Community Agriculture Alliance: Where do cows come from? |

Community Agriculture Alliance: Where do cows come from?

Marsha Daughenbaugh
For the Steamboat Pilot & Today

Recently I was asked, in all seriousness, “Where do cows come from?” Outside of my Biblical answer “on the sixth day God created animals,” I found my knowledge was pathetically lacking. So, like any good student, I Googled.

Genetic studies show domestic cattle descended from a single herd of wild Aurochs that grazed across India and Europe approximately 10,500 years ago. Throughout the years, cattle were bred to make them suitable for different climates and production uses such as meat, milk and labor.

Christopher Columbus brought cattle to America on his second voyage in 1493. Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez took offspring of these cattle into Mexico in 1519, and by 1775, the Mexican cattle were brought into California to supply the early missions.

In 1871, Sir George Baggs trailed Longhorns from Texas into our region. Word spread of the abundant grass, good water and wide-open spaces, and by 1880, almost 65,000 head of cattle were trailed in and out of the area for summer grazing. Currently, Routt County is home to 37,000 head of cattle.

Cows have a gestation period of nine months. Single births are most common; although, it is not rare to have twins. Triplets earn bragging rights.

An average calf weighs 60 to 70 pounds at birth and will drink only their mother’s milk for the first three weeks of their life. As their stomachs develop, they learn to eat hay and grass, which allows them to grow into healthy adults.

Right now, we are headed into calving season, and under the best of circumstances, this is a stressful time for cattle producers. It means constant vigilance, day and night, to be ready should a cow need help delivering her baby. All ranch family members are looking for signs of imminent birth, bad weather, cold temperatures, open water, icy feeding areas, coyotes and other factors that affect the welfare of their cattle herds.

Success during calving season determines the ability to repay loans for land, equipment and cattle … failure means financial hardships and a feeling of sadness for letting down both the cows and their calves. This year will not be an easy year for calving. While we are blessed with much needed moisture, the amount of snow and cold weather is challenging .

Watching a cow birth is a moving and almost spiritual experience. Normally, a cow knows exactly what is happening and with little effort can birth her calf. She immediately gets up and begins to lick her little one to dry it.

Within minutes, the calf wobbles itself up, all four legs trying to unbend and strengthen. It looks the world over with bright black eyes through long curly eyelashes. By instinct alone, the new little creature begins to search for the udder, knowing the need for the antibodies and calories contained in colostrum of the cow’s first milk.

Nature, nurture and innovation all play an important role of “where cows come from.”

Marsha Daughenbaugh is a member of Routt County CattleWomen.

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