Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Teach Me Tuesday: Dairy Farms..our Cows

A couple of weeks ago I told you a little bit about our farm and where our milk goes.  Today we are going to talk a little more about our cows.  We have mostly Holstein and Holstein-cross dairy cows but we do have other breeds mixed in.  The reason we have this breed of cattle is because they produce the most milk but they are also the largest of the breeds which means they often require more feed.  We use crossbreeds to help improve the amount of butter fat in the milk and to make our cows more efficient.  A farmer gets paid based on the amount of milk and the amount of butterfat in the milk.  

This is Skittles...she is a Holstein X Jersey cow.  She happens to be one of my favorites.  Now just so you know not every cow at our farm has a name but everyone of them does have a number like you see on the red ear tag.  Many of our cows do have names but only on their registration papers.  When we discuss cows around the farm we use their numbers this helps eliminate any possible confusion as there is only one number 49 on the farm.  The number is how they are tracked in the computer programs and in the record books.  Our white board at the barn list cow numbers, calving dates, sex of calf, and calf # (if a heifer).  


Every day twice a day the cows health is evaluated in the milk line however we also check cows outside of the milk line to see how they are doing as well.  My husband and father-in-law do most of the herd checks with our little boy Wyatt tagging along as much as possible.  They check for many things, like is the cow eating and drinking enough, is she grazing or just laying around, what does her udder look like, her feet, her eyes...is she in her normal spot in the milk line.  All of these things tell us a little bit about how she is doing.  So its important that someone checks them daily.  In addition its essential for cow health to be evaluated by others routinely.  Each month the cows are visited by a veterinarian and a milk tester.  The vet visits the farm to check on herd health.  The milk tester visits the farm to see how a cow is doing in the milk line.  

Our vet checks to see how cows are recovering after birth, if they are pregnant, does she have any illness and a multitude of other things.  Think of this as kinda like a check up.  Most of the time cows don't see the vet every month.  They get their check up based on how they are doing and what stage of production they are in.  Fresh cows, these are cows that have calved since the last visit are always checked on by the vet.  Any cow that might have been fresh at the last check that need a follow up are check, and any cow or calf that isn't performing well will be checked.  Also the vet will check all of our cows that should have been bred since his last 2 visits to confirm if the cow is pregnant or not.  We work closely with our veterinarian and spend a good deal of time working to ensure that our cattle are healthy.

The milk tester however is looking for something completely different.  Our milk tester does just that he test the milk.  He visits one milking once a month to get samples of the milk and weigh the milk for each and every cow that goes through our milk line.  This helps us to know which cows are producing the most milk but it also helps us with quality control of our milk.  Each sample of milk is tested to determine what a cows somatic cell count is or white blood cell count.  The higher a somatic cell count is the more likely that cow is to have milk of undesirable quality.  Cows like people always have cell counts however they are higher when bacteria is present.  By having this information readily available we are able to make important decisions on if a cow needs to receive treatment or be removed from the milk line all together.  One of the bonuses to knowing this information is that our co-op rewards farms that have low somatic cell count for the year, through an incentive program.  So it all boils down to healthy cows = a better bottom line.   To learn more about somatic cell count check out this link.  


This is what it looks like when the cows are getting milked.


 Another important part of the farm are the calves.  Our calves are fed milk from our bucket cows.  These are cows that their milk does not go into the tank for one reason or another.  We withhold cow's milk from the tank for various reasons...the cow has recently calved, the cow needed to have medication, or the cow's somatic cell count is higher than we would like. Our calves are kept in hutches where they have access to shelter, feed and water at all times.  They are fed milk twice a day.  The calves have rock bedding outside their hutches to improve the cleanliness.  Inside of the hutches are bedded in straw to help keep the calves warm and clean, this requires someone having to clean hutches on a regular schedule. Because we live in the Southeast during the summer calves are not given as much bedding and many times sleep outside.  Hutches and rock are cleaned between calves to ensure herd health.  




The last thing I am going to tell you about today is what our cows eat!  



This is feed that is purchased from a feed company.  We work closely with a nutritionist to determine what our cows need to do their best.  Feed is delivered multiple times a month to ensure it's fresh.   



Here are some of the girls waiting for feed early one morning...they look about as excited as I do at that time of morning!  

Our cows are fed twice a day and always have access to plenty of water and hay.   In addition to hay our cows are able to graze between milkings.  Some cows prefer to graze at night and others during the day.  Some of the cows prefer to eat more hay than they do grass.  So we offer both options.  The cows moving that much does mean that we get let milk because they are using more energy walking around than cows that are in a free stall barn but for us this is the best option at the time.  



Here is an info-graphic with a little information about cows that you might not know.  


So do you have questions about how we care for our cattle or what they eat?  Or about dairy farms in general? If so ask away I will be happy to answer them for you!

Until next time-

Caci