A Day on the Farm
There’s much more to life on a dairy farm than milking cows. Farmers need to have a whole range of skills in order to run profitable and sustainable farm businesses. In fact, according to the National Centre for Dairy Education (NCDE), dairy farmers need over 170 different skills(1) to run a successful farm business.
There’s never really a typical day on the farm, but each day is based around the milking times for cows and the time of year.
Dairy cows are generally milked at the same time every morning and afternoon because they prefer routine.
Seasonal events like calving, which typically takes place in the spring, and crop planting and harvesting, are busy periods that dictate a lot of the other activities farm staff need to fit into each day.
Once milking is finished, a farmer may also be busy with:
- sowing and fertilising pastures and forage crops
- making hay and silage
- working with animals, including calving and managing sick animals
- working with machinery
- irrigation and water management
- milk quality assurance
- planting trees for shelter and shade and to protect waterways
- occupational health and safety
- business and financial management
- human resources, such as managing staff
- going into town to buy supplies
- attending agricultural shows and cattle sales.
Dairy cows are usually milked twice a day in specially designed, electronically controlled milking sheds. Milking stalls in these sheds can be set out in a ‘herringbone’ pattern or on a continuously rotating platform called a rotary that allows the cows to easily and efficiently move through the dairy with minimal handling.
In most dairy sheds, cows are fed hay, grain or special mixed feed rations while they’re being milked, which improves their health and ensures they receive the nutrients needed to produce high-quality milk. It also encourages them to come in to be milked.
It’s important that the cows are kept happy and relaxed to help them produce milk. Sometimes the farmer even plays soothing background music to help the cows relax!
Cows will wait at the gate to the milking shed so that they’re first in line to be milked. Once the farmer opens the gate, the cows make their own way into the shed and line up next to each other. The person milking stands behind the cows and moves from one cow to the next.
A suction cup on the end of a flexible milking line is fitted onto each of the cow’s four teats. The main milking machine uses a pump to create a vacuum, with a special controller that converts this into a series of ‘vacuum surges’ in each milking line. This cleverly sucks milk out of the teats in pulses, in much the same way as a calf does. The milk is drawn through the milking lines into stainless steel pipes that lead to a refrigerated storage vat, which cools the milk to four degrees Celsius. The milk is stored here until it’s collected by a milk tanker within 24 hours of milking.
To find out what happens to the milk when it leaves the farm, visit our Milk pages.
1. National Centre for Dairy Education, ‘Dairy Farm Skills Framework’