more stupid confessions from a non-farm girl (updated)

October in vet school is always a busy month. And by “busy”, I mean “crappy”. On the plus side, it flies by – for the past two years, Halloween comes and I have no idea what happened to me the last few weeks.

This year is no exception, though I do think it will be better than in the past (word to struggling first year vet students: it gets SO MUCH BETTER. Second year was leaps and bounds better than first, third has been so far leaps and bounds better than second…hang in there!). This week we have two exams – Bovine reproduction on Tuesday and then Surgery on Wednesday (along with a Humane Society spay/neuter Wednesday afternoon). And then two more each subsequent week.

Bovine reproduction is so weird. Even though we’re fundamentally dealing with the health of animals, large animal medicine is a totally different career than small animal medicine. I think it’s interesting and baffling at the same time.

I think that I’ve admitted this long ago, but first year in anatomy was when I realized that the meat we eat is actually muscle (hanging head in shame). It’s not that I would have denied it necessarily, but I just never thought of it… I think I thought that there was a whole separate “meat” organ, somewhere inbetween the skin, bones and muscles. I don’t know.

This is this year’s stupid realization: Cows don’t just lactate all the time normally. It’s not like female cows are born, grow up a little and then, poof, you can milk them. They have to do it like we humans have to, and get pregnant and have a little baby cow. As a result, female dairy cows are ALWAYS pregnant. Well, to be fair, they get a 60 day “voluntary (like they have a say in the matter) wait period” between pregnancies, so in any year they get 60 days off (the farm boys in my class who were explaining this to me said “hey, if you got 60 days off a year, you’d be pretty happy”, to which I responded “not if the other 300 days were spent with me pregnant and getting milked all the time”, to which they simply nodded). So really a huge part of being a dairy vet is all about understanding pregnancy (theriogeneology). And if a cow has fertility issues or can’t carry a calf to term for whatever reason? It’s the chopping block for her.  And if a dairy cow has a male calf, who will obviously never be a milk producer? I’m going to have to ask the farm boys for real clarification, but I suspect that this is when the industry gets particularly dark and topics like “veal” and leather come up. These are all dots that I had never connected before. It all kind of makes soy milk look that much more appealing*****.

Ok, this post has taken a turn for the morose that I wasn’t planning. Anyway, back to the original point, it’s going to be a busy month! Also, November 1 is the go-live date for the big project I’ve been working on, so expect lots of rambling pointless posts from me (this one is a good start, methinks).

***** I joke, somewhat seriously, about giving up dairy for soy, but I do have to say…every farm person and vet I talk or listen to is in complete agreement that a “happy”, stress-free, healthy cow is the best producer. So I do believe that on responsible farms, and really any high-producing farm, great care is taken to ensure the well-being of the animal during it’s life. It’s not the fault of the farmers, necessarily, just the necessary evil of the industry – it doesn’t make financial sense to have a dairy cow on a dairy farm that can’t produce dairy products.  It’s a complicated and convoluted thing.

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4 thoughts on “more stupid confessions from a non-farm girl (updated)

  1. Jess

    Re: male dairy calves.

    Since dairy cattle are breed with an emphasis on milk production, they’re usually poor carcass quality. They’re sold to farms at a very low price to raise them and send to the feedlot at some point, but they definitely wouldn’t be used for veal. Since their meat is not top quality, it usually goes into hamburger, or maybe pet food. Ultimately, they end up going down roughly the same road as a meat breed, but they’re won’t make much money for the dairy producer or the cattle rancher.

    I was really surprised to hear how popular sexed semen is here in the UK. It’s more expensive than normal semen, but if you can guarantee roughly 70% of calves female and therefore potentially profitable, rather than 50%, it might make sense. But, the dairy industry is a completely different beast over here, which is why sexed semen has been able to grow in popularity in the UK. I don’t think it’s very common in the US, but I’m not positive.

  2. ejh345

    Interesting! Thanks for the info. I’ve also heard that dairy meat will end up at lower-end chain steakhouses (not sure if they were joking). I haven’t really heard much about sexed semen…it does seem to make a lot of sense. It also seems like the US lags behind in these things a bit though.

  3. Tayaki

    i like bovine repro. i love equine repro more, since it’s a lot easier/less problems occur with equine repro, but think of all the beautiful calves born! i know calves are a bit dumb, but they really are cute. especially angus calves, all black and sleek and such. anyways, hope your exams are going well. i looked at my digital voice recorder thing on friday and realized i was TWENTY FOUR hours of lecture behind in transcribing. acccck!!!!!! i guess that’s what happens when you go to the horse races the weekend before and then the following monday, a birthday party….

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