Knowing the average lifespan of a cow is essential for your business, whether you are selling or buying livestock.
In this article, we will discuss how long cows live what you can do to help increase the lifespan of cows.
1. How long do cows live naturally?
The average lifespan of cows is 20 to 25 years, but that number is typically much lower for cows kept as livestock.
Most domesticated cows only live up to 10 years of age, with some cows reaching the ripe old age of 14 years.
Cows are social creatures and prefer to live in small herds with a dominant cow as their leader.
They are very clean animals that spend hours every day caring for themselves. They do this by grooming and taking mud baths.
They also sleep very little, just two or three hours per day, relying on their herd members to warn them of danger while they rest.
The main reason why domesticated cows have such short lives is due to human interaction.
When bred with other cows over many generations, the lifespan of cattle is drastically reduced.
This means breeders must continually replenish their stock by purchasing or breeding more livestock.
2. How long does beef cattle live?
How long do cows live also depends on their purpose.
Beef cattle are meant to be raised for meat rather than milk, although some farmers still keep them to produce dairy.
Meat or beef cows typically live for 1.5 to 2 years in the United States. These cows are expected to produce at least 2 offspring before they are sent to slaughter.
How long before a cow is slaughtered? Usually, meat cattle are slaughtered when they reach the age of 12-22 months after being weaned from their mothers.
This is mainly because, at that age range, they are still “fattened” sufficiently, but also still tender.
The more aged the animal is, the tougher its meat becomes. As a result, your steaks come out “easier to chew” when they are slaughtered at a younger age.
3. How long do dairy cows live?
The dairy industry uses heifers (female cows) to produce milk.
A cow produces milk only while its calf is under a year old. Lactation is ideally 10 months. But in most cases, it is longer than that, followed by a two-month dry period before the next calving.
To keep dairy production steady, dairy farmers typically maintain their milk yield by artificial insemination.
The average lifespan of cows for dairy are up to six years, after which they are either slaughtered for low-quality meat or they are sent to a refuge.
The average age of death in the dairy industry is typically between four and seven years old.
4. What factors affect how long cows live?
Many traits influence how long do cows live. Here are the top 10 factors affecting the lifespan of cows according to Mississippi State University
- Age at puberty
- Direct and maternal calving ease
- Milk production
- Mature size
- Ability to store body fat (fleshing ability)
- Ability to endure weather extremes
- Udder soundness
- Skeletal soundness
- Freedom from genetic defects
5. Role of breed diversity
One way you can increase how long do cows live is by bringing in new breeds of cows.
Many farmers stick with British breeds like Hereford, Angus, or Shorthorn because they reap larger profits from them.
However, these older breeds have been known to fall sick more often than other breeds such as Limousin and Charolais.
In some cases, farmers have found that their cows do not live past five years of age.
When you introduce new breeds, you are opening up your business to more genetic diversity in your livestock. This would positively impact the lifespan of cows in your farm.
This reduces the likelihood that anyone cow will get sick or die prematurely because it lessens their susceptibility to disease.
Charolais cross calves out of Hereford and Angus dams had a preweaning mortality rate of 14% in comparison to 7% for Limousin cross calves.
6. Care tips to increase lifespan of cows
There are many ways you can care to increase the lifespan of cows.
- Give Your Cows Lots of Space: Cows are very territorial and prefer to live in herds where they feel more secure. They like enough room around them to establish a “pecking order” among the group.
If you keep them together all the time, they will not only produce more milk but also stay healthier overall.
- Be Sure To Give Them Good Food: A cow’s diet is just as important as any other animal’s diet because it affects how quickly and efficiently she produces milk and energy for bodily functions.
You need to provide her with a nutritious diet that contains plenty of protein so she can build muscle tissue.
- Clean and Dry Housing: Dairy cows tend to be very messy eaters and produce a lot of waste products that need to be cleaned up daily.
It is even more important for you to keep your cattle’s housing area clean if you convey them indoors because they will inevitably make a mess wherever they walk or lie down.
- Provide Calving Assistance: If you breed your herd, chances are good that some cows may struggle giving birth during the first few times after puberty. Although this is considered normal, it can lead to complications such as uterine prolapse which can kill the cow.
That is why it is best practice to provide assistance in these instances or simply not breed at all.
- Talk to a veterinarian: Cow pregnancies typically last around nine months and they produce one calf at a time. It takes about 21-28 days for the cow to give birth and establish her milk production.
During this time, you might need to hire a veterinarian to monitor your cows’ activity and progress.
- Bring in vaccinations: Vaccinating your herd is key in protecting them from certain diseases such as blackleg and brucellosis. These particular infections can be passed on to humans so you must vaccinate yourself before handling or milking any of your animals.
When you purchase new cattle, consult with your vet first to avoid exposing your existing livestock to illnesses that could kill them.
Hopefully, this article answers the question of how long do cows live. As a general rule, the longer you care for your cows, the more milk you will get from them overall. It is also important to note that cows in the wild live up to 25 years and older while domesticated breeds only live up to 15-20 years in captivity.
As a farmer, it is important to take good care of them to increase the lifespan of cows.
Sarah Lane has been a farm wife since 2010 and mother of two children for nearly as long. She and her husband, Jonathan, live on a small farm in Texas where they raise dairy goats and beef cattle as well as chickens for eggs and meat. In addition to growing their own hay, straw and garden produce, the Lane family works with other nearby farms to source organic grain from which they make artisan bread sold at local farmer’s market.