Dairy cattle, otherwise known as dairy cows or milk cows, are cattle cows bred for the ability to produce large quantities of milk, from which dairy products are made.
Dairy cows may be found either in herds or dairy farms where dairy farmers own, manage, care for, and collect milk from them, or on commercial farms. Herd sizes vary around the world depending on landholding culture and social structure.
To maintain lactation, a dairy cow must be bred and produce calves. Depending on market conditions, the cow may be bred with a “dairy bull” or a “beef bull.” Female calves (heifers) with dairy breeding may be kept as replacement cows for the dairy herd. If a replacement cow turns out to be a substandard producer of milk, she then goes to market and can be slaughtered for beef. Male calves can either be used later as a breeding bull or sold and used for veal or beef. Dairy farmers usually begin breeding or artificially inseminating heifers around 13 months of age. A cow’s gestation period is approximately nine months. Newborn calves are removed from their mothers quickly, usually within three days, as the mother/calf bond intensifies over time and delayed separation can cause extreme stress on both cow and calf.
Domestic cows can live to 20 years; however, those raised for dairy rarely live that long, as the average cow is removed from the dairy herd around age four and marketed for beef.
A cow will produce large amounts of milk over its lifetime. Certain breeds produce more milk than others; however, different breeds produce within a range of around 6,800 to 17,000 kg (15,000 to 37,500 lbs) of milk per lactation. The Holstein Friesian is the main breed of dairy cattle globally, and said to have the “world’s highest” productivity, at 10000L of milk per year.