Cows are one of the most well-known farm animals out there. Most of us know that cows are the source of the milk we pour on our daily breakfast (or dinner—no judgment!) cereal but might know much about the process of getting that milk to your table. Do cows need to be milked and what happens if they aren’t?

Dairy cows who are producing milk for their calves need milk removed daily, either by their calf drinking or being milked. However, cows only produce milk when it’s needed for their babies, just like humans. Cows who aren’t ever bred or pregnant won’t make milk. Keep reading to learn more about the milking process and why it’s not without controversy.

divider-multipet What Happens If Cows Aren’t Milked?

If a dairy cow goes for some time without being milked, it can become painful and dangerous. The cow’s udder will become overfilled with milk which can be uncomfortable. These cows may avoid lying down because their full udder is too painful.

One of the most common issues that occur if a cow isn’t milked is mastitis or infection of the udder. Mastitis can have several causes but not milking the cow enough is one of them. This is one of the most significant issues impacting dairy cows worldwide.

If the cow’s calf is allowed to drink from her, it can help decrease the need for milking, although some dairy cows may produce much more milk than their calves can drink in a day. Calves are also often weaned before the cow is done producing milk. Cows generally produce milk for about 10 months after giving birth as long as they are regularly milked or nursed.

The age and breed of a cow will help determine how much milk the cow produces and how often she needs to be milked. For example, beef cattle don’t need to be milked because they produce only enough milk for their calves. On the other hand, a single Holstein, the most common breed of dairy cow, produces about 2,900 gallons of milk per year. Older cows also produce less milk than young ones.

milking cow
Image Credit: Pixabay

Controversy Over Milking Cows

Animal rights organizations, such as PETA, argue that the dairy industry is cruel to cows. After all, they say, cows wouldn’t need to be milked at all if dairy farmers didn’t keep them pregnant to produce it. Such groups also take issue with some of the other traditional practices of dairy farming, such as removing calves from the mothers soon after birth to leave more milk for sale and how veal calves are raised.

As you might expect, dairy farmers have an entirely different perspective on the issue. They argue that cows who aren’t properly cared for and who are stressed don’t produce as much milk, which doesn’t financially benefit the farmers.

Animal welfare scientists have conducted studies on some of the issues raised by animal rights groups to help educate farmers and improve conditions for cows.

For example, scientists in Austria found that removing calves from their mothers early negatively impacted their social behavior as adults.

Other studies have led to an increase in environmental enrichment for dairy cows, intending to decrease stress and improve milk production.

divider-multipet Final Thoughts

Regardless of whether you believe cows should be producing milk for humans in the first place, not milking a lactating cow can be painful and lead to dangerous health conditions. Putting a calf with the cow can help but it’s still important to monitor the cow to make sure she’s not building up too much milk. If you’re concerned about whether your daily milk is supporting a cruel industry, take some time to research the issue, including the science, so you can make an informed decision.

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay