Farm to School

Getting Schooled on Dairy Farming

Learning about dairy farming can be as easy as ABC and 123. For example, did you know only females should be called cows and males are called bulls? Or that a cow’s weight can vary between 1,000 and 1,800 pounds, depending on the breed? Or that it takes about 48 hours for milk to travel from a cow to your school lunch room? Learn more about dairy farming and the dairy farmers who create the milk and dairy foods you enjoy every day.

We want bring the farm to you to help you learn more about how dairy farmers get fresh milk to your schools and your fridges.

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Top 10 Dairy Cow Facts

  1. Did you know only females should be called cows? Males are called bulls. A cow begins giving milk once she delivers her first calf at about two years of age.
  2. In the U.S., there are seven different dairy cow breeds, including Holstein, Jersey, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire, Milking Shorthorn and Red and White Holstein. Learn more about each one.
  3. A cow’s weight can vary between 1,000 to 1,800 pounds depending on the breed. The average dairy cow weighs between 1,300 and 1,500 pounds.
  4. Depending on the part of the country and the weather conditions, dairy cows live in “freestall” barns, open lots with shady areas or in a pasture. In freestall barns cows eat, drink, sleep and move around whenever and wherever they like.
  5. Have you ever noticed that a cow always seems to be chewing something? Dairy cattle are ruminant animals with one stomach that has four compartments. This means a cow can swallow its food and then brings it back up again to continue chewing it.
  6. A dairy cow will eat about 100 pounds of nutritious feed and drink about between 30 and 50 gallons of water each day.
  7. A cow’s diet consists of feed that is a special recipe and usually includes a combination of hay, grain, silage and proteins (such as soybean meal), plus vitamins and minerals that is specifically formulated just for them.
  8. Dairy cows get regular visits from veterinarians and nutritionists.
  9. Cows are milked 2 to 3 times a day.
  10. A single dairy cow will produce 6 to 8 gallons of milk per day. That is about 90 glasses of milk a day!

The 8 Steps from Farm to Fridge

From the dairy farm to you, milk goes through strict quality controls to ensure freshness, purity and great taste. Dairy foods are among the safest and most highly regulated foods available. Here are the steps milk takes to get to you:

Placing Milking Machine_lpr
Dairy farmers use milking machines to milk their cows 2 to 3 times a day. It only takes about 5 to 7 minutes for a cow to be milked.
Milk pipeline and tank
Fresh milk straight from the cow is 101 degrees — that’s because dairy cows are warm-blooded animals. The milk is then pumped through sanitized pipes and is rapidly cooled before it reaches the refrigerated bulk tank where it is stored at 45° F.
milk truck _lpr
Milk is transported from the farm in an insulated tanker to a processing facility. From farm to fridge, milk is never touched by human hands.
Milk Testing_lpr
Milk is tested for safety before it leaves the tanker. If milk tests positive for antibiotics, it is disposed of so it does not enter the food supply.
Milk Processing Plant
After the milk is tested, it goes through a three-step process: pasteurization, standardization and homogenization.
Milk processing inspection _lpr
Pasteurized milk is cooled and stored in milk tanks until is bottled. Bottled products are randomly pulled from production for additional testing.
Milk processing inspection 2
Additional lab testing of the finished product is done to ensure quality and safety before leaving the processing facility to the grocery store.
Grocery Store Employee in Front of Dairy Case
Refrigerated trucks transport milk and dairy foods to grocery stores, schools and restaurants for you and your family to enjoy!

Dairy Nutrition IQ

Milk Cheese Yogurt Combo

MyPlate LogoDrinking milk and eating dairy foods makes it easy for you to get the bone-building calcium plus eight other nutrients needed to grow healthy and strong. In fact, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommends that kids ages 9 and older get three servings of low-fat and fat-free dairy foods, like milk, cheese or yogurt, each day.

  • Dairy foods are the main source of calcium in the American diet.
  • Milk is packed with nine essential nutrients, including calcium, potassium and vitamin D, needed for building strong bones and teeth.
  • You need to eat 3 cups of broccoli to equal the calcium in 1 cup of milk!
  • Chocolate and other flavored milks contain the same 9 essential nutrients as white milk and are a healthful choice.
  • Cheese is packed with protein as well as calcium and other nutrients.
  • Yogurt contains live and active cultures which help with digestion of food.

Dairy Definitions

Pasteurization – The process of heating milk to 160° F or above for 15 seconds, followed by rapid cooling, to destroy bacteria and keep milk safe and wholesome. It is named after scientist Louis Pasteur who invented the process.

Homogenization – The process of breaking down the fat globules in milk so they stay together rather than separating as cream.

Nutrients – Elements found in food necessary for healthy body functioning.

Calcium – A mineral that builds strong bones and teeth.

Protein – A substance that helps build and repair muscles and serves as a source of energy.

Heifer – A young cow, between birth and 2 years old that has not yet given birth to a calf.

Ruminant – An animal, like a cow or sheep, that has more than one stomach and that swallows food and then brings it back up again to continue chewing it.

Veterinarian — An animal doctor that helps farmers assure the health and wellness of their cows.

Conserving Natural Resources


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 neighbors and for future generations. Here are some of the things dairy farmers do on their farms to help conserve natural resources:

  • Water and cow manure are two things that are recycled on a dairy farm.
  • Water can be used to clean the milking equipment and dairy barn, to help cool the milk that comes from the cows and to irrigate fields to grow crops.
  • Manure is recycled and is used by dairy farmers to fertilize their crops, for people to fertilize their gardens. Sometimes it is even used to make electricity.
  • Dow cows are recyclers too. Because she can eat many types and parts of plants that people can’t eat, it puts these things to good use, helping reduce waste to landfills.

Meet Dairy Farmers


The Midwest is home to 8,000 dairy farm families! We invite you to get to know some of the dairy farm families in your state who work hard every day of the year, even holidays, to care for their cows and bring you safe, wholesome and delicious milk!

Get Involved

Want to have fun and feel good? Dairy farmers, in partnership with the National Football League, created a program just for you. It’s called Fuel Up to Play 60, and it lets you take charge and have the chance to help your school be a better place. Learn more.