Skip Navigation Links
About Us
Contact Us
Skip Navigation Links.
Skip Navigation Links

FAQ - Dairy Cattle

Last Updated: February 20, 2013
Q. What breeds of cattle are used in the dairy farming industry?
A. There are six commonly used breeds. They are Holstein, Jersey, Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey and Milking Shorthorn. For more information about these breeds and their role in the dairy industry please visit the Dairy Cattle Breeds page.
Q. How much milk does a cow produce?
A. There are about 322,000 dairy cows in Ontario, averaging 60 cows per dairy farm. The typical dairy cow will produce 30 litres of milk from two daily milkings. Just how do they produce all that delicious milk? It all begins with what they eat.
Q. What does a cow eat?
A. A cow's daily diet consists of:
  • 11 kilograms of hay
  • 16 kilograms of silage and grain
  • 2 kilograms of protein supplement
  • minerals and salt
  • 80 to 180 litres of water
Q. Where does the cow's food come from?
A. Hay is a mixture of grass and legumes, like alfalfa. It is most commonly used in two ways:

Haylage -The hay is cut, chopped and stored in a loose way in a storage silo, while it is still moist (See silage below).

Hay - Usually cut after haylage, when the plants are taller, it is allowed to dry in the field. It is then baled into round or square bales and stored under cover.

Corn is planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. Although it looks the same as the sweet corn people eat as corn-on-the-cob, it is harder and can't be cooked or eaten. It too is usually used in two ways:

Silage - The whole plant is harvested while it is still green after the cob has formed. It is then cut into pieces and stored in a silo. After the silage is stored in the silo, the wet corn undergoes fermentation, or "pickling". In this process the corn is changed by a bacterial process to make it tastier and easier to digest by the cows. When the silage comes out of the silo it is more palatable. The same process turns wet hay into haylage.

Grain Corn - Only the kernels from the plant are harvested and stored in a dry form. Grain corn is usually ground up and mixed with any barley or oats, a protein food like soybean meal, plus vitamins and minerals

Q. How do cows produce milk?
A. How that food is made into milk is a whole different story. Cows are ruminant animals, meaning their stomachs are divided intofour sections. The rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum each has a specific role to play in digesting cellulose or plant fibre.

Cows can eat a whole day's meal in just minutes, and store it in their rumen or first stomach. In the rumen, the food is made into small balls of food called "cuds." Throughout the day, a cow will burp up a cud of food, chew it and swallow it again, as many as 60 times. Each time the food is digested more. Cows spend up to eight hours chewing their cud or ruminating. The food works its way through the cow's remaining stomachs and, just as in a human's stomach, digestive juices and fluids are added to the food so the nutrients can be absorbed into the bloodstream.

In the cow's udder, small sacs, called alveoli, produce milk. The alveoli take the nutrients from the blood and add fat, protein and lactose (a type of sugar) to produce milk.

Q. How do they grow?
A. Bovine names change as dairy animals grow older. A calf is a newborn bovine or dairy animal. A heifer is a young female that has not yet had a calf and begun to milk. A cow is a mature female bovine or dairy animal and a bull is a mature male bovine or dairy animal. Cows give milk for about ten months (or about 305 days) after having a calf. They stop milk production during a two-month "dry" period before giving birth and entering another ten-month milk cycle.
Q. How are cows milked?
A. Before attaching a milking machine, the cows teats are washed with a disinfectant solution and dried. In a pipeline system, the cows are tied in their stalls, the udders washed and a milking machine attached to all four teats on the cow's udder. A hose runs from the milking machine to a stainless steel pipeline located over the cow's head. The pipeline runs the length of the barn and is connected to a big bulk tank in the milkhouse. The milk is quickly cooled in the bulk tank and kept there until the milk truck picks it up.

In a milking parlour system, the cows walk onto a raised platform with gates. The gates keep the cow from moving while she is being milked. When milking is over, she walks out the other side. The milk goes directly through a pipeline to the bulk tank in the milkhouse.

After every milking, all milk contact services are washed and rinsed. Just before the next milking, the surfaces are sanitized.



Privacy Policy | Accessibility Policy | © Dairy Farmers of Ontario 1995 - 2020