It’s possible to eat meat from dairy cows, however it’s usually more profitable to use dairy cows to produce milk, so farmers don’t often sell them for meat.
In this article we’ll find out the pros and cons of eating dairy cow meat and how it differs from regular beef.
Are Dairy Cows Edible?
Dairy cows are edible, there’s little difference between dairy cattle and beef cattle when it comes to meat.
One of the most common uses for dairy meat is to create veal. Veal is usually made from male dairy calves.
Why Don’t We Eat Dairy Cows?
It is not profitable for farmers to raise dairy cattle for meat. This is because dairy cattle have higher energy requirements (due to their extreme levels of milk production) and yield less meat than beef cattle, while still taking up valuable pasture land.
The more meat a farmer can harvest from his cows, the more profits he will make, and each acre of land can only support a limited number of animals, so it makes sense for him only to raise the most efficient cattle.
When the farmer finally decides to sell dairy cattle (usually when they stop producing milk) the meat is older, tougher, and less valuable than younger meat.
Dairy meat is usually sent to be turned into hamburgers and other meat derivatives, not usually used for steak or other prime cuts of beef.
What Happens To Old Dairy Cows?
Dairy cows must remain permanently pregnant to be able to produce milk.
Once a dairy cow becomes too old to become pregnant, the farmer will sell her to be slaughtered for meat instead.
Dairy cows usually produce milk until they are around eight years old, after which point their meat is much less valuable than that of a younger cow, so the meat is often ground and used for derivative meat products like hamburgers and hotdogs.
Do All Dairy Cows Get Slaughtered?
On any commercial farm, all dairy cows will be sent for slaughter when it is no longer economically viable to keep them alive.
Farmers have lots of running costs just to keep a cow, including buying food, veterinary costs (cows use a lot of antibiotics), farmhand wages, transport costs, and opportunity cost of using the pasture for a cow who isn’t producing.
Some countries have restrictions on how old beef can be, so dairy cows may be sent for slaughter a year or two early, to maximize both airy and beef profits for the farmer.
Can We Eat Female Dairy Cows?
We can eat female dairy cows, although females have the ability to produce milk which is more profitable for the farmer, so they aren’t eaten often.
When female dairy cows are born, they are typically raised to become a dairy producing cow and not sold for meat.
Do We Eat Male Dairy Cows?
Farmers don’t often choose to raise a male dairy cow to adulthood, because it costs a lot to raise them and dairy cows are less efficient than beef breeds.
The farmer will get a much larger yield of meat raising a meat breed like Angus or Herefords than they would from a dairy cow, so it doesn’t make sense to allow the dairy cow to use up some of the limited available pasture land.
Since male cows can not produce milk, and they are not efficient to raise for meat, they are essentially worthless to a farmer.
When a dairy cow gives birth to a male calf, the calf is typically sent to be slaughtered for veal, which is meat from a baby cow.
Can You Eat Cow Udders?
Cow udders used to be a common meal in Europe and North America, but it has fallen out of favor in recent years and is rarely sold nowadays.
Udder meat is known as Elder in the UK, Tetine de veau in France, and Euter in Germany, where it is used as a cheap substitute meat for making Schnitzel.
In some parts of the world, cow udders are still eaten regularly. The udders are said to be sweeter than regular beef and are usually roasted or grilled.
One example of a meal which includes cow udders is Nầm bò nướng, which is a popular vietnamese street food dish, made from grilled beef and cow udder.
What is Dairy Cow Meat Called?
Dairy meat is called beef or veal, depending on the age of the cow at the point of slaughter. There is no difference in nomenclature between meat from a dairy cow and meat from a beef cow.
What Is The Difference Between Dairy Cow Meat and Beef Cow Meat?
Functionally there is no difference between dairy cow meat and beef cow meat, however due to selective breeding there are differences in the animal themselves that affect how much meat each cow can produce.
1. Meat From Dairy Cows is Less Fatty than Regular Beef
Dairy cows tend to be much skinnier than beef cows, since they have been bred for different purposes.
Beef cattle have been selectively bred to increase their size, with the largest breeds weighing almost two tons.
In contrast, dairy cows are raised to be as efficient as possible at producing milk. This means they need as little meat as possible, so that they don’t waste energy on maintaining their large bodies, and instead put all their energy into milk production.
2. Dairy Cow Meat Tends to be Older and Tougher than Regular Beef
The reason dairy meat tends to be older from regular beef is that dairy cows are only sent for slaughter once they are no longer able to produce calves and milk.
This means dairy cows are typically around six years of age when the cow is killed.
Meat this old has a stronger flavor than younger meat, and is tougher and less valuable.
Meat from dairy cows is usually ground to be used in derivative products like hamburgers, not as steaks or prime cuts, since the quality of the meat is poor.
3. Veal is More Likely to be from a Dairy Cow
Since veal is not a profitable endeavour, farmers only sell their calves for veal if they have no other way to profit from them.
For beef calves, it makes more sense to raise them and sell them for beef, and for female dairy calves it makes more sense to raise them to become milk producers.
Most veal comes from male dairy calves, which have no use in agriculture.
Although you can eat dairy cow meat, it’s no longer common in the west because it is more profitable to raise them for dairy. The exception to this is veal, which is made from baby dairy cows.
Dairy cow meat is the same as regular beef meat, although it tends to be a little less fatty, since dairy cows have been raised to be as efficient as possible at creating milk, which means they need slim, energy efficient bodies.
When dairy cows are no longer useful (if they become too old, or get injured) they are sent to be slaughtered and used for meat.
Since dairy meat usually comes from older animals, the meat is usually used for things like hamburgers and hot dogs instead of steaks, due to the poorer quality of the meat.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.