Brush up on: HOW A DAIRY COW WORKS

I live on a dairy farm but I am far from an authority on this. After nearly 8 years of marriage I still haven’t stayed in the dairy for a whole milking. I know, terrible. But as my husband says – best only one of us smells like cow shit. There are some days though, when the children are sick, the pantry bare and the toilet needs a clean that I consider training up on the farm and job-sharing with Richard.

At the very least I should know exactly how things work around here so that I can at least answer questions with some authority. People who visit us are often fascinated by how it all works and want a bit of a tour, which leaves me looking like a bit of a princess really (I’m a scaredy-cat around electric fences and bulls). Most if it I’ve pieced together but I should get it all down pat (hee hee) once and for all…

Nice to know that girl cows (heifers) are considered superior on dairy farms and treated as such. They are raised and fed on green pasture and sileage (fermented grass crops) until they are old enough to join the herd of milkers. Meantime the blokes (steers, bulls) are sold for beef production or used for breeding.

Cows can’t produce milk until they have given birth (calved) so heifers are bred from about two years old. This is mostly done by artificial insemination (AI), which is performed by a trained practitioner or vet (yep long gloved required). The sperm for AI is sent frozen and bought by catalogue (there are pictures of prize bulls, not little sperms). If the AI fails, the cow will come back into ‘season’ (ovulate) 22 days later and will need to be serviced (shagged) by a bull. OK so I had a few questions at this point:

How do you know she’s back in season and therefore not pregnant (meaning AI didn’t work)? Because the cows will start mounting each other. The one being mounted is in season.

So cows have sort of gay tendencies? I don’t know, that’s not something I’ve thought about.

How do you know they’re mounting each other? We tail paint them, which means we paint their rumps with fluoro paint which rubs off if they’ve been mounted. Well painting your arse with bright paint is one way to attract the fellas I guess – pick me! Pick me!

I really dislike the word mounted. Anyway, the bulls run with the herd for a bit so that they can duff-up the fluoro-arsed ones that AI missed. Then hopefully a large percentage of the herd will be pregnant. They will be taken out for the milking herd (‘dried off’ or ‘rested’) two months before they are due to calve, as their milk production dwindles with gestation.

Once the old girls have calved (about 305 days later), they are sadly separated from their babies a day or so after birth, once the calf has had their dose of colostrum. This allows the mother’s (dam’s) milk to convert quickly to milk suitable for commercial use.

The cow will be milked for about 300 days after calving with her production peaking after around 70 days, when she gets another good old rogering from the AI person or the bull and the cycle begins again…

For grazing dairy cows (as opposed to dairy cows that are kept in barns – in colder climes), this cycle can continue for up to 12 years before their annual milk production drops off to a point no longer profitable. Our oldest cow is 15 years old and has been in the milking herd since 1998. Her name is Clarabell. OK so I made that up.

At her peak, when fed well and kept in good spirits, one dairy cow can produce up to 8,000 litres per year.

Most dairy cows are brought in for milking twice a day – most often very early in the morning and then later in the afternoon. This ensures there is enough grazing time between milkings to optimise production (and justifies the ridiculous working hours).

Productive cows are pretty decent lives. It is sad that they have to be separated from their babies, but it is in everyone’s interests to keep them happy and very well fed, using rotational grazing or stockpiled sileage (fermented grass crops). Our cows are reunited with their daughters once they rejoin the herd at age two, and our bobby calves (boys) are sold to a local beef farmer who raises them on his green pastures for beef production later in their lives.

We have a special contraption at the dairy for them to scratch themselves on – said to calm them and increase milk production. They queue up for it.

A note here about milk prices: We get paid an average of 40c a litre for this dairying madness. This is THE SAME price my husband’s father was paid for his milk 50 years ago. Should we maybe have had a pay rise by now? Anyway, don’t want to get up on a soapbox so will stop right there. Questions now welcome (and corrections, Kirsten!).

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Categories: Brainwork, Nerdy Bits

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5 replies

  1. Very well covered, ‘princess’, haha :-P. I dont go much on the ‘mounting’ either guess its a female thing! Lol. We also call it ‘bulling’ when the cows are jumping on each other, and once the bulls go in with the girls, well, theres no other words to describe it but ‘ a shagfest!’……and if there are children about and you want to avoid all the hard questions that come from those little mouths…….well, ‘they are are just playing piggy backs!’ Haha. An interesting fact that until recent times i was unaware of is that calves are born with a ‘zero’ immune system! 1st and 2nd year calvers don’t have very good colostrum so we collect the older girls colostrum and feed it to the newborns from the hefiers. the colostrum is only effective to calves up until they are 12 hrs old, after that their bodies cannot absorb and use the goodness and immunity it provides. I had a 3rd year calver the other day that gave 59 ltrs for her first milking…….I’m thinking she may have been a little uncomfortable!! I so so totally agree with u that the price that is paid to farmers for their milk is rediculous!! It is such a hard, time consuming and physically demanding way of life, both on the farmers and their families………not to mention little midget workers like me…. :-P, what they are paid per litre of milk just doesnt seem fair……..epecially when you see how much they charge in the shops……people complain about paying two dollars something for a litre of milk, but will pay nearly three dollars for a 375 ml of coke!!! Hmmmmm. People who decide and those who complain about milk prices should spend a ‘winters day’ on a dairy farm!!! Anyway, u didnt get on ya soap box about milk prices……but i did!!! Giggle.
    Great ‘Megorical’, very very funny in parts, i giggled lots, and it should be followed up with ‘a day in the life of a dairy farmer’! Probably wont be too many learning facts……but would be an interesting read for others! 🙂 🙂

  2. Good read Meg, great descrption of your husbands AI techniques.

  3. Very interesting Meg.( but typical me almost got teary reading about the babies and mums being separated , to be expected from me ) I will get Loge to read it so he has some idea before he starts in the dairy! X

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