Healthy Animals, Healthy Milk: The Cows Come First
The following story was written by ODNC Dietetic Intern Katlyn Wolf.
Dairy farming is a 24/7 job where cow care comes first. A dairy farmer’s top priority is the well-being of their animals, and they know that healthy cows produce healthy milk. Just like you and me, dairy cows perform best when they’re comfortable, able to socialize, and adequately nourished. Taking a virtual tour of Rickreall Dairy with farmer Louie, I learned how cow care, cow comfort and cow nutrition translate into nutritious milk.
Cow barns are designed with comfort in mind. Cows spend an average of 12-14 hours per day lying down, whether they are on pasture or in a barn. Bedding in the barn must offer good support and be appropriate for the temperature. As herd animals, cows prefer to live with other cows. Believe it or not, socialization helps cows develop stronger muscles and contributes to improved immunity. This can increase milk production and quality.
Temperature control is important for cow comfort and health. Unlike humans, cows do not have many active sweat glands. Cows reduce body temperature through their breath, which is a lot of work! Farmers keep their cows cool with fans and sprinkler or mister systems. When it’s cold, barns can be temporarily closed to hold heat, bedding is changed frequently to remain clean and dry, and cow jackets may be used – functional and fashionable!
Mealtime in the “Calf”eteria
Diet is important because it can affect the quantity and quality of the milk produced. Cows always have access to nutritious feed. It’s usually a combination of grasses, grains, and other ingredients that provide them with the right balance of nutrients. Farmers work with cow nutritionists to make sure their cows have a balanced diet that is appropriate for their age. Louie’s nutritionist visits the farm every two weeks to make sure the cows’ diets are just right and the cows are healthy.
Cows are often milked in buildings commonly known as the “milking parlor.” Typically, the parlor is very calm, quiet, and efficient, because cow comfort is just as important here. Cows are milked for a short time each day, between 5 and 10 minutes, two or three times a day. Employees escort the cows into milking stalls, then clean, dry and disinfect the cow’s udder before attaching a mechanical milking machine. Milking machines are more sanitary, more comfortable for the animal, and allow for more accurate output recording. They automatically detach when milk flow slows and the udder is empty. While cows are away from the barn for milking their barns are cleaned, like room service!
Milk is ‘udderly’ full of benefits!
As a Graduate student studying nutrition and diet, I know healthy dietary patterns include a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages. Milk, cheese and yogurt are nutrient-dense foods recommended by the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans because they provide protein, vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components. I enjoy dairy for its flavor and healthfulness. After virtually touring Rickreall Dairy with farmer Louie and learning about how animals are cared for to produce healthy milk, I’ve found that milk is even more tasty!
Katlyn Wolf is currently a Master’s student in the Dietetic Nutrition Program at Oregon State University. She recently worked as a Dietetic Intern for the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council in 2021.