Some Basics on the Dairy Cow Industry
How Much Milk Does a Cow Give in a Day?
A cow will give about 30 litres of milk a day. Most farmers milk their cows twice a day, but some milk their cows three times a day.
How Long Can a Cow be Milked?
After having a calf, a cow can be milked for about ten months (a standard lactation is 305 days), then she will be dried off for two months before having another calf and starting another milk cycle. Cows remain in a herd for an average of five years, though some exceptional cows are still producing after ten or more years.
How is a Cow Milked?
Two or three times a day, depending on the farm, a farmer milks his cows with a milking machine. In a tie-stall barn, cows are tied in individual stalls under a pipeline system. The milking units are carried to each cow. In a parlour system, all the milking units are stationary and the cows walk to the parlour to be milked. In either case each cows teats are washed with disinfectant before the milking machine is attached. The milk runs through the pipeline system into a stainless steel bulk tank where it is cooled and stored until it is picked up by a milk truck. Most farms have a milk pickup every other day.
What if a Milking Cow Gets Sick?
Farmers work very hard to keep their cows healthy and happy, but like people, sometimes cows get sick. A farmer will work with his veterinarian to figure out what's wrong and how to treat it. Cows can be given antibiotics if necessary. Treatment records are kept and treated cows are milked separately and their milk isn't put into the bulk tank. Milk safety is extremely important to dairy farmers.
Is There a Chance for Antibiotics to End Up in the Food I Am Buying?
Short answer: No. Every time milk is picked up from a farm, a sample is taken from the farm's bulk tank. When the milk tanker arrives at the processing facility, a sample is taken from that milk. If there is anything wrong with it, it is discarded and each farm's milk sample is tested. The farm that shipped the contaminated milk will be fined thousands of dollars. Besides the honour code that exists among farmers to provide a quality product, a potential fine makes farmers even more careful to keep accurate records of antibiotic treatment and to properly mark treated cows so no contaminated milk will ever make it into the food system.
How Do I Know the Milk I am Buying is Safe to Drink?
Milk is the most safety tested food in the Canadian food supply. Farms are regularly inspected for cleanliness, and proper cow management. Farmers are also expected to keep careful records of any antibiotic treatment their cows are given.
For the past several years, all Ontario dairy farms have been required to participate in the Canadian Quality Milk program, or CQM. This program has specific requirements for documentation of treatments, cows entering or leaving the herd, Standard Operating Procedures, and record keeping for any warning alarms to occur from the sensors of the ‘Time Temperature Recorder’ (TTR) that all farms are also required to have.
The TTR provides 24/7 monitoring of the milk temperature and agitation (stirring) of the milk. Alarms occur whenever the milk temperature becomes too warm or too cold, or is over or under agitated, so the farmer can make immediate repairs if necessary. Usually a TTR Alarm doesn’t affect the actual milk quality as the sensor will trigger an alarm long before the milk quality is actually affected by the change in temperature. Most alarms occur during milking time because the warm milk entering the cold tank raises the temperature slightly for a very short time and may trigger the alarm. The purpose of the agitator is to keep the fat globules suspended in the milk. Otherwise, the cream will rise to the top of the tank. If the milk agitates too much, butter can actually be formed in the tank. All milk transporters check the history of a particular tank of milk by pressing a certain button on the TTR before the pick up a tank of milk. TTRs and the CQM Program are just a couple of new ways the industry keeps milk products at top quality.
Farmers are also inspected for a Grade A Premises during their bi-annual CQM Audit. Farms can also have surprise inspections at any time. A dairy producer not consistently meeting Grade A standards will be fined, and if they don't immediately improve, they can lose their milk license and become unable to ship milk.