starts with collection of semen from a bull. Dairy bulls are allowed to mount a teaser cow and ejaculates into an artificial vagina. The semen is extended, which means a substance, usually made from egg yolk or pasteurized, homogenized milk, is added to the semen to increase volume and the longevity of the sperm. An ejaculation that, in live cover circumstances, could breed one cow, can be divided up to breed up to 1,000 cows via artificial insemination. The extended semen is then cooled or frozen and it can be shipped to farms across the country and world. This has allowed bulls with superior genetics to be available to many, many farmers.

Identifying estrus in cows is essential in AI. This can be easy or hard, depending on your cow, but typically cows that are in heat will attempt to mount other cows or allow other cows to mount her. This is called “standing heat” and is the best indication that the cow is ready to be bred. Ovulation usually occurs towards the end of standing heat, approximately 12 hours in, so if a cow is identified as in estrus in the morning, she will be bred that afternoon, and if she is detected in the afternoon, she will be bred the next morning.

The actual process of artificial insemination is quick and painless. The cow will usually be caught in a head gate and the person performing the AI will insert one arm into the rectum. This allows him or her to manipulate the cervix and guide the insemination rod in. The AI’er will then wipe off the vulva to keep it clean and insert the insemination rod, which contains the semen straw, into the vagina, and then to the cervix where the semen is deposited. The cow doesn’t mind the process at all.

After the cow is inseminated, she is watched for signs of estrus 21 days later. If she does not come back into heat, she will be checked for pregnancy! If she comes back into heat, she will be rebred.


Oh, Baby

Take one look at a dairy calf and you know exactly why so many people are concerned about their well-being- they are adorable! Dairy farmers think they’re pretty cute, too, and valuable, so they want to do everything in their power to ensure they are safe and healthy. There are a lot of questions that surround the management of dairy calves, so we’re going to clear some of that air in this post.

When a calf is born on a dairy, they will typically be removed from their dam (mother) within an hour after birth. This happens for reasons that are beneficial to both the calf and the cow. A cow’s (or any mammal’s) first milk produced after giving birth is called colostrum and it is essential for the calf to consume. It contains antibodies which allow the calf to build a strong immune system. However, some calves aren’t strong nursers and some cows don’t have a great maternal instinct. By removing the calf from the mother and hand-feeding him or her, we can ensure they received an adequate amount of colostrum, and regular milk thereafter. You often can’t tell that a calf isn’t receiving enough milk until he or she starts to lose weight. Bottle or bucket-feeding calves allows us to see much more quickly how well they are eating.

dairy calf

Additionally, calves have sharp teeth and the cow’s udder is usually tender when she freshens, or starts to produce milk. A dairy cows teats are also not as hardy as a beef cow’s teats are, so they don’t take abuse from a nursing calf well. By hand-milking a cow at the very beginning of her lactation, we can protect her teats from harm and prevent her from inadvertently injuring her calf simply because she is sore. Dairy cows naturally produce a great deal of milk- much more than a calf can drink on his or her own. If the calves were left on the cows, they would never fully milk out the cow, leaving her udder full and therefore predisposed to developing mastitis (an infection of the mammary gland). By sending the girls to the milking parlor, we ensure she is milked out and therefore has a healthy udder.

Safety and health of the calf, however, are the main reasons we remove calves from cows and house them separately. They are housed in individual hutches until they are a few months old. They have weak immune systems and keeping them in with the milking herd, or even in groups with other calves, would expose them to harmful bacteria and unsanitary conditions- not to mention physically dangerous situations. They have room to stretch their legs in the hutches, a warm and dry bedded area, and plenty of individualized attention from the farmers to ensure a healthy and safe beginning to their lives!