Cows can live many years in their natural environment. But in agriculture, the lifespan of domesticated cows has to be shortened to meet their meat and milk production expectancy.
Have you ever asked yourself: how long do cows live in each living environment?
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How Long Do Cows Live In The Wild?
In the wild, cows are long-lived animals. They can live for about 15 to 20 years or even more.
However, cows and bulls are not permitted to live their whole lives naturally when fed on commercial farms. Instead, they are raised on a farm with a budget of hundreds of millions for meat, milk, and leather.
What About Domesticated Cows?
How long do dairy cows live?
The average dairy cow lifespan is from 6 to 7 years, much shorter than wild cows.
This short lifespan of dairy cows results from the overexploitation of the dairy industry. The dairy industry pushes their milk production until they can’t stand or walk.
As long as their milk production drops, they are sent to slaughters for meat. Due to this exploitation, the meat of dairy cows has a lower price than the meat of ground beef.
After finishing their starter food period at 6 months old, dairy cows are switched to a protein-rich diet, aiming to gain 1 pound of weight per day. When they reach 1 to 2 years old, they start giving birth and continue producing milk 10 months later.
A female cow can produce from 6 to 10 gallons of milk per day in her peak production. To maintain milk production for 10 months of the year, they are required to have one calf annually. In some large farms worldwide, mother cows are artificially inseminated after three months of giving birth to shorten their idling time.
Unlike in dairy farms, where most pregnancies happen via artificial insemination, over 90% of mattings and pregnancies in beef farms happen naturally. However, due to their unhealthy lifestyle, mating bulls and female cows used for artificial pregnancy often have injuries or suffer from serious health problems, like hoof injuries or arthritis.
While new female calves will become the next generation of dairy cows, male calves will be sent to beef farms.
There is a close connection between the dairy and beef industries. In 2018, 21% of beef sold in the U.S was sent from dairy farms. Some cows with Down syndrome are killed on the farm since their meat can’t be reused for commercial beef production.
How long do beef cows live?
Steers, bulls, or cattle raised for meat can only live until their age at slaughter, about 2 to 3 years.
Their short life results from the market’s high demand for beef. Extreme commercial consumption is the main reason for their short life. While farms of 1,000 cattle heads only make up 5% of feedlots in the U.S, they can meet 80-85% of beef production demand for this country.
Calves started being fed with grains and corn from 6 months old to 1 year old until they reached their market weight.
The daily diet and age of beef cows significantly affect their meat quality. According to Modern Farmer magazine, the meat of grass-fed, 5-year-old cows has a more pleasant beefy flavor than that of a younger one with a commercial grain-fed diet. Additionally, their digestive system is not designed to consume such a high amount of grains and starch.
Studs or bulls are usually the next generation of beef cows and are often raised for meat or dairy production. These cows often stay in their herd for approximately 5 years. After retiring at the age of 5, these male cows are used for beef production in the slaughterhouse.
Bulls can start their breeding period at 12 months old and remain active until they are 10 to 12 years old. These cows are kept active on commercial farms as long as they are available for breeding or until the herd is full of its offspring. Farmers should also take care of these studs to prevent their possible temperament and health issues.
How long do calves live?
The lifespan of a calf in agriculture depends on whether the animal is female or male.
Female calves are raised mainly for milk, while some of them are raised for meat. When they can’t produce milk (around 6 years old), they are sent to slaughter for beef production.
On the other hand, male calves are raised mainly for beef or veal consumption. Except for the unprofitable ones who will be killed soon after birth and those who are grain-fed for meat, others are kept in veal crates (or small hutches/pens) to limit their physical movement and muscle development. At 16 to 18 weeks old, they will be killed for veal which is a gray, tender type of meat.
How Long Do Cows Live As Pets?
There are some fluffy miniature cows you can own as pets. This cow type is two times smaller than regular-sized cows. However, if they are fed and cared properly, they can fulfill their natural life expectancy of 17 to 18 years or more.
You can see mini cows in many areas worldwide. They are more loving and gentle than domestic cows. The Australian Lowline, the smallest and original pet cow breed, has a height of 100-100cm and a weight of 323 – 400 kilograms, depending on its gender.
Up till now, there have been 9 active mini cow breeds around the world. However, this number has been raised to 18, according to an American breeder Richard Gradwohl. Some of them are original breeds, while others have been selectively developed recently.
Caring tips to increase the lifespan of pet cows
Below are some valuable tips to expand the lifespan of your miniature cow:
- Ensure to daily feed your cow with a sufficient amount of fresh pasture: don’t overfeed them as you will waste more money on their diet. Besides, the leftover food will make their bedding dirty.
- Maintain their easy access to freshwater with loose minerals: Keeping your pets well-hydrated with a sufficient mineral intake will not only help them stay active and healthy but also boost their immune system.
- Get them vaccinated once or twice per year: You can ask your local vets for the best vaccines for them.
- Breeding schedule for your female cows: if you have a female and want to get milk from her or let her give birth to a calf.
- Groom them every day: Grooming is optional as cattle raised on farms don’t need to brush naturally. If your pets feel uncomfortable when being groomed, you can skip this activity.
- Prepare a safe and cozy shelter for them: Your pet cows will access any nearby shelter in inclement weather. Thus, make sure that the shelter is always accessible.
- Milk your female cow on a fixed schedule: You can milk her in a fixed hour in the morning or afternoon so she will have a whole day to eat before the next milking session.
- If your calf is still in his weaning period: A calf needs 10% of his body weight of milk per day. Make sure that you feed him a proper mother milk replacer formula. This intake should be divided into 2 to 3 feedings.
- Keep your pet fences sturdy: You should ensure that his fences are strong enough so that he can’t escape.
1. Can cows live for 100 years?
Up till now, there has been no cow that can live for 100 years. The oldest cow in the world is Big Bertha (1944-1993). This Dremon cow is owned by Jerome O’Leary in Ireland, and it has lived until it reached 48 years and 9 months.
2. What diseases affect cows?
Some common diseases are found in cows, namely foot/mouth disease, mad cow disease, bluetongue, bovine tuberculosis, botulism, brucellosis, bovine viral diarrhea, and Johne’s disease.
3. Do cows die because of old age?
Domestic cattle don’t usually die because of old age. They are sent to slaughterhouses when they have reached their market weight. Some others are killed on farms before that if they won’t be profitable for the farms or can’t be used for human consumption.
Some cows well raised and fed in sanctuaries or pets can live longer and die of old age.
4. What to do if a cow naturally dies?
When a cow naturally dies because of disease, injury, or old age, farmers should report his death to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). You can scan for rendering service in your area on USDA’s website and contact it to send his body for proper disposal.
5. How are farm cows slaughtered?
Throat-cutting is the most common way to kill cows in slaughterhouses. According to the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958 (amended in 2002), cows and other livestock must be wholly unconscious or sedated by electronarcosis or stunning before slaughter to minimize their suffering.
Many criteria affect a cow’s lifespan, including genetics, living environment, nutrition/daily diet, weather, and overall physical health.
After knowing how long cows live, you understand that although wild cows have to deal with harsh weather elements, they have a happier and longer life with good health than those who are raised in commercial dairy or beef farms.