How to Choose a Dairy Cow
Dairy Farming in South Africa

Inspecting a Dairy Cow

©Ayrshire Cattle Breeders’ Society
The cow's udder should not be too big and firmly attached to the body with strong suspensory ligaments.

Dairy cows chosen for buying must be inspected to establish their identity. Identity is determined by the colour pattern (for Holsteins) and ear tattoos (for Jerseys). In addition a cow can be identified by body traits (specifically the muzzle, teeth, feet and legs, udder and teats) as well as body condition. Udders should be inspected (felt by hand) for signs of dry quarters and swelling or lumps indicating mastitis infection. The skin of the udder must be pliable, silky in texture while the udder should not be too big and firmly attached to the body with strong suspensory ligaments.

Inspecting animals closely would give some indication of their temperament. Do not seriously consider buying cows on show-ring performances as they might be too expensive while their milk yield potential may be doubtful. The best cows to buy are those that would produce the highest quantity of milk on similar feeds to be used on the new farm.

Buying Dairy Cows on a Small Budget

©Chris Daly
Before buying, inspect dairy cows to establish their identity. The identity of Holsteins cows is determined by their colour pattern.

Buying cows on a limited budget? Consider buying older lactating cows as their sale price may be lower because of less demand for older animals. ‘Slaughter value’ is usually less than their ‘genetic value’ for milk yield. However, such cows should be pregnant while also producing milk at levels higher than their daily feeding cost.

To ensure continuous milk production throughout the year, buy lactating cows in early lactation as well as pregnant late lactation cows. When buying dry cows, their expected calving date should be within two months of the purchasing date. When more funds are available, buy high genetic merit first to second lactation cows. They usually have less calving problems than heifers.

When buying pregnant heifers, information on the calving ease of the sires (bulls) should be known to prepare for possible dystocia problems at calving. Dystocia is when a calf gets stuck during the birthing process.

By Dr Carel Muller