Learn the Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about Dairy Farming
Fewer consumers today have ever visited a farm or have family members active in dairy farming. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have questions. Following are a list of the most frequently-asked questions about dairy cows and practices on dairy farms designed to help consumers understand the science behind how milk and dairy products get from the farm to your table. For more information about how nutrition and health play a major role in dairy products, please visit common questions of Nutrition & Health.
How much milk does a cow give each day?
What do cows eat?
USDA statistics show that US dairy farmers are producing almost three times more milk with about half the number of cows compared to 1960, thereby reducing the total amount of feed, water and space needed, and resulting in less manure. Learn more
Is it true that cows have four stomachs?
How many breeds of dairy cattle are there?
What do you call male and female dairy animals?
How does a cow produce milk?
How long do cows live?
Do dairy farmers care about their animals?
How do we know dairy farmers are taking good care of the cows on their farms?
Why are calves put in separate pens after they are born?
Why would farmers treat a cow with antibiotics?
Why don’t dairy cattle have access to pasture on some farms?
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.
Do large farms pay as much attention to animal care as small farms?
Retail Milk Pricing
Why do milk prices at the grocery store fluctuate?
Who sets the price of milk at the grocery store and how much does the farmer receive?
What if my family is on a tight budget?
While food budgets are tight for many, dairy foods remain a solid value for their great taste and nutrition. Dollar for dollar, no other food offers as much nutrition as milk. At about .25 cents per 8-ounce glass, on a gallon basis, milk is a bargain when you think of all the liquid assets inside. It provides nine essential nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D, which are so important for overall health.
Are there any foods I can substitute for dairy?
Orange Juice: $.62
Bottled Water: $.22
Sports Drinks: $.38-$.75
Energy Drinks: $1.04
Plant based (almond, soy, rice) beverages: $.50
Safety and Quality
What is raw milk?
Is raw milk safe to drink?
No. The word “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 harmful bacteria potentially found in raw milk by heating milk until it reaches 161 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 15 seconds and then rapidly cooled. 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.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recommend pasteurized milk and dairy products as the safe choice, especially for infants. It’s a matter of food safety. Learn more
Why is milk pasteurized?
Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria, such as E. coli O157:H7, Listeria and Salmonella, that can be found in raw milk (milk that has not been pasteurized). All milk intended for direct consumption should be pasteurized – it’s a matter of food safety.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend drinking only pasteurized milk. Before the invention and acceptance of pasteurization, raw milk was a common source of bacteria that caused serious illnesses such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, and typhoid fever. In the 1900s, many mothers recognized this risk and would boil milk before giving it to their infants and young children.
How is milk pasteurized?
Pasteurization is a simple, proven and effective process, approved by the Food and Drug Administration that kills potentially harmful bacteria without affecting the taste or nutritional value of milk. During pasteurization, the temperature of milk is raised to at least 161° Fahrenheit 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 2 seconds, is used to extend shelf life in some dairy foods. Learn more
Why is milk homogenized?
All processed milk also undergoes the process of homogenization. In this process, fat molecules are broken down so they don’t separate and rise to the top of the container to form a layer of cream. This process does not involve any additives.
How is milk homogenized?
Homogenization is a mechanical process that starts with pushing milk through tubes so the fat molecules are broken down. The fat molecules are broken up to a small size so they’re evenly distributed throughout the milk, producing a uniform consistency.
Does pasteurization affect milk quality?
No scientific evidence shows any meaningful difference between the nutritional values of pasteurized and unpasteurized (raw) milk. In addition, vitamin D, which is not found in significant amounts in raw milk, is added to pasteurized milk, making it an even more nutritious product. It is important to understand that pasteurizing milk does not cause lactose intolerance or allergic reactions. Both raw milk and pasteurized milk can cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to milk proteins.
Do pasteurization and homogenization impact dairy nutrition?
All milk is pasteurized for safety and homogenized for quality, but neither process has an impact on the overall nutrition package. Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria potentially found in raw milk. Homogenization keeps the cream from separating from the milk and creates a more consistent product.
Is raw milk better for those with lactose intolerance?
