We get a lot of calls from first time cow buyers looking to start their own herd. They usually have lots of questions, and we are more than happy to answer those questions, because we were once those first time buyers with many of the same questions. We have learned a lot along the way by many times just asking the questions.
One of the questions we are most frequently asked is whether they should start out with heifers or cows.
Each person has to weigh the options and make the decision for themselves, but we can offer our own experiences and insights to help them make the right decision for them and their farm.
So what is the difference between a bred heifer and a bred cow?
A heifer is a female cow that has never had a calf. A bred heifer is a female cow that is pregnant but never had a calf before.
A cow is a female bovine that has had one or more calves before. A bred cow is a female bovine that is pregnant and has had calves before.
A heifer has not been through the calving process before and can potentially have more difficulty in giving birth. This does not mean that they will have problems, it just means they need to be watched more closely. This also means that you should be more ready to assist or call in the vet if a problem arises.
The other variable is that you don't know what kind of mamma she is going to be. Cows have a natural maternal instinct, but some have better instinct than others and sometimes a heifer just doesn't know what to do with that little calf right away.
If a heifer does not take to her calf right away, doesn't clean it off after birth or doesn't nurse well, you may have to intervene and help nudge things along. This is usually not difficult, but you just have to be prepared.
A cow is a little easier.
She has been there and done that, so you usually can sit back and enjoy the ride.
So why in the world would you ever start with a heifer instead of a cow?
There are several reasons. If you show or are wanting to show, a heifer is the perfect age for the show ring. Many times, you can show her this season and then breed her and wait for your own calf to then take back into the ring.
Also, a cow is generally older and has fewer production years left at the time of purchase.
Those that are new to cattle should weigh the options, their knowledge and their abilities. There is always a learning curve and the potential for everything to go right...or some things to go wrong. There are no guarantees, even if you start with cows instead of heifers.
When we first started out we bought a mix of bred cows and bred heifers. We had never owned cows before, didn't know what we were doing, and barely knew enough to even ask those all important questions.
Our first year was a baptism by fire. We had a lot of things go wrong and even had our vet feeling sorry for us, but we learned a whole lot from those bad experiences.
Our first calf was out of a heifer and it was breech...on a Sunday morning...with the on-call vet's phone line down due to a storm the night before. We made lots of desperate phone calls and finally begged a neighbor for help, but it was too late for the calf.
We didn't know the signs of a breech and we didn't know how to help her. Talking with an older farmer, they just told us to turn the calf like it was no big deal. Yeah...we had no idea what they were talking about.
If that same situation were to happen today, we know the signs and exactly how to fix it.
Our second calf was a c-section on a cow. We got to know our vet really well that day.
The calf was alive...but barely. Our vet held our hands, told us exactly what to do, and we hoped for the best. With through the night hourly care, that calf made it through the first 24 hours. From there, the vet taught us how to feed the calf with a tube to keep it alive until the calf was strong enough to stand.
It was those difficult births that were the foundation of what we know now. We learned quickly and fought hard. Sheer determination kept that calf alive.
We learned that just because we don't know something today, doesn't mean that we can't learn and we aren't capable of doing something new. The accomplishment of nursing that calf back to health and knowing how to help other calves that needed assistance is something we will always remember.
I don't tell you all of this to scare you.
It is to help you make an educated decision of what is right for you and your farm.
It is to encourage you that you probably can do more than you think.
It's to remind you that we are all still learning...even after doing this for years.
Buying your first cows can be a big decision. Keep an open mind, ask lots of questions and make the decision that is right for you, not just what someone else wants you to do.
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Hello! I am Heather... the city girl turned mom to manure loving country boys. My husband and I both grew up in the city, but spent weekends visiting grandparents in the country. We are first generation farmers who learn best by almost always doing things the hard way. I hope you enjoy following along with our adventures down on the farm.