Fun Dairy Cow Facts

Written by jericho mccune
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Fun Dairy Cow Facts
Cows produce most of the milk humans drink. (cow. cow in farm/field image by L. Shat from Fotolia.com)

Dairy cows have been providing nourishment to humanity since ancient times. Evidence of humans using dairy cows has been found in Bronze Age Switzerland, and the ancient Egyptian nobility feasted on dairy products. Dairy cows, along with other cows and some other animals, are referred to as cattle, a word that comes from the old French word chattel, which means property.

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Ancient History

Cows, along with sheep and goats, have been milked for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians enjoyed dairy products, but they were so expensive that only royalty, priests and the extremely wealthy could afford them. The old testament of the Bible mentions man milking cows 44 times. It is believed ancient cows produced much less milk than modern cows, as little as one-tenth of what a modern cow can produce.

Breeds

Each of the six major modern breeds of dairy cow--Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Holstein, Jersey and Milking Shorthorn--was developed separately. Guernseys were first raised by monks on the Isle of Guernsey. Jerseys, the smallest breed of dairy cow, were raised on the Isle of Jersey. Ayrshires were raised in Scotland, in the county of Ayr, and Holsteins were nurtured in the Netherlands. Milking Shorthorns were raised in northeastern England. Brown Swiss cows are the oldest breed of milking cow and have been in the Swiss Alps for thousands of years.

Cows in America

The first dairy cows were brought to the New World on Columbus' second voyage, and the first dairy cow was brought to Jamestown in 1611, per the Animal Improvement Programs Laboratory (AIPL). Nearly all early settler families had their own cow. In 1822 the first Ayrshire cows were imported to America, and 1852 marked the arrival of the first Holstein. Brown Swiss were first brought in the 1850s, but by the end of the century they were found all over, even reaching as far as the Pacific Ocean.

Dairy Cows Today

There are around 110,000 dairy farms in the United States, and they contain over 9.2 million cows. Cows spend nearly eight hours a day chewing their cud, which means they regurgitate and then chew the food again. Cows have one stomach, but four separate digestive compartments: the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum and the abomasum. The rumen can hold up to 50 gallons of undigested food, and the reticulum is where foreign objects (like bolts, pieces of fence or anything else that may accidentally fall into the cows food supply) get trapped to keep from injuring the cow.

The Dairy Industry

Milking machines were invented in 1894. Before milking machines, it took a farmer an hour to milk six cows. Now, one farmer can milk up to 100 cows an hour using modern machines. Each of the 9.2 million cows in America drinks a bathtub full of water and eats between forty and ninety pounds of food every day. Wisconsin dairy cows produce between five and seven gallons of milk a day, and each gallon of milk takes about 350 squirts of milk, according to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board.

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