First things first!
Before any cow can make milk, she must have a calf. A female dairy cow will have her first calf when she is around two years old and will produce milk for around 10 months. After each 10 month period, each cow will have two months of rest “off”. Before they begin producing milk again, they must have another calf.
Cows need food for energy
Dairy cows are at work all day to make the milk that we drink. This is why farmers provide them with a balanced diet; proper nutrition keeps cows health and allows cows to produce high quality milk. In B.C., dairy farmers typically feed their cows a mixture of hay, grains, and mineral supplements as indicated below.
- Grass on Pastures
- Hay (dried grass or alfalfa)
- Feed grains (corn, barley, wheat and oats)
- Protein supplements
- Vitamins and minerals
- Silage (fermented crops such as grass, corn, and/or barley)
Cows have water and feed available to them at all times. They drink about a bathtub full of water and eat about 50 kilograms of food (or 1675 servings of cereal) a day. Want to learn more about what cows eat?
From Field to Table
Dairy cows are ruminant animals. This means that these animals have a unique digestive system made up of 4 stomach compartments, each compartment plays a specific role in aiding digestion. The rumen and the reticulum are primarily for eating and breaking down food into smaller pieces, whereas the omasum and the abomasum are primarily used for digesting food.
The udder has four ‘quarters’ where milk production occurs. It can take up to two days for a cow’s food to become milk. On average, a cow can produce anywhere between 25 and 40 litres of milk per day. When a cow is milked, suction cups are fitted around each teat to create a vacuum which causes milk to be released in pulses. It usually takes each cow around 5-8 minutes to be milked, and cows are milked between 2-3 times a day.
Want to learn more about how a cow gets milked? Click here to learn about robot farms and how the dairy industry is currently evolving.