Are there antibiotics in milk that reaches the food supply?
Do antibiotics used on farms result in antibiotic resistance in humans?
Are there pesticides in milk?
What is bST or BGH (bovine somatotropin or bovine growth hormone)?
Are hormones added to milk?
Is rbST safe for my family?
What are some of the critical steps dairy farmers follow to improve milk quality?
There are many steps dairy farmers follow to produce high-quality, wholesome and safe milk. These critical steps start with the cow and end at your table. The steps include:
- Healthy cows
- Strict, on-farm milking procedures
- Quick cooling of milk and immediate transportation to the manufacturer
- Testing for antibiotics
Is it safe to consume dairy after the “Sell-By” or “Best-By” date?
Yes! In fact, learning how to decode labels not only ensures your family gains the nutritious benefits of dairy products, but also will help reduce food waste!
You should buy dairy products on or before the “Sell-By” date, but can safely consume them after this. Additionally, the “Best-By,” “Best if Used By” and “Use-By” dates are not safety indicators. Rather, they state when to consume products for the best flavor and optimal quality. You can learn more about the specific guidelines for using milk, cheese and yogurt beyond their “Sell-By,” “Best-By,” “Best if Used By” and “Use-By” dates here.
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 surrounding communities and future generations. All dairy farms must meet the standards for manure storage, handling and recycling set out for them 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. Learn more
Why do dairy farms smell?
What do farms do with all the manure?
What about manure getting into the groundwater?
Do dairy farms use too much water?
How have dairy farmers made strides to reduce the environmental impact of producing milk?
What is the carbon footprint of milk?
Do dairy farms produce a lot of greenhouse gases?
Greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. Today, producing a pound of milk takes three times less methane than it did in 1924 because of the many efficiencies practiced by dairy farmers. Dairy farmers are continuing to find ways to further reduce methane emissions by feeding grains and high-quality forage and by continuing to use other tools such as genetic improvement and superior herd management, according to researchers.
Is my milk from local dairy farms?
An extensive research study found that it takes about 48 hours (2 days) for milk to travel from the farm to the grocery store. The Midwest is home to more than 9,500 dairy farms and 200 dairy food processing plants. Dairy farm families are committed to producing wholesome, nutritious milk and dairy foods. They depend on US and international markets for the milk they produce. 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.
Do dairy farmers practice sustainable farming methods?
Why have dairy farms become so large and industrial?
All dairy farmers, regardless of their farms’ size or ownership, follow strict regulations and best management practices for the health of their families, their cows and their neighbors. The look of the family farm and the technologies may have changed, but the traditional values of caring for the land and animals continue.
Why can’t farming look like it did 40 years ago?
If agriculture today were no more productive than it was in1961, it would require expanding farm land by more than 60 percent, or the food supply per person would be that much smaller. Today, it takes less than half as much land on a per person basis to produce our meat, dairy and poultry supply compared to 45 years ago. Increases in agricultural productivity have made this possible.
American farmers provide people with more high-quality food than ever before. In fact, one farmer now supplies food for more than 150 people in the US and abroad compared with just 25.8 people in1960 — and on less land every year. Production of food worldwide rose in the past half century, with the World Bank estimating that between 70 and 90 percent of the increase resulted from modern farming practices rather than more acres cultivated. Efficiency is one of the core elements of sustainability.
How can I reduce my food waste with dairy products?
Organic and Conventional Farms
What’s different about organic farms?
What’s the difference between organic milk and regular milk?
What about claims that organic milk contains no pesticides, antibiotics or hormones?
Does organic milk taste better?
Is organic milk fresher than regular milk?
If I buy organic, am I doing more to help support small family farms?
Is there a difference between regular milk, certified-organic milk and milk from grass-fed cows?
The statistical differences are so small, they do not impact human health. Learn more
Want More Detail?
Midwest Dairy Association has a menu of fact sheets available for you to learn more about dairy farmers’ care for their animals, the environment and how they produce wholesome, high-quality milk. Additional topics include dairy farms and sustainability; hormones, antibiotics and milk wholesomeness; and the variety and characteristics of milk choices.