What does a cow do all day?
Dairy cows are pretty “chill”. They don’t like a lot of excitement and prefer calm, lazy days. Though all cows are different and live in different types of environments, one thing holds true - they like the same routine every day. As dairy farmers, we know that. So we try to keep their day relaxing and follow a routine daily schedule. Pretty much the same as students do in a classroom!
ALL DAY, EVERY DAY
A big portion of a cow’s day is just lying down or resting. That’s when she gets most of her cud chewing done. On our farm, cows average 6-7 hours each day just chewing their cud. Cud? Let me explain. Cows eat high cellulose (stemmy and fibrous) foods that humans can’t digest like alfalfa, grass, and corn stalks. After swallowing their food, it goes to their stomach which is divided into four compartments. The first compartment is the rumen. All the undigested and stemmy food floats to the top. The cow regurgitates that “cud” and chews it again to break it down into more digestible food.
Of course, milking cows have a big appetite. They eat about 100 pounds each day. It takes them about 3-5 hours each day to eat all that carefully balanced food. They often eat the most in the early morning when they get fresh breakfast and then snack 9-14 times during the day. We push up their feed every three hours which entices them to come eat a snack. On hot days, cows do most of their eating at night when it’s cooler. They spend another 30 minutes a day drinking water. A cow drinks about a bathtub sized amount of water each day (60 gallons). Cows spend about three hours a day just walking around and socializing with their friends. Each pen at Selz-Pralle Dairy has about 90-100 cows in it. They have lots of friends!
Dairy cows are working girls! They produce milk in their udders all day long. We like them to lie down a lot because then they put more energy into producing milk versus using it to exercise and walk around. So as dairy farmers, we make sure the beds they lay down in are very enticing and comfortable.
At Selz-Pralle Dairy, cows get milked three times a day. The cow will walk to the milking parlor to get milked. She will wait her turn (anywhere from one to 40 minutes) to enter the parlor. Once we attached the milking unit to harvest milk, it only takes four to five minutes to collect the milk. Multiply that by three times a day and she spends 12 to 15 minutes a day getting milked. Our cows average 105 pounds of milk a day so a cow yields nearly eight pounds a minute!
All during the day, our team of people are closely watching the cows to see if anyone is not feeling well or has a problem. We also monitor their stomach and reproductive status all day long. We do that by monitoring the health reports sent to our computer and smart phones from their activity tracking devices. These are a lot like “Fitbits” that humans wear. We track a cow's rumination, temperature, and her physical activity. We compare that to her normal day. Cows can’t talk to tell us they don’t feel well. So, we monitor their activity. That “speaks” to us on how a cow is feeling.
WHAT ABOUT PASTURE TIME?
A cow’s natural behavior is to be calm and relaxed. Storybooks tend to show that being in an outdoor pasture. But we dairymen who care for cows every day know that being calm and relaxed can happen in many different types of living environments.
Our milking cows live in a free stall barn. They can move around as they like, eat when hungry, and lay down whenever and wherever they like. They are always calm and stress free. By keeping them in-doors, we can make sure every mouthful of feed is perfectly balanced versus eating wild grasses or weeds in a pasture. They live in a climate controlled barn. That means, when it’s hot outside, we have fans and sprinklers to keep them cool and comfortable. We also spray for flies versus outside; they are pestered with flies and parasites. When it’s cold, we protect them from rain and snow and provide them with heated water. Since cows spend most of their day laying down, we have comfy beds of sand for them to lay on. That’s much softer than the cold, hard ground and being inorganic sand harbors less bacteria.
Two months before a cow has a baby calf, we stop milking her. This gives her time to rest and build body reserves for her new baby. We also move her to a special area where the stalls are bigger and she has the option to go outside to pasture. Often, cows prefer the protected barn versus the hot sun and flies. We must give them a wormer treatment because cows eating pasture grass can get tape worms from the ground.
WHAT ABOUT THE CALVES?
Calves and heifers like routines too! We feed the baby calves milk twice a day – 5am & 4pm. At that time they get fresh calf grain (granola) and water as well as fresh bedding to lay on. They can snack on granola and water all day. After 2 months, they get hay added to their diet. At 6 months of age, we add fermented feeds like haylage and corn silage to their menu.
Calves (0-6 months old) and heifers (6-24 months old) will spend half of their day laying down. The other half is filled with walking, standing, playing, and eating. They pretty much have recess all day! Calves and heifers spend their day in large pens protected from the outdoor weather changes. At nine months old, they graduate to a larger barn with larger pens and have access to an outdoor pasture.
FARMERS HAVE ROUTINES TOO
There’s a lot of work on a farm. So we coordinate our weekly schedule to fit in special tasks similar to student schedules fitting in recess, music, art, and Phy.Ed. Here’s a view of our weekly work schedule:
ALL IN A DAY'S WORK
After a day spent eating, drinking, chewing, socializing, and receiving expert care, a dairy cow can rest easy! And so can consumers! That’s because your milk and dairy products come from responsibly managed farms like ours who make animal care a top priority. We love our cows. We spend all day giving them special attention and care to make sure they are calm, relaxed, and happy. We work as a team. The farmer provides for all their needs, and they provide all of us with healthy, nutritious milk.