What questions come up on a Virtual Farm Tour? FAQs on the Farm
Since we launched Virtual Dairy Farm Tours in 2019 with our Indiana farm families, over 38,500 students have “visited” a dairy farm! Ranging from kindergarten to high school, we love answering their questions about dairy. Check out some of the most common questions asked on the tours, and visit our YouTube channel to see our past dairy farm tours!
What does the typical day at the farm look like for the farmer and for the animals?
- While some methods vary depending on farm size, location or other factors, dairy cows always come first on a dairy farm. Farmers and their families wake up early in the morning and work through the evening cleaning barns, feeding cows, growing crops, and of course, milking the cows! Farmers also have to find time to work on equipment, meet with their veterinarian or animal nutritionist, and keep accurate records for the health and maintenance of the farm. Farmers work 365 days a year, including weekends and holidays, to care for their animals, land, and communities. This short video gives you an inside look at Farm Life!
What are farmers doing to protect the environment?
- Dairy farmers reduce, reuse, and recycle in many ways on the farm. Water is recycled 3-5 times on average, being used for things like cleaning the barn, watering crops, drinking water for cows, cooling the milk, and more. Farmers reduce the use of chemical fertilizers on their fields by recycling cow manure to return nutrients to the soil. Many farmers have reduced energy use by installing energy-efficient lights and equipment in their barns. Using these techniques, dairy farms use 30% less water and 21% less land while producing 20% less manure and 19% less greenhouse gases from 2007-2017! This short video series shows sustainable farming techniques.
Do farmers like their job? What do you enjoy most about milking cows?
- Our farmers will tell you they live and work on the dairy farm because they love it. For many farmers, it’s the time spent working with family that keeps them on the farm. For others, their love of cows keeps them coming to the barn each day.
How have the robotic milkers changed production on your farm? How has technology enhanced your farm over the past few years?
- On many dairy farms, cows are milked 2 or 3 times a day. Milking 1 cow takes about 7-10 minutes from start to finish. Once she is finished milking, she spends the rest of the day eating, drinking, socializing and chewing her cud until it’s time to be milked again. Some farms have made the decision to install robotic milking units. This means the cow can choose when she gets milked. While it still takes about the same amount of time, some cows like to be milked more than 2 or 3 times each day. Other forms of technology allow farmers to monitor their cows more closely, tracking their activity and eating habits to make sure they are healthy. With this data, farmers can catch illnesses or injuries more quickly and apply the proper care with a veterinarian. This short video follows IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden to a robotic dairy farm!
How many years do a cows provide milk? How old is a milk cow? How long does it take for a calf to become an adult?
- A heifer is a cow that has not had a calf. She will have her first calf when she is about 2 years old and enter into the milking herd. Cows give milk for 8-10 months of the year. They “go on vacation” for about 2 months before they have a calf, where they are not milked and use the extra energy to prepare for the calf. Depending on the breed and health of the cow, she will give milk for 5-9 years on the farm.
How many breeds of dairy cattle are there? What do you call male and female cows?
- A male is a bull and a female is a heifer until she has her first calf. After that, she is called a cow. There are 7 main breeds of cows milked in the US: this short video will introduce you to them all!
How much does a calf weigh at birth? How big can an adult cow get?
- Depending on the breed, a calf can weigh 60-90 pounds at birth. Smaller breeds like Jersey or Guernsey cows will have smaller calves, while the black and white Holsteins can have calves as large as 100 pounds! This trend continues through their lifetime, with the smaller breeds growing to
800 – 1000pounds. Larger breeds can get as big as 1800 pounds, so it’s important for farmers to keep their cows healthy and safe throughout their lives.
How many times a day do you milk your cows? How much milk comes from one cow a day? Does it hurt when they’re milked?
- The act of milking a cow is natural and comfortable for her because it replicates the same motion of calves suckling. It is also a very quick process so the cow can spend the rest of the day as she chooses. Cows are typically milked 2 to 3 times each day. On farms with robotic milking units, cows choose how many times they milk each day. In either case, it takes about 7-10 minutes total to milk a cow. Milk is measured in pounds, and there are about 8.6 pounds of milk in a gallon that you would find in a grocery store. Depending on the breed, a cow will give 60-90 pounds or 8-10 gallons of milk each day. Smaller breeds like Jersey or Guernsey cows give less milk, while the black and white Holsteins average higher amounts. This short video shows the milking process on the farm.
Where do the cows sleep? How do you protect your cows from extreme weather and extreme temperatures? Do they only eat grass from the pasture?
- Access to pasture is determined by geography, land availability, and weather conditions. Many of today’s dairy farms use “free-stall housing,” a type of climate-controlled barn, where cows move about as they choose. Barns are equipped with fans, misters, soft bedding like sand, mattresses, and waterbeds to keep cows comfortable. On other dairy farms, cows graze on pasture at different times of the year. Farmers still provide food, water and shelter while they are outside.
How to you know if the cows are happy? Do cows have feelings? What are some items that are added to the animal’s habitat to keep them healthy?
- Cows love to scratch, so some farms have automatic backscratchers that activate when a cow walks underneath it, giving the cow a massage. Some farms also place tetherballs in the calf barn so they can play together as they grow. Barns also have curtains that open and close depending on the weather to keep the cows cool in the summer and warm in the winter. You can tell the cows are happy when they are lying down chewing their cud and the barn is quiet. Mooing usually means a cow is upset – oftentimes, it’s because another cow is in her favorite spot!
How does milk get from the farm to the store?
- This graphic shows the steps farmers take to keep their cows healthy and the milk safe as it travels from the farm to the store in 48 hours or less. Milk is collected from the cow and cooled quickly to stay fresh. It is stored and tested several times to ensure safety and quality before it goes to the processing plant, where it can be turned into gallons of milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream and more!
Is raw milk safe to drink?
- The term “raw milk” might sound natural and good, but raw milk is not safe. According to the Food and Drug Administration, raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks to those who drink it. Why? Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process that kills any harmful bacteria that may be found in raw milk. This simple process is extremely effective at killing bacteria while maintaining milk’s nutritional value. Pasteurization is just one step dairy farmers take to ensure the dairy foods you love are safe.
How is milk pasteurized? Do pasteurization and homogenization impact dairy nutrition?
- Pasteurization is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and is a simple, proven, and effective process that kills potentially harmful bacteria without affecting the taste or nutritional value of milk. During pasteurization, the temperature of milk is raised to 161° Fahrenheit or higher for 16 seconds and then rapidly cooled. Pasteurization extends milk’s shelf life and destroys harmful bacteria. Ultra-high temperature pasteurization, where milk is heated to 280° Fahrenheit for more than two seconds, is used to the extend the shelf life of some dairy foods. All milk is pasteurized for safety and homogenized for quality, but neither process has an impact on overall nutrition. Pasteurization kills harmful bacteria (potentially found in raw milk), and homogenization keeps the cream from separating from the milk, creating a more consistent product. This quick video shows how milk is processed safely into different dairy foods!
What are some things that kids can do now to learn more about dairy farming?
- We’re so glad you asked! Check out our Resources page for fun farm and dairy food activities with your class. Visit our YouTube channel to see more videos on farm life, dairy foods, recipes and more. Sign up for a Virtual Farm Tour and visit a dairy farm in real time – new dates will be added soon!