Average Age of a Beef Cow

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By now you have most likely been informed that the average age of a dairy cow in the United States is 5 to 6 years old. That doesn’t seem very old for a cow now, does it? The average life of a beef cow “should be” between 12 and 24 months and if they’re a breeding beef cow it is around 8 to 12 years depending on your source. With sources such as PETA, Rolling Stones & the like you are probably concerned about this. They make claims that cows are “burnt out”, “spent”, “worn out”, etc.

To be honest, if I wasn’t in this industry, I would be concerned as well. How could you not be? Their claims are very convincing, especially to someone who has never stepped foot on a farm.

Average age of cow

So let’s talk about the life of a beef cow.

  • A cow gives birth to a calf. It’s a girl also known as a heifer or a boy known as a bull.
  • That calf is in fact taken away from its mother at nine months to a year old.
  • The calf is given colostrum (if sick or weak) & raised on mama’s milk until weaned at eight or nine months on our farm. The time on milk varies from farm to farm.
  • At 13-15 months the heifer is placed with a bull. Most farms in the U.S. use artificial insemination.
  • At about 2 years of age, that heifer will give birth to her first calf.
  • The heifer is now supplying milk for her calf. She is now on her first lactation.

Animal Rights

Animal rights extremists would have you believe that this cow will only stay on the farm until her second or third birth because of her poor health. This is not true.

Note: When a beef cow leaves the herd to enter the beef supply she is sold as a “cull cow”.

There are several different reasons why a cow would leave the herd.

The cow will not breed. A cow has to produce a calf to be successful on our farm. The cow could be perfectly healthy & still be infertile. 

The cow is dangerous when she has her baby (even when you’re nowhere near her or her baby). This causes problems because e want them to be happy & healthy. We don’t need nor want to be hurt.

The cow could have hoof issues. Does this mean the cow is unhealthy? Nope, just means she is needing constant attention. This could include visits from the local hoof trimmer or vet.
The cow could have issues with mastitis. Each cow is different, as some will never have mastitis, some could have it once in their life & others could have chronic issues with mastitis. Some cases can be treated successfully. Some cases will go away & come back.
The cow has undesirable traits. What does that even mean? Well, a cow could possibly come from a cow that wasn’t a very good mama cow. The mother could have passed down hoof issues, aggressive behavior, poor milk production, etc.

Perhaps the most common (in my opinion) is to maintain herd numbers.

Many farms are established on the number of animals they own & how many animals their facilities will house. All heifers are raised to become mama cows. It doesn’t matter if the farm has 5 cows, 50 cows, 500 cows, OR 5,000 cows. If the farm is only set up to maintain a set amount of cows, they maintain that number by removing cows from the herd.

So what does that have to do with the average age of a beef cow? Well, it has everything to do with the average age of a beef cow. Each year younger animals are entering the herd. To maintain the desired number of cows, cows have to leave. So basically, older cows are leaving for any one of the reasons mentioned above while younger cows enter the herd thus lowering the average age of the herd.

Average ages of pregnancy

Does this mean that there are no cows over the age of 5 still having babies? Absolutely not. They could have cows that are 6, 7, 8, 9, or older. We have cows over the age of five!

So you might be thinking, “Wow, this is kind of harsh.” Well, it does sound like it when you put it down on paper. It really isn’t. Beef cows do in fact serve two purposes: produce give birth and raise their calves & beef products. They are not humans and do not have the same rights as humans. They do however have the right to be treated well during their lives. Ask any cattle farmer, and they will tell you that well-treated animals are what puts a roof over their head. This is in fact a business & we are in the business to cater to cows! Not kidding, that is a true statement.

So there you have it, now you know, the truth behind the average age of beef cows.

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