This spring, my Facebook newsfeed has been flooded with videos and photos of dairy farmers letting their cattle out to pasture for the first time this season. They are fun and beautiful videos to watch; the cows frolicking onto green grass with blue skies in the background. They are happy cows, no doubt.
Now here is the deal, my cows don’t go on pasture. In fact, there are many dairy farms that don’t have cows on pasture. Does this mean the cows aren’t happy or that the farmers are “bad”?
Friends, there is more than one way to raise cattle and there is no right way or wrong way.
Some farmers have 70 cows and some farmers have 1,500 cows.
Some farmers milk their cows twice per day and some farmers milk their cows three times per day.
Some farmers use a parlor to milk cows and some farmers use robots.
Some farmers are conventional and some farmers are organic.
Some farmers breed for big, show-type cows and some farmers breed for small cows.
The list of differences from farm to farm could go on and on! As long as the cows are properly fed, cared for and have a comfortable place to relax, then they are happy and the farmer is doing his/her job.
We milk 550 cows three times per day in a double eight parallel milking parlor. This means we can milk 16 cows and one time.
Our cows spend most of their time in what we call a free-stall barn. It is a large barn that has a sand-bedded stall for each cow, plenty of access to feed and water and room to mosey around and visit with friends.
The barn also has fans and a sprinkler system to keep the cows cool when it get hot. Cows do NOT like to be hot. A perfect day for a cow? A breezy, fifty-five degree day.
So, why don’t we pasture our cows? Well, it just doesn’t work well with our facility, location or management style.
Not only do we not have enough land to properly pasture all of our animals, but it would be tricky to traffic control 550 cows from pen to pasture and pasture to milking parlor. And not just because cows are color blind and cannot follow stop lights. (Laugh, that was a joke)
By housing our cattle in a free-stall barn 24-7, we are able to properly care for our cows. I can monitor them and provide them with good nutrition. The cows are always nearby and we can easily access them when it is hoof-trimming day or herd health day. We can keep them cool and comfortable and provide them with routine (Cows LOVE routine. Seriously. Don’t ever screw up a cow’s routine, she will be mad). It also keeps things simple for those of us caring and working with the cattle.
It is a management style that works best for our family, but might not be what is best for my neighbor and his cows. And that is okay. Every farm is different and makes different choices. Though there may be many differences from farm to farm, we all have one thing in common.
We are trying our very best to care for our cows and produce safe, nutritious dairy products.