Some cow facts, and myths, for National Dairy Month

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another in a series of columns to run weekly highlighting the area’s agricultural community.

To cap off National Dairy Month, we thought we would share some information about cows, as well as debunk some popular misconceptions, courtesy of the expertise of two of our esteemed columnists, Terri DiNitto, of DiNitto Farms in Marcy, and Stephanie Finn, of Finndale Farms in Holland Patent.

Cows have four stomachs. “Technically, cows only have one stomach, but it has four compartments,” explained Stephanie Finn. It is very different than a human stomach, so that’s why people often say cows have four stomachs, she adds. The first three compartments process feed in a way that people cannot. Due to this unique digestive system, cows have the ability to convert plants humans can’t eat into nutritious milk.

A cow that is milking eats about 100 pounds of feed each day. According to Terri DiNitto every farm is different what they feed their cows. “We work very closely with a nutritionist from our feed company to figure out the optimum ‘casserole’ for our cows. We use a mixture of corn silage, haylage, cottonseed, brewer’s grain (from Anheuser-Busch), different grains and dry hay.” According to DiNitto, just like people, a heifer’s diet is different than a cow’s diet and each animal is grouped together depending on the diet the nutritionist and the farmer figures out.

A cow that is milking drinks about 30 to 50 gallons of water each day.  “Think of it as the equivalent of a bathtub full of water,” stated DiNitto. During periods of heat stress, water intake may double. Water weighs 8.35 pounds per gallon, so a milking dairy cow may consume as much as 420 (or more) pounds of water daily.

There are six main breeds of dairy cows. The main breeds are Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Holstein, Jersey, and Milking Shorthorn. A seventh, Red and White, is a variation of the Holstein breed. Holstein are by far the most popular dairy cow breed.

An average Holstein dairy cow weighs about 1,500 pounds. That’s nearly one ton. A cow’s size depends on a variety of factors like age, breed, feeding, genetic potential, and other factors. A cow’s weight can typically vary between 1,000 and 1,800 pounds.

An average dairy cow produces 7 to 9 gallons of milk a day. That’s about 128 glasses of great-tasting, nutrient-packed goodness. According to Finn, her cows are milked two times per day, 12 hours apart. “The milk comes out of the cow at 101 degrees and then is cooled down to between 38 and 42 degrees. The cooled down milk is kept cold in two bulk tanks — one is 5,000 gallons and the other is 6,000 gallons. We ship 64,000 pounds of milk per day.”

Cows like it cool. Due to their thick skin, hair and natural insulation, dairy cows prefer temperatures between 40 and 65 degrees with 50 to 70 degrees being the optimum range for making milk. During the summer, farmers keep their cows cool by turning on fans and water misters in their barns.

More about cows:

• Cows don’t have an upper front teeth but do have a gum pad.

• 98% of dairy farms are family owned no matter the size.

• Milk arrives at the grocery store usually within 48 hours of leaving the diary farm.

• Cows are two years old when have their first calf and pregnant for 9 months.

• Cows can smell things up to 6 miles away. They can smell water or a predator.

• Cheddar cheese is the most popular cheese in the US.

• Pasteurization heats up milk to 161 degrees for at least 15 seconds. Homogenization breaks apart the fat molecules so that cream doesn’t separate and rise to the top.

— For comments or suggestions on the Farming in Central New York series, e-mail John Clifford at jclifford@RNYmedia.com.

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