Animal Care FAQs
Yes. Dairy farmers are dedicated to producing high-quality milk, and that begins with taking good care of their cows. Dairy farmers work closely with veterinarians and professional nutritionists to keep their cows healthy and well-nourished. Nutritious diets, healthy living conditions, and good veterinary care are all essential when it comes to producing safe, wholesome, nutritious milk.
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.
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.
It is important to note that dairy cows are not routinely treated with antibiotics. When illness requires that a cow be treated, antibiotics are administered 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.
Access to pasture is determined mainly by geography, availability of land suitable for grazing, and weather conditions. Many factors affect the type of environment available to dairy cows. In all cases, the well-being, protection and comfort of their cows are dairy farmers’ main concerns. Many of today’s dairy farms use “freestall housing,” a type of barn that allows cows the freedom to move about at will and eat and sleep whenever and wherever they choose. In this housing configuration, feed for the animals is available in a feed alley (a clean, impervious surface), which cows can access 24 hours a day. In addition, the barns are designed to provide sunshine and fresh air.
Cows housed indoors may sleep on sand beds or mattresses made of rubber, foam or a combination of materials. Most dairy barns also use advanced ventilation systems to assure air quality. On warm days, farmers use fans and misters to keep cows cool and comfortable.
A cow’s health is of utmost importance to every dairy farmer regardless of the size of the farm. Proper animal care leads to the production of high-quality milk. Nutritious diets, healthy living conditions and good veterinary care are essential for a healthy cow herd. Like other business owners, many dairy farm families are expanding to improve efficiency. These improvements help support families and provide consumers with high-quality, affordable milk and dairy foods. Dairy farms have also modernized and become larger to allow siblings, children or other family members to join the family business. The USDA estimates the average dairy farm in the US is about 200 cows.