Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Dairy FAQ: What are holidays like on a dairy farm?

What are holidays like on a dairy farm?

Holidays are busy for just about everyone and a little stressful at times. Between holiday parties, shopping for gifts, cooking and trying to balance everything else in life, it's no wonder it's a little hectic.

On a dairy farm, things are even busier.

Everything that you think of as holiday activities happen on top of the already-busy farm schedule. I've mentioned before that we have a calendar in our manger where cows come to eat hay. We record when calves are born on it. The cows, however, pay absolutely no attention to calendars. Or holidays. Or birthdays. Or anniversary trips. Or any other special occasion. They need to be milked everyday. Twice a day and on some farms, three times a day.

People sometimes ask me why dairy farmers hire other people to work on their farms. Dairies are busy places and sometimes there's more work than there are family members to help, so, like any other family business, they bring in additional help to get the job done. This doesn't make the farm any less of a family farm. It just means they are providing additional jobs for others in their community and further stimulating the local economy. This helps everyone. Farmer or not.

Back to the busy dairy schedules. In addition to twice daily milkings, cows need to be fed (and so do those cute baby calves), pens need to be cleaned, and of course, cows need to be checked. On a dairy farm, there's so much interaction with the cows that if one is sick, she is generally discovered pretty quickly. If it's something that requires medical attention, the vet is called to come take a look at her. Sometimes this is in the middle of the night. Again, cows pay no attention to calendars or clocks.

Thanksgiving is Thursday and on many dairy farms, the schedule may look something like this:

  • Walk pens to observe cows/check for heats (to see if they are ready for breeding)
  • Prepare feed for the cows. This may mean mixing a total mixed ration of numerous feed ingredients and then delivering it to the cows. It can also mean feeding individual ingredients. Every farm is different. 
  • Get the parlor and milk house ready for milking
  • Milk cows
  • While the cows are in the parlor, this is a good time to clean their pens and fluff their beds (sand or another type of bedding). Since usually there's more than one person working on the dairy at a time, this is a job for someone other than the person in the milking parlor. 
  • Clean up the milking parlor (cows can be very messy!)
  • Prepare bottles of milk for the baby calves
  • Feed bottles to the baby moos
  • Feed grain and water and clean pens
  • Fill water troughs
  • Push up feed so it's closer to the cows
  • Check cows again.
  • Possibly a short break
  • Thanksgiving dinner may have to be early or later to work around milking. Many people will have an early dinner and then head back out to the barn.
  • Back to the barn!
  • Make sure the cows still have enough feed. Push up feed again (Feed is often pushed up several times a day. It doesn't do any good if the cows can't reach it)
  • Get the parlor and milk house ready for milking
  • Milk cows
  • Clean up the milking parlor 
  • Prepare bottles of milk for the baby calves
  • Feed bottles to the baby moos
  • Check cows again
  • Push up feed again
If there are cows calving, they need attention too. Occasionally, a calf will be backwards, breached or just need assistance. This can't wait until after Thanksgiving dinner. It must happen now.

There are a lot of other tasks on a dairy, this just gives you a taste of how much is involved. This assumes that nothing goes wrong and nothing breaks. That's a good day. It seems like something always breaks or something always gets off schedule.

Christmas is much the same way. Presents don't get opened until chores are done. If you grow up like this, you don't know any other way. Cows always come first.

As you are preparing your Thanksgiving dinners this Thursday, don't forget to use lots of milk, butter and cheese and know that dairy farmers appreciate you supporting their family businesses by using dairy products. They don't get the day off completely, but there's always time for family.

Have a great holiday weekend with your families!


  1. Dear Kimmi, thank you for your excellent article on "What are holidays like on a dairy farm?". By the way, the photography were really awesome. Keep the great writing skill up. Thanks again for giving me a good resource. Waiting for your reply!

  2. I love that you give so many people a peek into a world they ususally never get exposed to! Thanks for sharing with us at Country Fair Blog Party!

    1. Thanks for having me! It's always a great time seeing what everyone posts each month. Happy (early) New Year!

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