Buying Dairy Cows
Dairy Farming in South Africa

© Chris Daly
It is best to buy a cow from a commercial dairy farm. This cow has visual and electronic ID tags.

Where to Buy Dairy Cows

After deciding on which dairy breed to buy, the animals have to be bought. Lactating cows should be bought at first as there is an immediate milk supply and therefor an immediate cash flow. Dairy cows are in two production phases, either in milk (lactating) or dry (not in milk). When dry, cows should be pregnant and within 60 days of the next calving down date. ‘Heifers’ become ‘cows’ at first calving; thereafter, the age of cows is indicated by lactation number following later calving down processes. For example first lactation after first calving, second lactation after second calving. Sometimes cows are also described as ‘first calvers’ or ‘second calvers’.

It is best to buy cows or heifers from a well-established or commercial dairy farm. Often these farmers are keen to share their knowledge of dairy farming with new farmers. This may be useful once production starts. On the other hand, buying pregnant heifers first gives new farmers the opportunity to get used to feeding and managing animals on a daily basis before the actual milk production process starts.

Dairy cows can also be bought at auction sales. Attending auctions beforehand gives an indication of sale prices and the quality of animals on sale. Usually a veterinary surgeon at an auction will issue a certificate of health for all the animals on sale and the auctioneer will indicate any problems with a specific animal. If in doubt about the health of animal, do not buy.

What is the Genetic Merit of a Dairy Cow?

The genetic merit of cows is determined by the sires used in a dairy herd. This means the quality of a cow is determined by her parents. Knowing the genetic information on cows would help to select the best cow to buy. Identify more cows than the number required for the new herd for better selection. A cow's production performance is influenced be her parents (genetics) as well as feeding, housing and management. Production records of selected cows should be available. Ask for the pedigree information as well as the production records of the animal's dam (mother) and genetic merit of the sire (father).

It would make sense to buy from a dairy farmer who is part of the national milk recording scheme. This system provides genetic and production information of all cows and heifers in a dairy herd. Under this scheme, milk samples of each cow are collected and analysed for fat, protein, lactose, somatic cell count (SCC) and milk urea nitrogen (MUN) by a central laboratory.

Total lactation yields (liters of milk produced) are then calculated over a 305-day period. SCC gives an indication of inflammation and possible mastitis-inflammation in the teats or udder. Reproduction and calving ease traits (how easy a calf is born) of cows and bulls are evaluated through insemination records and calving down data. It is not recommended to buy cows for which there is no information available.

By Dr Carel Muller