A Day in the Life of the Dairy Herd

27 Jan

After last week’s introduction to the variety of farm animals, this posting is intended to give you an understanding of the daily rhythms and movements of the dairy herd during the winter. The entire rhythm will change sometime in late April/beginning of May, when the cows start grazing on the pastures, again. Until then, the milking cows basically repeat the same cycle twice each day and we might just start with their march into the milking barn to get -guess what?- milked… They march into the barn around 5:00am and then again at 2:30pm (it’s pretty obvious, when I was there to take this picture…)

But before the milking, the cows receive a treat in form of a little grain meal of milled barley, that is milled right here on the farm. 

In the old-fashioned dairy barn, each cow has her accustomed stanchion and their heads get locked in so they remain in place and each is assured her ration of grain. They all get different rations based on the point they are in their lactation. Those in their peak get 1/2 a scoop, while those who are towards the end only receive 1/4 or none at all.

Here you see Emma enjoying her barley meal.

The milking happens with four to six portable milking machines that attach to the udder and get hooked into the stainless steel pipeline leading to the bulk tank in the dairy. The cow being milked in the following picture is Sorrel.

The hip bar does not hurt the cows as long as they stand calmly. It gets put on for the milking to prevent attempts at kicking the milking machine (or the farmer/apprentice). Once the milking is completed, the bar gets removed and often the cows lie down for a nice rest and some chewing of cud.

Once the last of the ~55 cows is done milking (it takes +/- 2 hours), the entire herd moves from the old dairy barn (on the right) to the new loafing barn (on the left). That happens at around 8:00am and again at 5:30pm.

Here, a long row of delicious hay is waiting to be eaten.

Again, the cows’ heads are locked into place to assure that each has access to hay and can eat calmly without worrying about being bullied around by higher-ranking individuals. This arrangement also assures that the hay stays clean and does not get trampled and mixed with manure.

After about three hours (at around 11am and again at 8:30pm), the locks get released and the cows are free to move around within the loafing barn or to wander into the barn yard.

By 11am, there will have been a few minutes of impatient mooing from the group of small calves, who are now released and free to go find their mothers.

Barley and her steer calf Bar.

Cinnamon and her steer calf Cin surrounded by the dairy herd.

After they have drunk their fill, the calves gang up in small groups of similar age and go exploring on their own.

The three steer calves Equ (of Equinox), Cin (of Cinnamon), and Bar (of Barley).

During the period from 11am to 2:30pm, as well as all through the night, the milking cows can freely move between the barn yard and the barn…

The animal standing on the right is Easy, the bull who is currently the sire of the dairy herd. Next to him is Nimbus, who was in heat on the day the picture was taken.

Nimbus is going for a stroll in the barn yard.

By 2:30pm, the calves are sent back into their pen.

Little Nettle has watched her mom Noodle go into the dairy barn and calmly walks back to her own pen.

And the cows return to the dairy barn for a second serving of barley meal and the afternoon milking.

After the milking, around 5:30pm, the herd returns into the loafing barn for a big dinner of hay.

In the meantime, the pigeons line up on the roof of the loafing barn.

While the cows are having their dinner, it gets dark and the barn becomes a bright beacon in the early night. (In case you wonder how this image below came to be: Conrad did a very long exposure without the use of flash)

At around 8:30pm, the cows are released and free to move around for the night.

While some choose to stay behind, most cows move out into the barn yard for some fresh air and a drought of water.

The lights in the barn remain on for a few more moments, while the farmers ready everything for the night.

And then it is “lights off”, even for the cows…

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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Agriculture


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