Dairy cows— female cattle raised to produce milk—are leaner than their beef cattle cousins. This is because they put their energy into making milk instead of building fat and muscle. Holsteins are the most popular milking cows in Canada and are easily recognizable by their black and white spotted hides. Other dairy breeds in Canada are Jersey, Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Milking Shorthorn, and Canadienne. Canadian dairy cows can be raised on pasture, and in three styles of barn:
Free-stall barns are open-concept where cows move around freely, and go to a central area to be milked, two or three times a day. To keep cows comfortable, many farmers have large fans and back scratching stations, and robots that travel the alleys pushing feed closer for the cows to eat.
Tie-stall barns have an individual stall for each cow, with bedding, and cows are milked in their stalls. The farmer brings feed to the cows in their stalls.
Pack barns don’t have designated stalls but large open areas filled with sand for a soft and comfortable place to lay down when the cow chooses. Similar to freestall systems, cows move freely inside the barn, and go to a central milking area to be milked.
The central milking area is either a parlour system where cows go to be milked by the farmer two to three times a day at scheduled times or a robotic milking system where the cow is milked by robotics on-demand whenever she wants. It also
records how many times a day each cow has been milked, how much milk she has produced and how much feed she has eaten. This lets farmers track the productivity and overall health of each animal. In all barns, milk flows through pipes into a large milk tank, called a bulk tank, where it is cooled and stored until the milk truck arrives —every two days on most Canadian farms—to take it to a dairy processing plant. Some dairy farmers will let their cows out onto pastures in spring, summer and fall. When it rains or is too hot, though, cows generally prefer the comfort of a cool, well-ventilated barn.
Did you know...
The average dairy cow produces 10,909 litres of milk every year!
How many are there?
There are a lot of cattle in Canada – 12.3 million beef cattle and 1.4 million dairy cattle as of summer 2022.
Calves are housed separately from the herd in small white structures outside of the barn called “hutches” or in single pens in a calf barn. They are moved into this housing during the first few weeks of life, to keep them safe and healthy while their immune systems are developing. This separation is to protect them against bacteria and germs, and to make sure they get a strong, healthy start until they are big enough to move from the hutches into group housing with other calves. Once old enough, the females will have calves of their own and become part of the farm’s milking herd.