There are over 9 million dairy cows in the United States. In 2017, Texas produced 5.5% of the U.S. milk and there are about 500,000 dairy cows in the state of Texas. In 2017, the U.S. produced over 215 billion pounds of milk with cows averaging 72 lbs/day and Texas produced 12 billion pounds of that with cows averaging 65 lbs/day. Currently, Texas is ranked 5th in the nation for milk production. In 2012, dairy cattle and milk products accounted for 9% of the U.S. agricultural sales and totaled $35.5 billion!
The majority of the dairy operations in Texas are located in the Panhandle (70%) with the remaining in Central and East Texas. Eight of the top ten counties for dairy production are located in the Panhandle. The top ten counties are:
6. Deaf Smith
A dairy operation is comprised of calves, heifers, lactating cows, and dry cows.
- Calves are young cattle in the first year of life.
- Heifers are young female cattle that have not had a calf.
- Lactating cows are cows that have given birth to at least one calf in their lifetime and are producing milk.
- Dry cows are cows that are no longer milking and are preparing to give birth and become a lactating cow again.
After birth, calves are placed into single hutches, with one other calf which is known as pair housing, or in group pens with more than two calves. Hutches are little houses, similar to dog houses, that have a rear opening opposite from the door that allows for ventilation and protection against the weather. Calves remain in these hutches for about 6 to 8 weeks until they are weaned, no longer consume milk and consuming more grains and forages such as hay. After, they are moved into group housing where the females will become lactating cows.
As calves age, the females become heifers which are essentially teenagers. This group will be bred to become pregnant, and upon calving will become lactating cows.
Lactating cows are females that have recently calved and will lactate for approximately 10 months during the year. Approximately 3 to 4 months after calving, lactating cows will be bred again and become pregnant. The length of a cow’s gestation (the period of time that she is pregnant) is 9 months which is the same length of gestation in women.
When a lactating cow begins to lactate and produce milk she requires more nutrients. On dairy farms, there is a nutritionist who is essentially like a cow chef that designs a total mixed ration. A total mixed ration is like a salad with all the toppings. It is a mixture of different feeds such as corn and hay that will provide the cow with the nutrients she requires.
The housing for lactating cows can vary from farm to farm. They can be housed a variety of ways, three of which are free stalls, dry lots, or cross/tunnel ventilated barns.
- A free stall barn is covered on the top and open on the sides and has a small opening on the roof (open ridge) to allow for air flow. This type of barn has individual stalls where cows can lay down.
- A dry lot is an open area with no individual stalls. There are covers within these pens that provide cows with shade and protection to lie under, however, they are much more exposed to the elements compared with a free stall barn.
- A cross-ventilated or tunnel-ventilated barn provides much more cover to cows, and have free stalls for cows to lay down. A cross-ventilated barn has 3 sides that are closed and the top is covered and only one side exposed to the outdoors. There are large fans opposite to the open side of the barn which pulls air through the barn to cool the cows and is ideal in areas that are hot and humid. For a tunnel-ventilated barn, it is very similar to the cross-ventilated barn, only all sides are enclosed and fans are on each side of the barn which are drawing air in and blowing it out.
About 60 days before calving, cows are moved from the milking group to a separate pen and stop lactating. These are known as dry cows. When lactating cows become dry cows, they do not lactate for 2 months which allows for them to prepare for another calving and lactation.
There are six breeds of dairy cows:
- Brown Swiss
- Milking Shorthorn
The two most prevalent breeds in the U.S. are Holstein and Jersey. Holsteins produce the most amount of milk and are the most prevalent breed. Jerseys are well known for having high butterfat which is an excellent component for making ice cream and cheese.
Cows are milked two to three times a day and enjoy it! Cows enter a parlor, which is a building where they are milked. From start to finish it only takes about 5 minutes to milk a cow with a machine in the parlor.
When cows arrive in the parlor, they walk into individual stalls and the milkers begin cleaning and preparing the cow to be milked. First, the teats are dipped with a cleaning product and then each teat is stripped or milked once to check for any abnormalities. If that milk is found to have any abnormalities, it will not go to human consumption. The udder is then wiped and milking units are attached. After milking, the teats are dipped with another solution to keep them clean as they walk out of the parlor.
There are four types of parlors:
The tandem parlor is where cows line up head to tail in the parlor and are milked from the side.
The parallel parlor is where cows stand parallel to each other in a row and their udder faces the milker so the milking units are attached from the rear.
In a rotary parlor, cows rotate around, and milking units are attached from the rear of the cow. This is like a carousel at the fair, and cows enjoy being able to look at each other while they are being milked.
In the herringbone parlor is similar to the ribs of a fish, cows stand sideways next to each other and the milking unit is attached from the side.
