By David M. Galton.
Dairy cattle produce milk and related products by consuming vast quantities of roughages (hay, fermented feeds and byproduct feeds) that are inedible for human consumption. Dairy farming is a complex business that demands astute managers for the future if they want to return a reasonable profit. Average capital investment for a New York State dairy farm is about $425,000.
High quality milk starts with healthy cows in clean and sanitary environments which demand good overall management programs. Some dairy cattle are housed in confinement individual stall barns (stanchion, tie stalls). This housing system usually includes milking systems consisting of milking machine buckets or milking machines with mechanical milk transport.
Dairy cattle housed in confinement are usually turned outside for short periods of time in the colder months and inclement weather. In the warmer months, they are turned out to pastures or drylots for much of the time in between milkings. Good bedding is essential in confinement housing so that cows do not bruise their legs, udders, and bony prominences on concrete.
Another housing system is referred to as freestalls. Stalls are provided for cows, but the cows are free to move about to feed and water. Cattle are handled in groups based on milk production and stage of lactation, offering flexibility for mechanization and automation for greater efficiency.
Cattle housed in freestalls can be milked in systems similar to stall barn systems or milked in milking parlors whereby more flexibility in efficiency can be realized. In warm climates, cows sometimes are housed in loafing type housing which is similar to management in freestall systems.
Milking usually is done twice daily and most dairy farms attempt to milk as close to 12-hour intervals as possible. In some areas, three-times per day milking has gained acceptance.
Three-times-a-day milking does increase the milk production of cattle above that for twice a day milking, but obviously requires more labor. The additional milk production must therefore more than equal the additional labor costs in a herd for three times per day milking to be economically feasible.
Regardless of the frequency of milking, the intervals between milking must be constant in order to avoid problems with mastitis. Dairy cattle are creatures of habit and the best dairy farmers adjust their day to accommodate this trait with strict regimentation of the daily feeding and milking schedule.