Cattle Reproduction

Knowing reproduction of cattle is important to the herd, no matter how big or small it is. Cattle reproduction involves breeding, genetics pregnancy, calving, care of the young calf and weaning, all of which is involved in the reproduction of cattle. Questions about everything involving in cattle reproduction, including a little on lactation, can be asked and answered here.

3,418 Questions
Cattle Reproduction

What is the gestation period of a cow or heifer?

On average, the gestation period or length-of-pregnancy of a cow is 285 days long. This is similar to the pregnancy period of a woman, which is closer to around 9 months or ~260 days.

However, actual gestation period of a cow can range from 270 days to 295 days, depending primarily on breed[s], age, body condition and nutritional health. Gestation period is also controlled by genetics, but not rate of maturity. The rate of maturity is more to do with the age a bovine reaches when it starts to put fat down, not muscle, and has very little to nothing to do with reproductive characteristics including length of gestation.

Here are some rules of thumb to remember when trying to figure out how long your cows or heifers will be pregnant for:

  • Heifers that are pregnant for the first time will most likely have a little longer gestation period than older, mature cows. This is typically because heifers are still growing themselves and have to put energy into growing a calf AND their own bodies, including the formation and maturation of their udder.
  • Cows with poorer fertility (or have a tougher time getting bred again after giving birth) may have a longer gestation period than those with good fertility (or those that have settled during the first part of the breeding season after a 45 to 60 day rest period).
  • Usually small cows have a shorter gestation period than big cows, but not always. For instance, Texas Longhorns have a longer gestation period than South Devons, but TL's are smaller in size and lighter in weight than SD's. However, this might be applicable if comparing Jerseys with Charolais or moderate-framed Angus with Chianina.
  • Thin cows may have a shorter gestation than normal-condition cows, and fat cows may have a longer gestation than normal-conditioned cows.
  • Females that have more masculine characteristics may have a longer gestation than those females that are more feminine in conformation.

Please see the related questions below for various breeds and their consequential length of gestation.

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Cattle Reproduction

Do cows eat afterbirth?

Sometimes. But most of the time when a cow expels the after birth she leaves it for coyotes, wolves, dogs or any other predator/scavenger to eat up. Most females will eat the placenta to hide the scent of her birthing area, plus it provides extra nutrition for her when suckling her young.

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Cattle Reproduction

Can a cow have a heat cycle after she is bred?

This depends on how she was bred. If she was bred by a good fertile bull, then no. But, if she was bred artificially (through artificial insemination), there's a 30% to 40% chance that she won't catch and will go into heat around 21 days after being bred.

Other factors, on the bull side, include that the bull may NOT have been a good fertile bull, but one that is infertile or unable to copulate to successfully settle her. Bulls like this are those that a) have poor conformation, or b) have not been semen tested recently.

On the AI side, there's a chance of human error, that the semen was deposited in the cow's bladder and not her uterus, or the semen was deposited not deep enough in the uterus, or that the ovum in the cow's fallopian tube died too soon and the sperm got there too late, as a result of breeding her a little late on schedule.

On the cow's side of the problem, she could have cystic ovaries, or is too old to be bred, or has been bred too soon after she has given birth, and consequently couldn't settle right away.

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Cattle Reproduction

When will an orphan calf have a bowel movement?

An orphan calf will defecate at any time. A newborn calf tends to defecate a couple hours after he has first suckled, since milk is nature's way to encourage a calf to have his first bowel movements.

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Science
Cattle Reproduction

How does a newborn calf knows from where it has to take milk?

Satisfying the need to get sustenance would be considered a basic need for species survival, and thus to some extent it is innate. In the wild, an animal that didn't satisfy the need would perish.

Within a half hour or so from birth, the newborn calf will stand up, and start butting its head, and sucking on anything that is nipple shaped (the head butt may help with milk flow). The calf initially won't know to go directly to the utter, but will have some idea of what to look for.

The cow may also gently push the calf to the right position, and present her utter to the calf. During this time, cooperation of the cow is essentially necessary.

After the first taste of milk, the calf rapidly becomes more coordinated, and learns exactly where to get it. While some cooperation of the cow is still helpful, some calves can learn to snitch a few bites from uncooperative mothers.

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Cattle Reproduction

What is the name of a mother cow?

An adult female that has had a calf is a cow.

A young female before she has had a calf and is under three years of age is called a heifer.

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Cattle Breeds
Women's Health
Cattle Reproduction

What is uterine involution?

Uterine involution is a term for when the uterus shrinks back into it's normal shape after a cow has calved and passed the placenta.

