Why’s that cow so skinny? CowBelle explains the difference between dairy cattle and beef cattle

CowBelle shows beef cattle

As a cattle farmer I get a lot of questions about cattle at the fair. One common question is “Why are those big black and white cows so skinny?” They are referring to Holstein cattle, a dairy breed, and they are very healthy animals.

There is a difference between beef cattle and dairy cattle. Beef cattle are being raised for meat and have a heavier appearance, while dairy cattle are being raised for milk production and have a lighter appearance. Beef cattle use feed to put on weight through muscle and fat. Dairy cattle won’t convert their feed into muscle as quickly because they are using their calories for more milk. Beef cows will produce milk for their babies, but they do not have as much milk to offer as a dairy cow would.

Since the cattle are different in appearance, they are also shown differently. Beef cattle have longer hair that takes a lot of grooming before shows, which makes them appear to have more muscle, while dairy cattle are body clipped, like a buzz cut, before every show to show off angles, bone structure and their udders. Both beef and dairy cattle need to be structurally sound, or able to walk well and move easily, have good bone structure, adequate fat and muscle, and be attractive along with many other judging criteria.

But the way the cattle are handled during a show is also very different. Beef showmen walk forward at a normal pace and use a tool called a showstick to place the legs in the correct places. Dairy showmen walk backwards at a slower pace and push and pull on the halter to get the legs in place. The main goal when showing both types of cattle is to make cattle look their best to win a blue ribbon. You will also notice differences in clothing of the showman. Beef showmen usually wear blue jeans and a button up shirt. Dairy showmen are commonly in white pants and white shirts. It is neat to see the differences in the beef and dairy shows.

If you want to want to see the beef cows, check out the Jr. Livestock Sale of Champions winners at the State Fair Ark exhibit in the Exposition Center. Beef cattle are shown the first half of the fair. Dairy cows show the last part of the week in the Jim Graham Building and can also be seen throughout the fair at the Mobile Milking Demonstration outside the Exposition Center, or at the N.C. State milking parlor inside the Exposition Center.

Dairy cattle

Beef cattle

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