, Newburyport, MA


November 5, 2013

Care differs for beef, dairy cattle

To the editor:

Recently, there has been a small flurry of controversy over Tendercrop Farm’s beef cattle operation. To be clear, I have no association with Tendercrop Farm. However, I grew up on a cattle ranch in Montana and have spent most of my life around animals of all type, including livestock. I offer the following in the interest of sharing knowledge and, hopefully, educating interested members of our community.

Let’s begin with the difference between beef and dairy cattle. In order for cows to produce milk, they must first be bred. Once the calf is delivered, it remains with the mother for 24 to 48 hours. The calf is then bottle fed until old enough to begin on grain. The calves are generally housed in pens with shelter and are fed several times a day. The mother cow returns to the milking line.

Heifer (female) calves go to pasture with other calves where they are conditioned for their place in the milking line. While bull calves may be sent to market, they are not the usual source for veal. Thanks to improved genetic science, dairy farmers can breed for heifers instead of bull calves, thus reducing the number of bull calves delivered. This does not mean that no bull calves are born, just that the numbers have been reduced. The primary source of American veal comes from large factory farms in Iowa and Nebraska.

Beef sold in chain supermarkets is a product of factory farms. There cattle are given growth hormones and antibiotics to accelerate growth and increase finish (slaughter) weight. The recent spate of tainted beef and other food seen in our food supply is the result of corporate farming where quantity is more important than quality.

The calves currently kept on pasture at the former Sunshine Dairy are black Angus beef cattle, not dairy cattle. They were born early this spring and have spent the summer with their mothers on pasture. Recently weaned calves bawl. It might help clarify confusion to know that some of the bawling comes from other cows. Several nearby homeowners own heifers (female cows) that cycle in and out of heat. When in heat, cows bawl loudly, often for hours at a time. Thankfully, a heifer heat only lasts for 24-48 hours.

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