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Cows and Cattle
Cattle Reproduction

What are the growth stages of cows?

Calf: newborn offspring that depends on milk and mother for growth. Heifer: female bovine that has not had a calf. First time heifer: a female that has given birth to her first offspring. Cow: female that has given birth second calf, she will remain a cow until the end of the life cycle. Yearling: can either be a female or a male that has reached a year old. Bull: sexually mature (at about 12 months of age) intact male bovine, he will remain a bull until either castration when he will be called a steer or until the end of his life cycle.

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Dairy Management and Production
Cattle Reproduction
Cattle Breeds

How can selective breeding can be used to increase amount of milk a cow produces?

As the related question below explains, selective breeding is a tool that is used to improve one or more particular characteristics that is lacking or is inferior in a dam or sire to obtain offspring with that/those improved characteristic[s].

To improve milking ability in a dairy herd, cows are bred to a bull with a dam that has higher milking ability EPDs (Expected Progeny Differences: another word for genetic trait selection) than the cows do. The daughters that come from these cows with higher milking ability than the milking ability average of the herd are selected to be replacements in the dairy herd; the cows that have decreased in production or are low producers are culled. These daughters are further mated to other bulls that have improved milking ability characteristics to produce more daughters that have superior milking ability to them. And on it goes. Eventually the dairy farmer has a herd that is producing a lot of milk, thanks to genetic selection and selective breeding practices.

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Cattle Reproduction

What are the 9 types of bulls?

There are (as there are more than just 9 types of bulls):

- Gomer bulls

- Herd bulls

- Yearling bulls

- AI bulls

- Purebred bulls

- Commercial bulls

- Crossbred bulls

- Show bulls

- Maternal bulls

- Terminal bulls

- Rotational bulls

- Bull calves

- Young bulls

- Old bulls

- Good bulls

- Crappy bulls

- etc.,

If you are looking for "types" as in "breeds," then the nine + most popular purebred bulls are (not necessarily in this order):

- Angus

- Hereford

- Simmental

- Brahman

- Charolais

- Limousin

- Gelbvieh

- Red Angus

- Beefmaster

- Brangus

- Maine Anjou

- Chianina

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Cattle Reproduction
Colostrum

What is the composition and function of colostrum in cattle?

The colostrum of cattle is the first milk from a cow to her calf used to not only feed the calf but provide the calf with a start up of the calf's' immune system. It is milk that is comprised of immunoglobins and antibodies which help boost the calf's immune system by feed it antibodies that the cow has generated or received from vaccinations prior to giving birth.

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Cattle Reproduction
Ovulation

What is the ovulation period of a cow?

The time when an ovum is released from the ovaries and moves into the fallopian tubes of the uterus. Ovulation occurs 2 to 3 days after estrus in the cow or heifer.

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Cows and Cattle
Cattle Reproduction

What is the condition scoring in zebu cattle?

Condition Scoring in Zebu cattle is the same for any and every other breed of bovine: it's a measure of fatness that an animal has that determines that animal's reproductive and feeding ability. See the related question below for more information on body condition scoring.

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Cattle Reproduction

When does a male bovine sexually mature?

A bull reaches sexual maturity at an average age of around 8 to 10 months of age. Of course, this all depends on the breed and the herd's fertility. Brahman bulls tend to not reach sexual maturity until they're around 16 months of age, whereas a very fertile Angus bull will often reach puberty at 6 to 8 months of age.

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Cattle Reproduction

What is a cow's young one called as?

A calf.

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Cattle Reproduction

What if a newborn calf will not get up?

Other symptoms will help here, as there are many many different possibilities and reasons why a calf will not get up. Either the calf is already dead (a stillborn), or it is suffering from some form of malnutrition (i.e., rickets, white muscle disease, etc.) that is prohibiting the calf from getting up, it is still recovering from a hard difficult birth, it is injured from having it's mother stepping on it, it was born in the freezing cold and is slowly freezing to death, etc. If the calf is alive but will not get up, get some colostrum in it ASAP. With all the possibilities listed above, you will have to react accordingly. There's nothing you can do with a dead calf, except bury it, but if a calf is born in a cold environment, you must get some heat on it immediately: warm towels, a heat lamp, a blow-dryer, and putting it in your warm house is a good way to get the calf "defrosted" if it's really cold. Some forms of malnutrition can be so serious to a calf that there's nothing you can do about it. Contact your vet immediately if you have any concerns about your calf.

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Cattle Reproduction

Do newborn calves have teeth?

Yes, most newborn calves have a few teeth already sprouted by the time they are born.

