Common Dairy Farming Questions Answered

Support Your Local Dairy Farmers


What do cow’s eat?

A cow that is milking eats about 100 pounds each day of feed, which is a combination of hay, grain, silage and proteins (such as soybean meal), plus vitamins and minerals. Farmers employ professional animal nutritionists to develop scientifically formulated, balanced and nutritious diets for their cows. Cows also need fresh, clean water.


How does a cow produce milk?

All cows produce milk once they deliver a calf. About 10 months after calving, the amount of milk the cow gives naturally decreases substantially and the cow undergoes “drying off.” About 12 to 14 months after the birth of her previous calf, a cow will calve again, thus providing milk.


How long to cow’s live?

The life of a dairy cow varies from farm to farm and from cow to cow; some can live for as long as 20 years while others may have a much shorter life. Dairy farmers work hard to keep cows healthy for a long productive life. However, removing cows from the dairy herd is a common practice that allows farmers to bring in new, more productive cows, thus ensuring a steady supply of milk. Meat from cows that are no longer milking is a valuable source of safe and nutritious food.


How can the public know that dairy farmers are taking good care of their animals?

In addition to carrying out their individual commitments to their cows, dairy farmers and the dairy community have created FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management), a nationwide, verifiable animal well-being program that brings consistency and uniformity to on-farm animal care and production practices. The FARM program supports farmers with education on animal care and provides the public with added assurance of proper animal care. Arps Dairy and all of Arps Dairy’s family farmers participate in the FARM program.


Why are caves put in separate pens after they are born?

Separate living quarters shortly after birth protect the health of the calf by ensuring the best individual care. Since newborn calves need time to build up their immune systems, it is better that they are not exposed to germs in the environment or germs that can be passed on from older animals. Another way farmers ensure the health of their calves is by feeding newborns two to four quarts of colostrum—the first milk the mother produces after giving birth. This special milk is usually delivered by bottle. Colostrum is high in fat and protein and contains antibodies that help build the calf’s immune system.


Do Arps Dairy family farmers treat cows with antibiotics?

Yes, when necessary.


When is it necessary to treat cows with antibiotics?

It is important to note that dairy cows are not routinely treated with antibiotics. Just like with your child, when illness requires that a cow be treated, antibiotics are administered in order to make that sick cow well again.  The administration of antibiotics is done according strict FDA guidelines, which include withholding milk from sale. When a cow’s milk is withheld, she is given special care and attention separate from the rest of milking herd until her milk tests free of antibiotics.


What is raw milk?

Raw milk is milk straight from the cow that has not been pasteurized. Raw milk is not the same as organic milk.


Is raw milk safe to drink?

No. The word “raw milk” might sound natural and good, but raw milk is not safe. According to the Food and Drug Administration, raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks to those who drink it.

Why? Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process that kills harmful bacteria potentially found in raw milk by heating milk until it reaches 161 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 15 seconds and then rapidly cooled. This simple process is extremely effective at killing bacteria, while maintaining milk’s nutritional value. Pasteurization is just one step dairy farmers take to ensure the dairy foods you love are safe.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), recommend pasteurized milk and dairy products as the safe choice, especially for infants. It’s a matter of food safety.


Why is milk pasteurized?

Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria, such as E. coli O157:H7, Listeria and Salmonella, that can be found in raw milk (milk that has not been pasteurized). All milk intended for direct consumption should be pasteurized – it’s a matter of food safety.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend drinking only pasteurized milk. Before the invention and acceptance of pasteurization, raw milk was a common source of bacteria that caused serious illnesses such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, and typhoid fever. In the 1900s, many mothers recognized this risk and would boil milk before giving it to their infants and young children.


How is milk pasteurized?

Pasteurization is a mechanical process that kills potentially harmful bacteria without affecting the taste or nutritional value of milk.  Pasteurization does not involve any chemicals whatsoever. During pasteurization, the temperature of milk is raised to at least 161° Fahrenheit for 16 seconds and then rapidly cooled. Pasteurization extends milk’s shelf life and destroys harmful bacteria.


Why is milk homogenized?

Homogenization is another mechanical process that does not involve any chemicals or additives.  Rather, fat molecules are broken down so they don’t separate and rise to the top of the container to form a layer of cream.


