The Lifespan of a Cow Depends a Lot on Their Job

Horses and cows are often seen together, so it's easy to assume that they have similar lifespans. Cattle unfortunately live much shorter lives than horses. While horses enjoy over 30 years naturally, most cows will live between 15-20 years with proper care. Unfortunately, this lifespan is often affected by homesteading, small farms, and large factory farms, all of which present different problems for our bovine buddies. The production of milk, meat, and the processes involved can create roadblocks for a cow determined to live to a ripe old age of 20, and different types of cows will live shorter or longer lifespans depending on what industry they're involved in. Cows live very productive lives, but how long do cows live?

How Long Do Dairy Cows Live?

how long do cows live

The dairy industry uses heifers (female cows) to produce milk. Several popular dairy varieties include jersey cows, Ayrshire cows, and Holstein cows. In spite of popular opinion, they do not produce milk their entire lives without a gestation period. Since cow's milk is a natural product of birthing a calf, a cow produces milk only while their calf is under a year old. Lactation lasts for approximately ten months after they give birth to a newborn calf. To keep dairy production steady, dairy farmers typically maintain their milk yield by artificial insemination. Dairy calves are taken away within 24-hours of being born, and female calves are used to maintain the dairy herd size while male calves are often sent to veal factories. Because of this, male dairy cows may have a significantly shorter lifespan.

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Heifers are sent away to be slaughtered once they are unable to maintain their milk production for the dairy farm. This may happen for many reasons, such as lameness, mastitis (an infection of the udder), infertility, or damage to the body condition due to calving. Dairy farming produces a large amount of dairy products from the milk, such as cheese, yogurt, butter, and of course, milk for human consumption. The average lifespan for a dairy cow is approximately five years to maintain the strength of the milking herd, sparking some concerns of animal welfare on dairy farms.

How Long Do Beef Cows Live?

how long do cows live

Beef cattle are typically culled (slaughtered) when they are young cows between 12 to 24 months of age to have the highest quality grade of meat. This will also depend on whether or not the cow comes from a factory farm where they go directly to a feedlot after weaning. They are raised on grass pastures and then fed a high-calorie diet for approximately 100 days before being slaughtered. Cows over two years of age may still be sent to the slaughterhouse but typically will not produce the same meat quality.

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READ MORE: What Do Dairy Cows Eat?