Sometimes a dairy farmer needs a replacement cow in a hurry and the quickest (and cheapest) place to get one is at the local auction market.
But Holstein Canada has some blunt advice: don’t do it.
Never buy a milk cow from the beef ring and reintroduce her to a dairy herd – that’s the warning which appeared in a recent issue of Holstein Canada’s bimonthly newsletter.
It’s not a recommended management practice and the risk of getting a lemon is too great, the article cautioned.
For starters, the cow may be a poor performer with reproductive problems. There’s a good reason why she’s in the auction ring instead of on the farm.
But the biggest danger is that the animal may be diseased. Introducing her to your herd could seriously affect herd health and profitability, Holstein Canada warned.
Mastitis is the most common disease risk, followed by Johne’s and bovine leukosis.
A culled dairy cow may also contain chemical residues (e. g., antibiotics or inhibitors) or broken needles, which will only cause a producer grief. For example, Dairy Farmers of Manitoba has a zero-tolerance policy toward antibiotic residues in milk. Contaminated milk is destroyed and the producer is penalized.
In short, the danger of introducing a discarded animal to a herd far outweighs any short-term financial benefit, said Glen Cherry, Holstein Canada’s registrar in Brantford, Ontario.
“What do you know about that animal?” Cherry asked rhetorically.
Rob Berry, a Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives dairy specialist, said producers sometimes do need a quick replacement animal, especially if the milk board issues a cover-off and there’s production to fill.
Buying a dairy cow through the beef ring can be a money saver, Berry acknowledged. You can get a cull cow for as little as $600, whereas a good registered cow ranges between $1,600 and $2,400 and a replacement heifer runs around $2,000.
There are plenty of dairy animals to choose from in the auction ring, because a milk producer’s annual cull rate averages 25 to 30 per cent.
But to purchase one for milking is a case of penny-wise, pound foolish.
“You’re buying a potential problem,” said Berry. “No one culls a sound cow.”
Holstein Canada reminds producers that the Canadian Quality Milk (CQM) program requires them to test new animals for inhibitors before shipping milk.
Some auction markets pre-screen cull cows and send substandard ones directly to the abattoir instead of putting them through the ring.