116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Sure, Iowa is typically known for its corn and its pigs, but we have no shortage of dairy cows.
In fact, there are about 218,000 dairy cows in Iowa, according to Christen Burgett, an associate teaching professor in Iowa State University’s Department of Animal Science and a coach on ISU’s Dairy Judging Team.
Burgett shared more of her expert understanding of dairy cows with The Kids Gazette.
Question: How many types of dairy cows are there?
Answer: There are seven recognized dairy breeds: Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Black and White Holstein, Jersey, Milking Shorthorns, and Red and White Holstein. And yes, we can find them all in Iowa.
Q: What are the main differences between all these cows?
A: Holsteins are typically your largest, weighing 1,600 pounds. Jerseys, the smallest, weigh around 1,100. Some of these cows are pretty big, but they are pretty docile and friendly, curious critters.
Q: How many gallons of milk can one cow produce in a given time?
A: That depends on the stage of lactation and breed, but typically on average, a dairy cow will produce seven gallons of milk a day, which is equal to 112 cups of milk per day.
Q: How long does it take to milk a cow today versus what it used to take when done by hand?
A: Typically, when cows are milked by machines, it takes 4 to 6 minutes. By hand, it can take 15 to 20 minutes or more. On average, cows can be milked 2 to 3 times a day.
Q: Why do cows chew all of the time?
A: When cows eat out in the pasture, they take big bites and swallow, and then they regurgitate it up — and that’s when they chew on their cud and eat it a second time to get smaller pieces. They create a lot of saliva that second time to help buffer their food stuff so it’s not so acidic going back down.
Q: How much do cows actually eat?
A: They eat about 3 to 5 hours a day and chew their cud 7 to 10 hours a day. Cows can eat 75 to 100 pounds of feed a day. It all depends on how much milk they’re producing, but they all eat quite a bit.
Q: Is it true that when cows lie down together, it means rain is coming?
A: They all huddle together and find a tree to hide under. They do sense that rain or bad weather is coming. So they do herd together and go seek shelter.
But actually, we do like to see cows lying down in general because cows actually have what we refer to as the “dairy cow time budget,” in how we hope they spend their day. We like cows to lie down and rest 12 to 14 hours a day.
Q: How does a gallon of milk get from a cow to a store?
A: Milking equipment pumps milk from the cow to a refrigerated storage tank, then we cool that milk down quickly and preserve its freshness.
The milk stays in a big storage tank for a day and then it’s driven from a dairy farm to a local dairy processing plant in an insulated tanker truck, which is basically a big thermos on wheels. That truck gets to the plant and the milk is processed. The plant will either put it in bottles or cartons for regular milk, or they can process it into cheese, ice cream, yogurt, etc.
Typically, from the time it leaves the cow to when it arrives at the grocery store, the process takes around 48 hours overall.
Q: How many dairy farms are in Iowa?
A: We have around 965 dairy farms in Iowa, and when you divide that by the number of cows in the state, the average is 226 cows to one farm.
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