Storage and Transport
At the dairy farm, milk is stored in a bulk tank that is cooled and stored for 24 to 48 hours on the farm depending on the size of the dairy. Bulk milk haulers pick up milk from dairy farms, and these individuals are very skilled at understanding milk quality and evaluate milk for appearance, smell, and record the temperature. If milk haulers find the milk to be unacceptable, they can refuse to take it. At the time of pickup, milk haulers also take a sample from each individual farm, and this sample is submitted for laboratory analysis. In addition, when the milk truck arrives at the processing plant, another sample will be taken from every milk truck and analyzed before it is unloaded.
The laboratory analysis of individual farms will provide the contents of fat, protein, and other components to determine the quality of the milk. If a farm has high components, dairy farmers may receive a bonus. The sample taken from individual farms as well as the sample taken from the milk trucks will be analyzed for antibiotic residues, medications, and bacteria. Any milk truck that tests positive for antibiotics, medications, or bacteria in any milk that we consume.
In fact, if a milk truck has to be dumped, the individual farm with the contaminated milk will not only lose the money they would receive from selling their milk, but they also have to monetarily compensate any other dairy farmer that had milk in that milk truck. The price a farmer would have to pay depends on the amount of milk other farms contributed and the current milk price. Let’s say that milk is $15 a hundredweight, and the entire tank has to be dumped which holds 42,500 to 52,900 pounds. This would result in a $6,375 to $7,935 loss.
If the milk from the milk truck passes all of the standards and regulations, it is pumped off of the truck into the processing facility. Milk is processed and pasteurized by heating milk to 161°F for 15 seconds. Pasteurization is a very important process as it destroys any microorganisms and creates a safe product for consumption. After pasteurization, milk is packaged and shipped to markets. It is amazing, but it only takes 2 days for milk to go from the cow on the farm to the consumer in the market!
- The difference between raw milk and conventional milk is that raw milk is not pasteurized. There are no differences in the nutrient content of raw milk compared to conventional milk, however, the consumption of raw milk can carry bacteria that could make you sick because it was not pasteurized.
- Male dairy calves are often sold to feedlot systems where they are raised until they reach 900 to 1,400 pounds and then sent to packing operations. Additionally, after a lactating cow has finished her productive life, she will also be sent to the meat market.
- While we (humans) only have one stomach, cows have 4 digestive compartments that allow them to digest feed that we are not able to digest. For instance, they can digest grass, cottonseed hulls, and cereal by-products. In this sense, cows upgrade food waste or feed not digestible by humans into highly nutritious protein, vitamins, and minerals.
By-Products of Milk
By-products of milk include inedible and edible products.
- An inedible product of the dairy industry is manure is processed into compost which can be used as a fertilizer for crops or as bedding for dairy cattle.
- Edible by-products include: Cheese, cottage cheese, cream cheese, ice cream, yogurt, butter, powdered milk, cream, and lactose.
Each person consumes almost 40 pounds of cheese per year, 20 pounds of ice cream a year, and drinks almost 140 pounds of fluid milk per year.
People who are lactose intolerant do not have the enzyme lactose which helps to break down lactose. However, there are supplements that can be taken to break down the lactose, or there are even products that are lactose-free.
Health and Nutrition
A by-product of milk when producing cheese is whey.
- Whey is a. complete protein meaning that it contains all of the essential amino acids that your body needs.
- Often whey is used in protein shakes, energy bars, and yogurt.
- It can also be added to baked goods and soups to increase nutritional value.
- Whey can also be utilized as a feed source for livestock.
Milk provides 9 essential nutrients that are beneficial to health including calcium, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, protein, vitamins, riboflavin, and niacin.
A serving of milk contains:
- 25% of your calcium daily requirement
- 15% of Vitamin D requirement
- 16% of your daily value of protein
- 20% of your daily requirement for phosphorus
- 15% of your Vitamin A daily requirement
- 35% or riboflavin daily value
- 20% of the daily requirement for pantothenic acid
- 50% of the requirement for Vitamin B12
- 10% of your niacin daily value
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Top 10 milk producing U.S. states in 2015 and 2017. Retrieved fromhttps://www.statista.com/statistics/194968/top-10-us-states-by-milk-production/Dairy Business (2018).
Top Ten Milk Producing States in May 2018. Retrieved fromhttps://www.dairybusiness.com/top-ten-milk-producing-states-in-may-2018/DairyMAX (2018).
Dairy from farm to fridge. Retrieved fromhttps://www.dairymax.org/sites/default/files/Brochure-Farm%20to%20Fridge.pdf
National Dairy Council (2018). The Importance of Milk’s 9 Essential Nutrients. Retrieved fromhttps://dairygood.org/content/2018/the-importance-of-milks-9-essential-nutrients
Texas Department of Agriculture (2018). Texas Ag Stats. Retrieved fromhttp://www.texasagriculture.gov/About/TexasAgStats.aspx
United States Department of Agriculture (2018). USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service TexasField Office. Retrieved fromhttps://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Texas/index.php