While there is no doubt that cows are the highest Milk-producing animals globally, there is a common misconception that heifers can also produce milk.
Since heifers are immature females who have not given birth to a calf, they cannot produce milk. Just as with humans, It is only possible for cows to produce milk after they have given birth to a calf.
Dairy cows typically give birth to their first calf at approximately two years of age. Following the birth of a calf, a cow produces milk for about ten months before taking time off to rest for about two months before giving birth to the next calf.
It is still uncertain when and how much milk they can produce, which we will discuss in the latter part of the blog.
Why can Heifers not produce milk?
Having learned that heifers are unable to produce milk, it must make you wonder WHY? Let’s find out why they cannot produce milk.
Heifers cannot produce milk because they have never been bred before. They are young cows that don’t have developed reproductive organs like udders or vulva, so unlike cows, they are unable to produce milk.
Heifers are female offspring of cows that are usually below two years of age. Once they are inseminated, usually by reaching a certain age or when they have fully developed reproductive organs, they produce milk only after that.
Can a heifer Produce Milk Without Being Pregnant?
In view of the fact that heifers are unable to produce milk due to their immature reproductive organs, let’s find out if they can produce milk without becoming pregnant.
Usually, heifers do not produce milk without being pregnant. However, in certain circumstances, they can have milk-
- Where there is constant sucking by other heifers
- Feeding of estrogen-containing plants
- Feeding of fodder that contains estrogenic mycotoxin
- Placental transfer of steroid from mother to fetus
- Constant sucking by other calves- It is believed that calves sucked by another calf will suffer a rare condition called precocious mammary development and lactation which causes them to produce milk. Baby calves often sucking other calves’ nipples thinking it is their mother, causing heifers to produce milk earlier than usual.
- Feeding of estrogen containing plants– Unknowingly, grazing cows consume some plants that contain estrogen, especially alfalfa and red clover, which makes the cow produce milk.
- Spoiled fodder– usually contains estrogenic mycotoxin, which is a fungi that causes adverse reactions on biological organisms, feeding this fodder causes the heifers to produce milk. This is why it is usually recommended to replace dry fodders if it is stored for long term or wet; this will remove the fungi from the fodder.
- Presence of tumor– There are instances when the presence of tumor in the granulosa cells of the ovary is found out in the ovary, which raises the blood estrogen concentration and produces milk in heifers. The only treatment is removing tumors from the body.
How Much Milk Does a Heifer Produce?
Until a female cow hasn’t reached the age of puberty to calving, they cannot produce milk. However, once they give birth to a calf, they produce a substantial amount of milk. Let’s explore how much they can produce after giving birth.
After giving birth to a calf, a typical cow can produce 25 liters of milk each day. However, the crossbred female cows can only give 10-15 liters of milk each day. Thus, the quantity of milk produced by a cow depends upon breed and various other factors.
However, they do not give 25 liters of milk at a time. Usually, dairy cows are milked two or three times during the day and they give around 5 liters of milk each time. The milk dairy cow produces is supposed to be for her calf, but it produces it in such large quantities that it can be used for consumption by humans too.
Also, not every breed can produce the same quantity of milk, for instance, dairy cows can give around 20 liters of milk each day, crossbred cows like Holstein Friesian can only produce 10-15 litres of milk. This is because some breeds only produce the quantity which their calf is required on a daily basis.
What are the Factors that Influence Milk Production?
Did you know not every cow can produce the same quantity of milk even if it is a dairy cow and not a crossbred. Now you must be wondering why? This is because there are various factors that affect the milk yield; let’s explore
Milk production, lactation length, and dry period depend upon various factors, including genetic background, climate, diseases, feeding, and calving season.
In general, a cow’s ability to produce milk is highly influenced by its environment. The more comfortable a cow is, the more milk she has.
Climate and Geography- Compared to temperatures with more extreme weather conditions, an environment with mild seasons puts less stress on cows. This is because cows in humid areas eat less food and produce less milk than cows in colder regions.
Breed– It is natural for different breeds of cows to produce the milk of various quantities and qualities.
Health– It is a natural phenomenon among cows to produce less milk when they are unhealthy or sick as compared to when they are in good health.
Accommodations– When cows have their own place to rest and recover, they produce more milk than the cows who stay uncomfortable throughout the day.
Nutrition- The more fodder the cow eats, the more healthy she remains and the more milk it produces.
How Long can a Heifer Produce Milk?
Now that we know cows can produce large quantities of milk, but for how long is still questionable. Let’s find out how long they can produce milk after giving birth.
A cow usually produces milk for 10-11 months after delivery and before rest for two months before conniving the second calf.
However, the factors like health conditions and breed can affect this duration. For instance, the lactation period in sick cows lasts for only 7-8 months.
Heifers are unable to produce milk because of their age and underdeveloped organs. However, after giving birth, the milk produced by dairy cows is far more than a calf would consume in its natural state, as it has been bred to produce high levels of milk.