Dairy Cattle

Dairy cows are incredible animals. They can turn grass and grains into milk! Heifers are female dairy cattle. After two years, they give birth to their own calves. Once a heifer gives birth, it is called a cow. All female dairy cows must have a calf to produce milk. The gestation (pregnancy) period for cows is nine months. Newborn calves weigh about 80-100 pounds. Male dairy cattle are called bulls and do not produce milk.

Because dairy cattle have multiple compartments in their stomach, they are classified as ruminant animals. Ruminant animals first chew their food to soften it, swallow it and then return it to their mouth for continued chewing. This is called chewing the cud. After chewing the cud, it is swallowed a second time, broken down further and digested. Cows will spend up to eight hours a day chewing their cud.

Milk provides your body with calcium, which is needed for healthy bones and teeth. Calcium also helps our muscles and nerves work properly and helps blood to clot. Milk products provide us with carbohydrates, protein and Vitamin D. You should have three servings of nonfat or low fat milk and milk products each day. One serving of dairy is equal to 1 cup of milk, yogurt or ice cream and 1-2 ounces of cheese.

Source www.agintheclassroom.org/TeacherResources/TerraNova/bw_dairynews.pdf

  • Dairy Cattle Vocabulary:

    • Bull: male cow used for breeding.
    • Calcium: mineral found in dairy products, needed for healthy teeth and bones.
    • Calf: a baby cow.
    • Cow: a female cow that has given birth to a calf.
    • Dairy: food group containing milk and milk products.
    • Hay: grass, clover or alfalfa that is cut, dried, baled and fed to cattle.
    • Heifer: the name given to a young female before she has given birth to a calf.
    • Homogenize: process where milk fat is broken into tiny particles that are evenly spread throughout the milk.
    • Lactose: a sugar found in milk.
    • Pasteurize: process of heating and cooling milk to kill bacteria and protect the purity and flavor.
    • Silage: fermented corn, wheat or hay, along with the stalks and leaves, that is chopped and fed to cattle.
    • Udder: part of a dairy cow that produces, stores and dispenses milk.

  • Dairy Cattle Facts:

    • Dairy Cows are usually milked 2-3 times per day, depending on the farm.
    • Cows are milked for 10 months and rested for two months. Then they have a calf and start producing milk again.
    • A cow can produce 6-8 gallons of milk a day – about 90 glasses of milk. That’s 200,000 in their lifetime! (Source:http://winnersdrinkmilk.com/dairyfarms/HDF_FactSheet.pdf). (Source: http://winnersdrinkmilk.com/dairyfarms/HDF_FactSheet.pdf).
    • Cows eat about 90 pounds of feed each day (grain, hay, grass). They also drink up to 50 gallons of water a day.

    Indiana Dairy Facts:

    • Indiana is home to about 1,200 dairy farms of all shapes and sizes.
    • In Indiana, there are approximately 174,000 milk cows producing 3.4 billion pounds of milk annually.
    • The average Indiana dairy herd is about 140 cows.

    Source: www.winnersdrinkmilk.com/about-dairy-farming/
    Video: Jones’ Robotic Dairy https://youtu.be/KTAFGJ4yMm4

  • Dairy Animal Care:

    Livestock farmers work hard each day to make sure that the animals in their herds are well taken care of. A cow’s health is the top priority to dairy farmers. A nutritious diet, safe living conditions and good medical care are essential. Well taken care of dairy cows produce high-quality milk.

    Veterinarians and animal scientists are constantly working to improve the comfort of dairy cows. Dairy cows have access to feed and fresh, clean water 24-hours a day. Many dairy farms use free-stall housing, which is a type of barn that allows cows to eat, drink and sleep whenever they choose. Farm buildings are also well-ventilated and may use a water-distribution system to maintain the barn temperature in hot and cold weather. Farmers also work with nutritionists to make sure that their cows are being fed a well-balanced, nutritious diet of hay, grains, protein, vitamins and minerals.

  • Questions & Answers:

    Q: So if cows produce 6-7 gallons of milk a day, how much milk do bulls produce?

    A: None! Only cows produce milk. Bulls are used for breeding, and they're male. Trick question!

    Q: Why do they look so skinny?

    A: Dairy cows put so many calories into making milk, so they do not form fat along their topline like other animals. They store fat elsewhere in their bodies.

    Q: What temperature is milk stored at?

    A: Milk is rapidly cooled to between 38˚ and 45˚ F and is quickly transported to processing plants to ensure freshness and safety.

    Source: Indiana Dairy Council;

Common Breeds


Ayrshires typically have red and white markings, although the red can range from a shade of orange to a dark brown.

Brown Swiss

Brown Swiss is a breed of dairy cattle that produces the second largest quantity of milk per annum, over 9,000 kg (20,000 lb).


Guernsey is orange/red and white in color. They are particularly renowned for the rich flavor of their milk, as well as their hardiness and docile disposition.


Holstein is a breed of cattle known today as the world's highest-production dairy animals. They’re the black and white cows you normally associate with dairy production.

Jersey cattle are a small breed of dairy cattle. Originally bred in the Channel Island of Jersey, the breed is popular for the high butterfat content of its milk.

Milking Shorthorn

Milking Shorthorn a breed of dairy cattle that originated in Great Britain. It developed from the Shorthorn, which itself came from County Durham, Northumberland and Yorkshire in northeastern England.

To learn more about each breed and to see a complete list of all the different breeds of dairy cattle visit: www.thedairysite.com/breeds/dairy.