Farm Life Frequently Asked Questions

Dairy Cows

How much milk does a cow give each day?

Most dairy cows are milked two to three times per day. On average, a cow will produce six to seven gallons of milk each day.

What do cows eat?

A cow that is producing milk eats about 100 pounds each day of feed, which is a combination of hay, grain, silage and proteins (such as soybean meal), plus vitamins and minerals. Farmers employ professional animal nutritionists to develop scientifically formulated, balanced and nutritious diets for their cows. Cows also need fresh, clean water.

Is it true that cows have four stomachs?

A cow does have four stomachs, and the first three stomachs process food in a way that our stomachs cannot. This unique digestive system makes cows the ultimate recycler. They have the ability to convert plants that humans cannot eat into nutritious foods like milk.

What do you call male and female dairy animals?

Males are called bulls. Females, prior to giving birth, are called calves or heifers. After they give birth, female dairy animals are called cows.

How does a cow produce milk?

All cows produce milk once they deliver a calf. About 10 months after calving, the amount of milk the cow gives naturally decreases substantially and the cow undergoes a “drying off” period. About 12 to 14 months after the birth of her previous calf, a cow will calve again, thus providing milk.

Animal Care

Do dairy farmers care about their animals?

Yes! Dairy farmers are dedicated to producing high-quality milk, and that begins with taking good care of their cows. Dairy farmers work closely with veterinarians and professional animal nutritionists to keep their cows healthy and well-nourished. Nutritious diets, healthy living conditions and good veterinary care are all essential when it comes to producing safe, wholesome, nutritious milk.

Why would farmers treat a cow with antibiotics?

Cows are only treated with antibiotics when necessary. When illness requires that a cow be treated, antibiotics are administered according strict FDA guidelines, which include withholding milk from sale. When a cow’s milk is withheld, she is given special care and attention separate from the rest of milking herd until her milk tests free of antibiotics.

Why don’t dairy cattle have access to pasture on some farms?

Many factors affect the type of environment available to dairy cows. Access to pasture is determined mainly by geography, availability of land suitable for grazing and weather conditions. In all cases, the well-being, protection and comfort of their cows are dairy farmers’ top priorities. Many of today’s dairy farms use freestall housing, a type of barn that allows cows the freedom to move around at will and eat and sleep whenever and wherever they choose. In this type of barn, feed for the animals is available in a feed alley (a clean, impervious surface), which cows can access 24 hours a day. In addition, the barns are designed to provide sunshine and fresh air.

Cows housed indoors may sleep on sand beds or mattresses made of rubber, foam or a combination of materials. Most dairy barns also use advanced ventilation systems to assure air quality. On warm days, farmers use fans and misters to keep cows cool and comfortable.

Milk Quality and Safety

Is raw milk safe to drink?

No. The term “raw milk” might sound natural and good, but raw milk is not safe. According to the Food and Drug Administration, raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks to those who drink it.

Why? Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process that kills any harmful bacteria that may be found in raw milk. It’s done by heating milk at 161 degrees Fahrenheit for 16 seconds, and then rapidly cooling it. This simple process is extremely effective at killing bacteria while maintaining milk’s nutritional value. Pasteurization is just one step dairy farmers take to ensure the dairy foods you love are safe.

How is milk pasteurized?

Pasteurization is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and is a simple, proven and effective process that kills potentially harmful bacteria without affecting the taste or nutritional value of milk. During pasteurization, the temperature of milk is raised to 161° Fahrenheit or higher for 16 seconds and then rapidly cooled. Pasteurization extends milk’s shelf life and destroys harmful bacteria. Ultra-high temperature pasteurization, where milk is heated to 280° Fahrenheit for more than two seconds, is used to the extend the shelf life of some dairy foods.

Do pasteurization and homogenization impact dairy nutrition?

All milk is pasteurized for safety and homogenized for quality, but neither process has an impact on overall nutrition. Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria (potentially found in raw milk), and homogenization keeps the cream from separating from the milk, creating a more consistent product.

Are there antibiotics in milk that reaches the food supply?

All milk—both regular and organic—is tested for antibiotics, both on the farm and at the processing plant. During 2014, nearly four million tests were conducted on milk samples to detect antibiotic or other drug residues, with less than 0.02% testing positive. In accordance with government regulations, any milk testing positive for antibiotics cannot be sold to the public.

Environment and Sustainability

Do dairy farmers really care about the environment?

Yes. Dairy farmers live and work on their farms, so it’s important for them to protect the land, water and air for their families, their communities and future generations. All dairy farms must meet the standards for manure storage, handling and recycling set forth by their state and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Caring for the environment is a responsibility dairy farmers share with their local community. Good environmental practices are essential to a dairy farm’s success, and leave a positive legacy for future generations.

It takes about  2 days (48 hours) for milk to travel from the farm to the grocery store. Dairy farm families are committed to producing wholesome, nutritious milk and dairy foods. Besides grocery stores, milk from Midwest dairy farms can be found at convenience stores and restaurant such as 7-Eleven, McDonald’s, Domino’s and Pizza Ranch.

Learn more about milk’s 48 hour journey.

Do dairy farmers practice sustainable farming methods?

Yes. By combining scientific advancements and on-farm sensibilities, dairy farmers continually look for new ways to be sustainable. Examples of sustainable farming practices include crop rotation to mitigate weeds and improve soil quality, the introduction of beneficial insects to control harmful pests, no-tillage or reduced tillage crop farming for soil and fuel conservation, and the use of new products with enhanced environmental benefits.