Dairy or beef? Farmers steer us the right way

All cows are cattle, but not all cattle are cows, as we learned at the Lorain County Fair.

If you’re new to the barn world, keeping bulls, steers, cows, and heifers straight is confusing, especially when “cow” is often used as a blanket term. So what exactly is the difference?

A cow is a female animal that has had at least one calf.

A heifer is a female animal that has never had a calf. Heifers can be used for breeding, and they can also be raised for beef. Once a heifer has a calf, she automatically becomes a cow.

A bull is mature male animal, also known as a sire, that used for breeding purposes. Bulls are usually not used for meat.

A steer is a male animal that has been neutered and are normally raised for meat.

Both cattle ranchers and dairy farmers tend to their herd all day long, but the workload varies.

Tyler Fridenstine of New London has raised dairy cattle his entire life. Beef cattle tend to have more muscle while dairy cows are leaner and use their energy to produce large amount of milk, he said. The ideal dairy cow has a wide, thin body with visible ribs.

When his cows start mooing, Fridenstine knows it’s milking time. He follows a strict daily schedule to ensure his cows produce high volumes of milk — his bovine are milked twice a day, but he said some farms get on a schedule of three to four times a day.

A carefully balanced ration of hay for dairy cattle provides the energy and nutrients required to produce consistent, high-quality milk.

Taylor McConnell of West Salem said heifers and cows are kind of like dogs.

In the morning, she goes into the barn to start her twice-a-day chores. She cleans up any manure, refills water buckets, and measures their grain. Throughout the day, she often ties them up for a walk. At night, she does the whole thing over again.

“You have to show them who’s boss because they will drag you and push your buttons” she said. “They have to know that you are in control or else they will basically show you,” McConnell said.

To Scott Packard of Homerville, raising beef cattle and steer are much harder than taking care of a pup.

“It’s a year-long process, every day, twice a day doing chores,” he said. “You treat them like your family. You go out in the barn, you make sure they’re well taken care of. Actually, I think we take care of our cows better than our kids.”

Sometimes, the cattle even throw fits like two-year-olds, Packard said., but as long as you keep them happy and well-fed, they are usually docile.

They sure do love to eat. The weight range of a perfect round-bellied steer is typically between 1250 and 1350 pounds. “It has to look like a 55-gallon drum on four legs,” was the best way Packard could describe it.

The industry is trying to produce leaner beef for health reasons, but the meat still has to have a little bit of fat for taste, he said.

Whether dairy or beef, all three farmers agreed that the hardest part of raising cattle is letting them go.

“It’s hard not to get attached, but it’s harder for little kids,” McConnell said. “They have a hard time understanding that it’s their food.”

Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.

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Taylor McConnell with her heifer, Topanga, talked with us about raising cows.
https://www.thewellingtonenterprise.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2017/08/web1_IMG_5877.jpgTaylor McConnell with her heifer, Topanga, talked with us about raising cows.

Packard with his three-year-old cow.
https://www.thewellingtonenterprise.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2017/08/web1_IMG_5878.jpgPackard with his three-year-old cow.

Fridenstine with his dairy cow.
https://www.thewellingtonenterprise.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/25/2017/08/web1_IMG_5574.jpgFridenstine with his dairy cow.

By Laurie Hamame