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Cattle Reproduction

When should a first calf heifer start bagging?

The one thing you should know about first-calf heifers is this: They're predictably unpredictable. In other words, a heifer can bag up at any time, from a few weeks before birth to immediately after she dropped a calf. Usually most females will bag up a few days before parturition, but it's a bit more shady when you're dealing with first-calvers.

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Cattle Reproduction

What happens when cattle have a breech birth?

Breech birth is when the calf's buttocks is coming first instead of the front legs and the head. In this situation, the cow cannot push out the calf by herself because the position of the calf at this point makes it impossible for the calf to pass through the birth canal without manipulation.

You need to go into the uterus to get the calf positioned enough so that he can come out backwards. Push the calf in as far as you can (this is easier said than done, since the cow will be pushing against you), then reach down and find a hind leg. Once you have, flex the hock enough that you can bring the leg up to the roof of the uterus. Then, when you've found the foot, cup the foot in your hand and bring it up over the pelvic rim into the cow's vagina. Repeat with the other leg. Now get some calving chains (obstetrical chains) or rope (or baler twine, though some types of twine are less suitable than others), and put a half-hitch knot just above the fetlock and another just below the hocks. Repeat with the other leg. Next, you will have to pull hard (out and down toward the cow's hocks) and work quickly, trying to pull with the cow's contractions but also working when she's not pushing. You need to do this because the calf needs air and quickly. Once the calf is out, clear the airways and get the calf breathing.

If the cow is having too many problems and you don't feel comfortable helping her call the vet and try to keep her calm.

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Cattle Reproduction

Which is the best shed design for rearing calves?

There are many different types of shed designs that can be used for calves. The best one is one that only calves can access and not the cows. This means a traditional lean-to shed that is around ~8 ft in height, ~16 feet deep, and ~18 feet long with a board about 32-36 inches off the ground that the calves can just walk under, but that comes up to the chin or nose of the bigger cows. Check out the link below for a picture of this design.

For rearing calves, a calf hutch is best, which may be something like the second picture below.

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Cattle Reproduction

What are the disadvantages to the farmer when breeding animals intensively?

The primary disadvantages are the costs associated with the health of the herd. The producer may experience cows that can go down with milk fever or ketosis, or have to have some animals that require C-sections because a female was bred to the wrong stud and ended up with some larger offspring to birth out than was intended.

Other disadvantages include increased number of females that are needed to be bred at the same time, which often require AI, because the costs of keeping a sire is too expensive in relation to the costs required to care for, manage and feed females livestock. Mix-ups, like what was mentioned above, due to human error, are also concerns. Record keeping is a must, and can be a bit tedious if they aren't kept up to date. Special facilities must be built to separate females that are needing to be bred from those females that are pregnant and those that are birthing (this is especially true in swine housing). For dairy cows, this is also the same, with an additional facility or corral needed to house cows that are drying up before they have a calf, and for those that are being culled and sold off the farm. Costs in building and maintenance can stack up, as a result.

Another disadvantage is that, in intensive production, one person can't do all the work, so more money must be handed out for hired labour to help with the care, breeding and birthing of livestock. The producer expects his hired hands to do what he expects them to, but there are many instances of hired hands slacking off or doing something that they're not supposed to. This is a big risk the producer has to take when hiring people to help him raise his livestock.

So all in all, the main disadvantages a producer faces when breeding and raising livestock intensively are vet bill costs, maintenance costs, record keeping, and risk of hiring the wrong people for the job.

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Cattle Reproduction

Do cows deliver afterbirth without delivering calf?

Afterbirth is delivered AFTER the calf is delivered, so afterbirth technically cannot be delivered without having to deliver the calf first.

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Cattle Reproduction
Cattle Health

What causes a cow to prolapse?

It depends on what they have prolapsed, since there are three types of prolapses: rectal, uterine, and vaginal.

If it is a female that has a uterine prolapse this can be a result of a birthing complication, and may be due to a chemical imbalance that is telling her to continue pushing, or because of stress on the birthing canal. This can also be true for a vaginal prolapse.

Rectal prolapses can result from either constipation or diarrhea that the cow is constantly trying to push out.. This also can be a result of a high amount of stress, for example if the cow is down and cannot get back up she may put pressure on the rectum until it prolapses.

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Cattle Reproduction

How much do calves grow in first year?

Depends on the breed. Most calves can gain between 600 and 800 lbs in their first year.

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Cows and Cattle
Cattle Reproduction

What is a cow's regular life span?

Cows, which are mature female bovines, can live for as long as 2 to 30 years. The average is 15 years.

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