Why are dairy cattle kept in barns?
Dairy cows produce milk for about 10 months of the year. When milking, most dairy cows live indoors in the winter, although young cows and cows that aren’t milking (dry cows) may be housed outdoors. Many dairy farmers often let their cows go to pasture to feed during mild weather.
When it’s rainy or too warm outdoors, dairy cows prefer the comfort of a well-ventilated barn. In addition, barns protect dairy cows from diseases and predators such as coyotes and wolves. Both indoor and outdoor facilities are designed with cow comfort and proper nutrition in mind.
Cows produce milk after they give birth and newborn calves receive colostrum from the cows because it is a good source of nutrients and antibodies that protect the calf from illness. After this, a typical calf diet contains milk, fresh or from powder, until they are old enough to eat solid food. This is usually around 8-10 weeks of age.
On some farms, calves live in small white structures outside the barn called “hutches” in the first few weeks of life, while their immune systems aren’t yet fully developed. This separation is to protect them against bacteria and germs, and to make sure they get a strong, healthy start.
Once calves are big enough, they move from the hutches into group housing with other calves. At around two years of age, the females will have calves of their own and become part of the farm’s milking herd.
There are two other common barn styles used to house Canadian dairy cows:
- Free-stall barns are open-concept where cows move around freely, and go to a central milking area, called a parlour, two or three times a day at a set time to be milked by farmers. To keep cows comfortable, many farmers have large fans and backscratching stations, and robots that travel the alleys pushing feed closer for the cows to eat.
- Tie-stall barns have an individual stall for each cow, with bedding, and cows are milked in their stalls. The farmer brings feed to the cows in their stalls.
In Canada, most farms use one of three main kinds of milking systems
- Milking parlour Cows are milked by machine in a central milking parlour.
- Voluntary milking system cows go to a milking station where they are automatically milked whenever they want. Some cows will choose to be milked up to 6 times a day!
- Tie stall Farmers milk cows by machine in an individual stall with bedding for each cow.