A Day in the Life of a Milking Dairy Cow

In general, milking cows will be on pasture 19 hours a day, walking to and from the grass pastures for about an hour, in the Freestall barn for 2 hours and the milking parlor for 3 hours in each 24 hour period.

It’s 6 am and the cows known as "Pen 3" have been grazing in the field overnight since 10 pm. The farm hand, who is called the Cow Pusher, comes to the herd on a 4-wheeler, opens the gate closest to the milk parlor and the cows voluntarily walk through because they want to be milked, and they also want to go to the Freestall barn where they will get their mixed organic ration of alfalfa, grass silage, corn, vitamins, and minerals. They love this treat and walk to the stanchions to eat.

 

Here, the herdsman walks behind every cow, looking for those that are in heat and ready to be bred with A2/A2 genetics. These cows have previously been marked – cows get marked every day on their tailhead. The herdsman notices cows that have no chalking, which means they have been mounted by another female in the field – a sure sign they are in heat.

The herdsman walks with a clipboard that has reproduction and lactation information of every cow which further helps him monitor heats and breedings. He returns to his golf cart to prep semen to breed the cows that are in heat. With a long artificial insemination pipette, he carefully breeds the cows.

For each cow, this is a few minute process, for which they take little notice. After each cow has been checked and/or bred, the herdsman unlocks the cows from their stanchions and the cow Pusher opens the gate to the milk parlor. The cows make their way up the alley to the milking parlor.

Milk parlor attendant applying iodine to milking cow teats.

The first and most aggressive cows walk right in to the milking machine stalls while the rest of Pen 3 line up for their turn.

First the cows’ teats get sprayed with .5% iodine disinfectant. Each teat is wiped with a clean towel, stripped (hand milked to check the quality of the milk) which also stimulates milk let-down, and the milker applies a teat cup to each of the 4 individual teats on the cow’s udder.

She stands there, relaxed and chewing her cud while she is milked – about 5 minutes. After visual inspection by the milker that milk flow from the cow has lessened (you can see the volume of milk flow through the machine under the teat cup) the milker then reduces the pressure of the machine, and the teat cups release off the udder.

The milker opens the front gate so the cows in the stalls can walk forward out of the milk parlor and the next 16 take their place. As the cows walk out of the parlor, they walk through a foot bath which cleans their hoofs–a preventative maintenance for hoof issues.

Staff member setting up polywire fencing in paddock; Cows rotational grazing

The cows’ next paddock in a field is waiting for them. While they were away, a staff member took down one of the lines of polywire fencing that split the pasture into separate parcels, or paddocks. The cows naturally head to the newly opened portion of the pasture that hasn't yet been grazed. This rotational grazing practice mimics the grazing patterns of ruminants in the wild, giving the cows fresh pasture every time, limiting the risk of overgrazing the pasture and allowing grazed portions time to rest and regrow.

They drift to the field in groups and graze fresh pasture for the next 8-9 hours until it is their turn to head for the freestyle barn for their second milking of the 24 hour period. On this second round, at night, they are not bred again – they only eat their mixed ration before they head to the milking parlor once again.