About Dairy Cows

These sections contain lots of interesting facts about dairy cows:

What is a Typical Australian Dairy Herd?

Breeds of Dairy Cows

How are Cows Cared For?

What do Cows Eat?

What is a Typical Australian Dairy Herd?

Dairy cattle are specially bred to produce large amounts of milk. A dairy herd is made up of four different groups of cattle. The four groups of cattle are:

  • Cows - the females, who give birth to calves and produce milk. Most of the cattle in a dairy herd are cows.
  • Bulls - the fathers of the dairy herd. Only a few are needed on a dairy farm.
  • Heifers - young female cattle, who are the 'teenagers' of the herd and have not yet had a calf. They are the second biggest group in the herd.
  • Calves - baby cattle. Female calves grow into heifers and then milking cows. Male calves become bulls and are often sold.

Breeds of Dairy Cows

There are many breeds of cows in Australia but the main dairy cattle breeds are Holstein Friesian, Jersey and Aussie Red, all of which have different shapes and colours.

Holstein

Origin 

Holstein cows originally came from the Netherlands, but many breeding animals now come from North America.

Looks like 

These cows are mainly black and white.

Interesting facts  

  • Holstein cows are the most popular in the world.
  • Of Australia’s 1.7 million dairy cows there are 1.4 million Holstein cows.
  • Holsteins can be found in every Australian state, Victoria has the most.
  • Holstein cows produce large quantities of milk; some cows produce 10,000 litres in a year; that’s equal to 5000 x 2 litre milk cartons every year or 14 x 2 litre cartons every day.
  • Holsteins are one of the biggest dairy animals; cows can stand over 150cm tall and weigh over 600kgs while bulls stand over 180cms tall and weigh over 1000kg (about the same as a small car). 

     

Jersey

Origin 

Jersey Cows originally came from the island of Jersey (in the English Channel between England and France). They were bought to Australia in 1829.

Looks like 

These cows are fairly small, and fawn in colour, with black tips on their muzzles, ears, feet and tail.

Interesting facts 

  • A Jersey cow’s milk is ideal for making butter because it is so creamy
  • Jerseys are the smallest of all dairy cows and can weigh up to 500kg.
  • Jersey’s are the second most common breed in Australia. 
     

Aussie Red

Origin 

These cattle were bred in Australia by combining Scandinavian Red genetic lines with other Australian Red breeds such as the Illawarra and Ayrshire.

Looks like 

These cows are medium-sized and mainly red in colour, with white markings.

Interesting fact 

Aussie Reds are an extremely hardy breed. Their milk has a high protein content and medium milk fat content.

 

Illawarra

Origin 

The Illawarra breed was developed in New South Wales, Australia and was recognised as a new cow breed in 1910.

Looks like 

They are a rich red colour with a little white on the flanks

Interesting facts 

  • These are Australia's own breed
  • This breed was developed by cross breeding a number of breeds in the Illawarra region of New South Wales and recognised as a new cow breed in 1910
  • Illawarra cows are producers of large quantities of milk. Many cows produce in excess of 40 litres per day


Brown Swiss

Origin

Brown Swiss originate from Switzerland

Looks like 

They are solid brown varying from very light to dark.

Interesting fact

The Brown Swiss cattle population is one of the largest throughout the world

Guernsey

Origin 

Guernsey cows were originally developed in the Isle of Guernsey, a tiny island in the English Channel off the coast of France.

Looks like

Their color is a shade of fawn with white markings

Interesting facts

  • Their milk is a distinctive golden color.
  • On average each cow produces 22 litres of milk per day
  • By 3 years of age Guernsey cows weigh 600 kg

Ayrshire

Origin

This breed originally came from the County of Ayr in Scotland

Looks like

Their color varies from light to deep cherry red, mahogany, brown, or a combination of these colors with white. Some are all white.

Interesting fact

Imported to Australia in the 1850’s



 

How are Cows Cared For?

Dairy farmers follow strict food safety requirements to ensure that the cows stay healthy and produce high-quality milk for dairy factories to turn into nutritious dairy products for us to eat and drink.

Each dairy cow is identified with a unique ear tag that helps the farmer to monitor her regularly. Dairy farmers keep records of all feed provided and any health problems of (or medical treatments given to) each cow.

