Do People Eat Dairy Cows?

The short answer is yes. In a food environment that is growing increasingly aware of prioritizing sustainability, the multipurpose use of dairy cows for milk, cream, butter, cheese, and meat is not something that has gone unnoticed. Quite the contrary, there are a growing number of companies partnering with farmers to utilize "retired" dairy cows for the purposes of high-quality meat production.

While it is not a widely-circulated fact, a good portion of America's dairy cows are butchered for their meat, according to FoodPrint. Around 21%, are sold into the commodity beef market, where they're turned into cheap, low-quality ground beef. This stigma has given an unfair advantage toward pure beef breeds like Angus and Hereford being preferred over dairy breeds, like Holsteins and Jerseys. And while there is nothing wrong with the quality of meat derived from either Angus or Hereford cows, it would be misguided to write off dairy cows as inferior simply because they are not specifically bred for beef production. 

Top quality meat from dairy cows

Dairy cows have naturally longer lifespans than their sole-purpose beef brethren, meaning that their meat has more time to mature and develop a unique flavor. TASTE explains that the typical lifespan of a dairy cow is four to five years, though some have been known to live over a decade. A beef cow, on the other hand, is brought quickly up to slaughter weight within two years. The typical yield of food from a beef cow is 600 pounds. A dairy cow can produce 80,000 pounds when you factor in its dual-purpose nature in providing both dairy products and meat. 

Most dairy cows are raised in an organic manner, meaning that they are free of GMOs, hormones, and pesticides. As a result, even though they produce less meat overall, the quality of organic meat has the potential to surpass that of grain-fed beef. Chef Dan Barber explains that when it comes to organically raised, grass-fed dairy cows after they "are weaned from milking, all of the energy that had previously gone into producing milk gets dispersed throughout the animal's body. What you get is this super delicious and complex flavor you cannot find with conventional beef." 

Companies such as Mindful Meats and Butter Meat Co. have taken advantage of the opportunities presented by using dairy cows for, offering top quality, often locally sourced, sustainable meat to a wide range of customers.