Why milk used to be a seasonal product

FFresh milk, cream and yoghurt in every season are a matter of course nowadays. However, a cow can only give milk if it has given birth to a calf. Milking is then worthwhile for about five months, after which the yield decreases rapidly. Anyone who wants to enjoy fresh dairy products at all times is therefore dependent on cows giving birth to calves all year round. Originally, they couldn’t. As is usual with wild animals, aurochs, the ancestors of dairy cows, only produced their offspring at a certain time of the year. Namely when the new generation had optimal chances of survival. As an international group of archaeologists found, Europe’s Stone Age ranchers seem to have given nature free rein in this regard.

Observations from the sixteenth century BC, when the last herds of aurochs (Bos primigenius) roamed through the forest, suggest a short mating season of the animals in late summer. About nine months later, in late spring, the calves were born. Such a seasonal reproduction is also shown by primeval breeds such as the Scottish Highland cattle with their long horns and shaggy fur. Provided that they are allowed to romp around freely in the landscape all year round. In contrast to the aurochs, the adult bulls then stay with the herd permanently. Nevertheless, the cows usually calve on time as soon as nutritious green sprouts on the meadows again.

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