Over many generations, dairy cows have been specifically bred to produce a high volume of nutritious, high quality, milk! Quality feed, green grass, and fresh air go in – milk comes out, and a lot of it! And we think that is pretty incredible!
Cows can only produce milk after they’ve given birth to a calf. Production levels for an animal typically peak around 90 days after calving. Production declines steadily until milking is stopped at about 10 months. Then the cow is “dried off”, or not milked, for about two and a half months before calving again.
There are many variables that determine the productivity of a dairy cow.
1. For one, certain breeds produce more milk than others. The Holstein Friesian (or Holsteins for short) is the main breed of dairy cattle in the United States and what makes up our herd at Barstow’s Longivew Farm. An average Holstein cow produces around 23,000 pounds of milk each lactation.
2. Animal comfort plays a significant role in production. Cows that have more “free time” for eating, rumination (chewing her cud), lying down, and socializing are more comfortable. Comfortable cows produce more milk. That means it is in the farmers best interest to keep his animals happy. Our robotic milkers have greatly contributed to our animals’ comfort. Check it out.
3. Animals who are unhealthy are not comfortable and are not productive. That’s no good for the farmer’s well being or wallet. Healthy cows produce more milk AND milk that can be sold. The farmer cannot sell the milk of sick animals because the animal will likely have medicine or antibiotics in her system. It is illegal to treat dairy cows with medication or antibiotics unless prescribed by a veterinarian. The milk of a treated cow is withheld and dumped down the drain not to be used for anything.
4. Implementing an adequate nutrition program can also improve milk production and milk quality. The farmer offers his herd the most quality feed to produce the highest quality milk. At Barstow’s, we feed our cows from the land we farm. That means hay, alfalfa, field corn, clover, grass, and other cereal grains. The better the food, the better the milk!
5. The dairy cow must be comfortable in her environment. On Barstow’s Longview Farm that means tarps to insulate the barn from the wind and cold in the winter and fans and sprinklers to cool our girls off in the summer. A comfortable environment also means soft beds, air circulation in the barn, access to food, good lighting, space to move around, and absolutely no raising your voice in the barn.
6. Hormone treatments are sometimes given to dairy cows in some countries to increase reproduction and to increase milk production. Bovine somatotropin, also called recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) can increase milk production from 11%–25%. In New England, all of the dairy cooperatives (where farmers send their milk to be processed) have banned the use of added hormones in dairy cows on farms they collect from. Barstow’s Longview Farm and all of the other dairy farms in New England do not use rBST. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ruled that rBST is harmless to people but the reason for its discontinuation is because of consumer demand.
There’s a lot that goes in to raising dairy cows! Of course we want them to be highly productive – but we can’t get there unless they are healthy, safe, comfortable, receiving the right nutrition, and happy in their home at Barstow’s Longview Farm!