Okay, so you knew cows give milk, but have you ever had a close-up look at how milk is produced on a dairy farm? Well then, if you have a few minutes, follow me for a field trip to our farm.
We’ll start in the milking parlor, the barn where the action happens. Three hundred cows are milked here three times every day. As we come in the front doors, You’ll notice there are milking machines lining the sides of the milking parlor — ten on each side. The back gate opens, and ten cows file in, each one taking her place at a milking stall. As each cow comes in, a computer mounted on the milking stall identifies her via her leg band. The person doing this afternoon’s milking cleans the cows’ udders, then attaches the milkers one at a time. You’ll hear the swishing sound of milk streaming into the milkers as a pulsating squeeze draws the milk from the cows. If you look at the display screen on the computer, you’ll see the numbers go up as the milk rolls out. Each computer keeps track of how much milk the cow at that particular stall gives at each milking. An average cow on our dairy farm will produce 70-80 lbs. of milk each day, which translates into 8 or 9 gallons — that’s per cow, per day!
The milk travels from the milker, through a hose, into a pipeline, and over to the next room where it is collected and cooled to 36* F in a 5,000 gallon tank. A tanker truck picks up the milk every two days, and hauls it to a processing plant where it is pasteurized and homogenized, then bottled and delivered to the grocery store.
Lets leave the milking parlor and head over to the stall barn where the cows eat and rest and chew their cud until time for the next milking. By the way, a cow that is chewing her cud is a contented cow. 🙂
The main feed source for our dairy cows is corn. It is harvested from our fields in the fall, and stored in these 90 ft. tall silos.
When feeding time comes, the silage is taken from the silo by way of an automatic silo unloader, and runs on a conveyor belt into a mixer where it is combined with other specifically chosen ingredients (vitamins, minerals, protein) to give the cows exactly what they need to be able to produce milk — what Holstein cows are famous for. An average Holstein cow eats around 80 lbs. of feed per day.
Our last stop will be the calf barn. This is the place that baby calves eat and rest and grow — exactly what Holstein calves must do in order to become members of the milking herd some day. Calves are grouped by stages in this barn.
The baby calves get a specially formulated powdered milk. It is mixed in a machine and dispensed through a nipple, available to the calf whenever she wants it. The amount available to each calf is pre-programmed based on the individual needs of that calf.
The calves have access to grain as well, and are gradually weaned from milk around 6-8 weeks of age
We raise only heifer calves (females). A heifer is ready to have a calf and start producing milk at 2 years of age, at which point she becomes part of the milking herd. Dairy cows typically have one calf every year. Two months before her calf is due to be born, each cow is given a break from milking, and becomes a “dry cow.” Her milk supply has been decreasing gradually over the past year, so when she is no longer being milked every day, she simply stops producing milk. After her calf is born, milk production begins again, and the milking cycle starts over.
Now that you’ve taken this brief field trip, you hopefully have a better idea of the day-to-day workings of a dairy farm, and of where your milk comes from. Glad you stopped by!