Farmers see each cow every day and are very good at identifying sick cows. Sick cows are kept separately from the rest of the herd, close to the milking sheds so they don't have to walk around too much, and only rejoin the herd when they are well again. These cows are still milked but the milk is kept separate and thrown away.

Dairy farmers must keep their milking equipment and milking sheds very clean so cows can be milked in a clean environment. They also try to keep the milking shed a calm and enjoyable place for the cows to come in to - sometimes they even play soft music to relax the cows!

These are just some of the many things that dairy farmers do to help keep their cows healthy, happy and producing wholesome milk.

Cows need to drink a large volume of fresh water every day because milk is mostly composed of water. Cows can drink about 100 litres of water in a day. That's a bathtub full of water!

Farmers make sure the water is fresh and that there is always plenty to go around.

Caring for cows on a regular basis includes:

  • checking they are okay twice a day during milking and after giving birth to a calf
  • giving medicine to prevent worms
  • vaccinating against diseases.

Milking and handling cows in a calm, stress-free environment is good for cows, people and milk production.

Routine practices that reduce stress include:

  • allowing cows to walk slowly in any order when coming in to the milking shed
  • providing an environment that respects normal cow behaviour
  • preventing injury to animals by fixing things around the farm (such as laneways, fences, troughs and the milking shed) and keeping them safe.

What do Cows Eat?

Cows need a balanced diet which gives them enough energy to keep their bodies working and to produce milk. Cows enjoy a diet which consists of five main types of food, so they have five food groups just like you!

The main food for dairy cows is pasture, which is a mixture of grass and legumes growing in the farm paddocks. Legumes provide protein, and clover is the main legume found in pasture.

When cows are producing milk they sometimes cannot get enough energy from eating pasture alone. Farmers usually give the cows some high-energy grain when they come into the milking shed as encouragement to be milked.

Cows eat about 40 kg of nutritious food a day (40 kg of food equals 206 baked potatoes or 1,440 slices of bread!).

What a cow eats affects how much milk she gives, so farmers need to ensure that their cows have a nutritious diet.

Dairy cows have five main types of food in their diet. These are:

Pasture - the name for the plants growing in the paddocks in which cows graze. Pasture plants can be grasses such as rye-grass, or legumes such as clover. The largest part of an Australian dairy cow's diet is fresh pasture.

 

Hay - extra pasture that has been dried, cut and made into bales to give to the cows later.

Silage - pasture that has been cut and stored while it is still green to retain the nutrients.

Grains - cereals such as wheat and barley provide more energy than pasture and help cows make more milk. Grains can be crushed and mixed with vitamins and minerals to form pellets. These are usually given to cows at milking time.

Forage crops - special crops are sometimes grown for the cows to graze on during summer. These plants include lucerne, maize (corn), millet, turnips and oats. Cows love to eat the green leafy plants and also dig up the turnips from under the ground and eat these too.

On a typical farm, every time after a cow is milked she is sent to a fresh paddock of pasture so she can enjoy freshly grown grass. Cows are milked twice a day so they are always being moved to different sections of the farm. Moving cows to different sections of the farm allows grass to re-grow and ensures that cows are always eating the best grass.

Hand-feeding Calves

After only 12 to 24 hours, calves are weaned off their mothers but are still given milk to drink. The first milk they are given comes straight from their mother and is called colostrum. This is a special type of milk packed with nutrients and antibodies to help the calf develop and to build up its immune system against diseases and unhealthy bacteria.

The colostrum is milked into a bucket which is then transferred to a bottle with a very large teat on the end and fed to the calf. Some calves are fed milk from a special feeder called a calfateria which also has rubber teats but can feed several calves at the same time.

To get calves used to drinking out of the bottle, it is sometimes necessary to let them suck milk from your fingers first. This feels really funny because calves have such rough tongues. Putting your fingers into a calf's mouth is like putting your hand into a suction hose filled with slimy sand!

The calves soon learn to eat grass and often get to eat the best pasture on the farm to help them grow strong.

Purchased Feed

When farmers cannot produce enough feed for their cattle on their farms, they have to buy (purchase) feed. This is the largest expense for farmers. Some farmers may need to purchase even more feed as climate change and droughts make it more difficult to grow their own.