Did you know that June is National Dairy Month? How are you going to celebrate? We’ll probably get out our homemade ice cream maker later this month. But in the meantime, let’s talk about dairy cows!
I have the privilege of living close to New Generation Dairy, home of Brian and Ranell Rexing. Brian was the 2011 Outstanding Dairy Producer of the Year in Indiana. It’s not easy to earn that kind of a title, it takes dedication to animal care, excellent quality milk, and engaging with the community.
Brian Rexing comes from a family of dairy farmers, but he and Ranell started this dairy farm on their own. They have Holstein cows, and milk around 1200 cows at any time, with another 600 who are “dry” (not lactating – usually these are waiting to give birth). The cows are kept in smaller groups based on their lactation cycle. Cows that are just starting to lactate (produce milk) are kept in one group, cows in the middle of their milking cycle are in another group, and cows getting ready to temporarily stop milking are in another group.
They go through a lot of feed and water to take care of that many cows! They feed their cows a “total mixed ration.” This is a combination of a number of different feed types, formulated especially for each group of cows. Every cow will eat around 100 pounds of the total mixed ration every day, and drink about 50 gallons of water! Three times a day, a truck drives down the center of the aisle and new feed is put out for the cows. They have a free-access buffet all day long, and can eat as much or as little as they like at any time.
The cows tend to eat from the middle of the pile, and push some of their food farther away where they can’t reach it. So someone walks through the barn aisle and sweeps the feed back closer to the cows a few times a day. This keeps feed accessible to the cows, and cuts down on the amount of feed that is wasted.
They also have free access to a sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) supplement, in the black bucket in the photo below. This is left out for them all the time, and they can have as much or as little as they want. The baking soda helps to keep their rumen at the right acidity level so all the little rumen microbes stay happy.
Did I mention the water? Let’s see… 1800 cows on the farm, and 50 gallons of water for each cow every day… that’s 90,000 gallons of water every day! The barns have yellow water troughs in a few different places so no one has to walk to far to get a drink.
Their veterinarian comes out every week to check on the pregnant cows, check to see which cows are pregnant, and check on any sick cows they might have. The cows also get pedicures twice a year – this keeps their hooves from growing too long and being uncomfortable or making it difficult to walk. Like our beef cows, they also get vaccines to protect against bacteria and viruses that cause respiratory and diarrhea diseases.
What other questions do you have about dairy cattle? Read these other articles about dairy cows, and leave me a question in the comments if you want to know more!