How is milk homogenized?

Homogenization is a mechanical process that starts with pushing milk through tubes so the fat molecules are broken down. The fat molecules are broken up to a small size so they’re evenly distributed throughout the milk, producing a uniform consistency.


Does pasteurization affect milk quality?

No scientific evidence shows any meaningful difference between the nutritional values of pasteurized and unpasteurized (raw) milk. In addition, vitamin D, which is not found in significant amounts in raw milk, is added to pasteurized milk, making it an even more nutritious product. It is important to understand that pasteurizing milk does not cause lactose intolerance or allergic reactions. Both raw milk and pasteurized milk can cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to milk proteins.


Does pasteurization and homogenization affect dairy nutrition?

All milk is pasteurized for safety and homogenized for quality, but neither process has an impact on the overall nutrition package. Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria potentially found in raw milk. Homogenization keeps the cream from separating from the milk and creates a more consistent product.


Are hormones added to milk?

No. Hormones are naturally present in foods of plant and animal origin, including milk. Some farmers choose to supplement some of their cows with recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) to increase milk production, but science shows that there is no effect on levels in the milk itself.  It’s important to note, though, that all Arps Dairy family farmers have pledged to not use rBST hormones, or any other added hormones for that matter.


Do dairy farmers really care about the environment?

Yes. Dairy farmers live and work on their farms, so it’s important for them to protect the land, water and air for their families, their surrounding communities and future generations. All dairy farms must meet the standards for manure storage, handling and recycling set out for them by their state and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Caring for the environment is a responsibility dairy farmers share with their local community. Good environmental practices are essential to a dairy farm’s success and leave a positive legacy for future generations.


Why do dairy farms smell?

Animals eat, therefore they produce manure. Manure has an odor. Dairy farmers work hard to minimize these odors by maintaining clean facilities, following proper manure storage practices, and properly applying manure as a natural fertilizer for cropland. In some cases, farms are required to implement an odor management plan. Research and development has inspired new practices and innovative technologies to help farmers maintain clean air for everyone. Dairy farmers care about air quality; their families live and work on their farms and breathe the air, too.


What do farms do with all the manure?

Dairy cow manure is always put to good use. Most of it is spread on the fields as a natural source of fertilizer. Using manure to fertilize the soil has many advantages, including water conservation. Manure increases the water-holding capacity of soil by 20 percent, so less groundwater is needed to grow crops. Manure can also be composted and sold to local garden stores. Some farmers dry it and use it as a bedding source similar to sawdust. There are even farmers in the US who are able to turn their manure into energy using methane digesters.


What about manure getting into groundwater?

Each farm maintains a Nutrient Management Plan, which helps to ensure that the nutrients go into the crops, not the groundwater. Government agencies have strict regulations for granting permits for dairy farms, continuous inspection and testing of the water, and recycling manure. Dairy farms rely on quality groundwater; cows need to drink clean water to produce high-quality milk.


Do dairy farms use too much water?

No, dairy farmers use water responsibly and judiciously. Many conservation technologies are in place so that as little water as possible is used. For example, water used to clean the milking parlor is reused to clean feed alleys and then to irrigate fields. Using manure to fertilize the soil has many advantages, including water conservation. Manure increases the water-holding capacity of soil by 20 percent, so less groundwater is needed to grow crops.


What’s the difference between organic milk and regular milk?

Research can find no difference between organic and regular milk in quality, safety or nutrition. Both contain nine essential nutrients. For example, a 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association analyzed the composition of milk labeled organic, “rbST-free” and regular milk, and found that the label claims were not related to any meaningful differences in milk composition. Organic milk is one choice among many in the dairy case.


Is organic milk fresher than regular milk?

Probably not. Most milk, including organic and regular milk, is delivered to stores within a few days of milking.


If I buy organic, am I doing more to help support small family farms?

Probably not.  There are large and small farms that produce both conventional and organic types of milk. Organic farming has more to do with farm management practices than the size of the farm itself. Of the 45,000 dairy farms in America today, the majority are smaller farms with less than 200 cows. The vast majority of US farms – big and small – are family owned and operated.  Arps Dairy only sources milk from small family farms, so if support the small family farm is important to you, look for the Arps Dairy label in your grocery isle!

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