Cows are referred to as the foster mothers of the human race because they produce most of the milk that people drink. There are an estimated 920 different breeds of cows in the world. History reveals that cows were first domesticated about 5,000 years ago. It wasn't until Christopher Columbus' second voyage to the New World that cows were brought to America for the first time. Until the 1850's, nearly every family had its own cow. Wisconsin, known as America's dairyland, has the largest population of dairy cows while Texas claims the highest population of beef cows. More than 99% of all dairy farms are family owned and operated.
In the United States five breeds of cows produce most of the milk that we drink. The Holstein leads in milk production with 95.2% of the 167 billion pounds of milk produced annually. Jersey cattle produce 3.8% of the annual production while Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire, and Milking Shorthorn cows round out production. Over 9.2 million cows on 110,00 farms across the United States produce an average of 18 thousand pounds of milk per cow per year. The average cow in the United States produces 53 pounds of milk per day which is equivalent to about 6.2 gallons. One Jersey named Marlu Milady's, produced 22,236 gallons of milk in her lifetime. It takes 12 pounds of whole milk to make one gallon of ice cream!
A cow must have a calf in order to produce milk. The gestation period for a cow is the same as humans; 9 months. Weighing approximately 80-100 pounds when born, calves are fed milk from their mother until they are 8-9 weeks old. The mother cow makes a very special milk for her calf that is called colostrum. Colostrum has extra vitamins and protein and is very good for the calf. A young female cow is called a heifer and a male is called a bull. The average cow is 2 years old when she has her first calf. Cows are milked for an average of 3-4 years.
The Jersey breed originated on the Island of Jersey, a small British island in the English Channel off the coast of France. The Jersey is one of the oldest dairy breeds, being purebred for nearly six centuries. The cattle of Jersey Island were commonly referred to as Alderney cattle although the cattle of this island were later referred to only as Jerseys. Jersey cattle were brought to the United States in the 1850's. The breed has been purebred since 1763 and the breed standard was formed in 1844.
Modern Jerseys are a wide range in color. Jerseys are typically a shade of fawn but on occasion a Jersey may be grey, reddish, spotted white or even nearly all black. Whatever the color, the underside of the Jersey is often lighter. A light band appears around the typically black muzzle, but a buff-colored muzzle is possible. Most Jerseys have a broad face with prominent eyes. Their skin pigment is black. Both the bulls and females are commonly darker about the hips and about the head and shoulders than on the body.
The cows have a docile nature and are intelligent. They are also the most heat tolerant of dairy cows. Adaptable to a wide range of climatic and geographical conditions Jerseys are excellent grazers. With an average weight of 900 to 1200 pounds, the Jersey produces more pounds of milk per pound of body weight than any other breed. Most Jerseys produce far in excess of 13 times their bodyweight in milk each lactation. The Jersey has the richest milk with the highest percentage of butterfat and protein. Jersey cows can spend 6 hours a day eating and 8 hours chewing their cud. During the day a cow may stand up and lay down as many as 14 times a day.
Cows are ruminants, which are cud-chewing mammals. Deer, antelopes, goats, sheep and camels also are ruminants. A cow chews her cud (regurgitated, partially digested food) for up to 8 hours each day. Contrary to popular belief, cows do not have 4 stomachs; they have 4 digestive compartments. The first compartment is called the rumen. The rumen holds up to 50 gallons of partially digested food. While grazing good bacteria in the rumen helps digest the cows food by breaking it down and thus provides protein for the cow.
After the food is processed and softened in the rumen, it is regurgitated. This regurgitated substance is called the cud and is chewed again. Most cows chew at least 50 times per minute. The chewed cud is then swallowed and goes directly to the second chamber called the reticulum. This compartment is often called the hardware stomach because if the cow accidentally eats hardware (like a piece of fencing scrap), it will often lodge here causing no further damage. In the reticulum additional digesting occurs with the help of the good bacteria before the food is passed to the third compartment or omasum. Digestion continues in this compartment were more nutrients are removed.
Finally in the last compartment, the abomasums, the digestion process continues much in the same way our stomachs digest food. The four stomachs and the intestine of the cow are covered with thousands of blood vessels. During the digestion process the liquid nutrients, which are chemically produced by the digestion process are transferred to the blood stream. Any waste material is filtered out of the blood by the kidneys and the nutrient-rich blood moves to the veins of the udder. As the blood passes through the veins of the udder, mammary glands remove the nutrients, fat, and other valuable life-sustaining elements and store them as milk in the udder itself. An estimated 500 gallons of blood must pass through the udder to make one gallon of milk. The milk is then removed from the udder either by a calf or the dairy farmer. It take approximately 340-350 squirts from a cow's teats to make a gallon of milk.
Cow's teeth are different from ours. On the top front, cows have a tough pad of skin instead of teeth. There are 8 incisors on the bottom front and 6 strong molars on the top and bottom of each side of their mouth to grind their food. Cows have a total of 32 teeth. The average Jersey drinks about a bathtub full of water and eats around 40 pounds of food a day. To make 9 gallons of milk a cow must drink 18 gallons of fresh, clean water. Cows have an acute sense of smell and can smell something up to 6 miles away! The average body temperature of a cow is 101.5° Fahrenheit.
An 8 ounce glass of milk provides a big percentage of your recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals: 17% protein, 29% calcium, 23% phosphorus, 23% riboflavin, 25% vitamin D, and 15% vitamin B-12. Refrigeration came into use in 1880, and the first pasteurizing machine was introduced in 1895. The milk bottle was invented in 1884. Plastic milk containers were introduced in 1964. Before milking machines were invented in 1894, farmers could only hand milk about 6 cows per hour. Today, farmers use automated machines to milk more than 100 cows per hour.
A Jersey set the all-time record for milk production by a single cow in 2003. A Jersey named Mainstream Berretta Joy, is the new U.S. and World Milk Champion. Bred and owned by Melissa R. Kortus of Lynden, Washington “Joy” produced 44,930 lbs. milk in 365 days on twice-daily milkings. Joy also becomes the first Jersey cow to complete two consecutive records over 40,000 lbs. milk in the history of the American Jersey Cattle Association.