Busting milk myths
Debunking two common myths about dairy farming as common misconceptions impact the industry.
May 25, 2017 - Author: Marianne Buza, Marianne Buza, Michigan State University Extension
In today’s world there are many misconceptions about agriculture. This article will clarify a few common misconceptions that impact the dairy industry by debunking myths about dairy farming.
Myth: It is cruel to take the calf away from the mother.
Truth: Dairy farmers regularly take away the calf from its mother within hours of birth. As people, our instincts tell us this is wrong but the truth is, it is beneficial to the cow and calf to separate them.
The dairy calf is born with no immune system. The calf receives all of its immunity for the first few weeks of life through the first milk called colostrum. The calf only has a short window of time where it is able to absorb the immunity passed along in the antibodies in colostrum. The current industry recommendation is one gallon of colostrum within the first six hours of birth. If a calf is left to drink from the cow on its own, it will likely not get the recommended amount. Also the colostrum must be clean. Often right after birth, a cow’s udder is not very clean. Scientific research has shown that if a calf consumes bacteria, it will have reduced ability to absorb antibodies in the colostrum. This means having the calf drink out of an udder will most likely decrease the immunity benefits in the colostrum. Cleaning the cow’s udder and milking the colostrum into a clean storage container allows for better quality of colostrum for the calf. Removing the calf from where it was born also removes it from an area with bacteria and other pathogens. We can then take the calf to a clean area where it can receive individual attention, very similarly to babies being kept in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in a hospital.
Myth: Cows have uncomfortable housing and bedding.
Truth: Dairy farmers go out of their way to make sure the cows on their farm are comfortable. Facilities have carefully designed ventilation for optimal air quality. They also have well thought out bed designs. Farmers provide their cows with multiple types of bedding. A few examples include rubber water beds, mattresses or deep bedded sand. Comfortable cows produce more milk. This fact creates an additional incentive for farmers to go out of their way to make them comfortable. In a research study, it was discovered that for every hour over seven hours of rest, a cow will produce an additional 3.7 pounds of milk. Dairy producers strive to provide their cows with the opportunity to rest for 12-14 hours a day.
Cows also have freedom in many of today’s facilities. They are able to walk around and socialize whenever they like. They can rest, eat and drink whenever they want to. The only thing a cow is asked to do each day is to be milked, and the rest of the day belongs to her. Cows enjoy being milked. It provides relief in the udder just like a woman feels relief after pumping breastmilk. Cows are still able to exhibit all the normal social behaviors in a free stall barn that they would if they were on pasture.