Community A - L: Dairy Cows
Montcalm County, Michigan is home to almost 140 dairy farms. Dairy herds range in size from as small as 10 cows to as many as 1800 cows. This large variation in size is a function of an extraordinarily diverse group of dairy producers throughout the county.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service estimated that Montcalm County dairy farms produced 205 million pounds of milk in 1999, up from 145 million in 1998. Montcalm County ranks 6th in the state in total milk produced.

Breeds
Feed & Nutrition
Housing
Milking
Marketing

Breeds

Click here to view full size picture The vast majority of dairy cows in Montcalm County are Holsteins. Most Holsteins are readily identified by their black and white spots, although some have a red and white color pattern. A healthy Holstein calf weighs 90 pounds at birth. A mature Holstein (3 years of age) weighs 1500 pounds. Holsteins are the most popular breed of dairy cattle in the United States, comprising about 90% of the cow’s milk produced in the US. This is primarily because Holsteins excel at producing large quantities of milk.

The Jersey is the second most common breed in Montcalm County. Jerseys very greatly in color, but they are characterized by a shade of fawn with or without white markings. Their muzzle is black encircled by a light colored ring, and the tongue and switch may be either white or black. Jerseys are the smallest of dairy breeds, with a mature size of about 1000 pounds. Jerseys are noted for having the highest milkfat of any breed.

In addition to Holstein and Jersey, Montcalm County is home to a limited number of Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire, and Milking Shorthorn dairy cows.

The Brown Swiss breed originated in Switzerland and is the oldest of the pure dairy breeds. Brown Swiss are known for their long life and outstanding feet and legs. They are colored solid brown with a black nose, tongue and tail.

The Guernsey is a shade of fawn, either solid or with white markings, with golden yellow pigmentation. The breed is moderate in size with mature cows weighing 1,150 pounds. The Guernsey is noted for the superior flavor of its golden-colored milk – naturally high in all milk solids.

Ayrshires are deep cherry red, mahogany, brown or a combination of any of these colors with white or white alone. A mature Ayrshire weighs at least 1,200 pounds. Ayrshires are characterized by strongly attached, evenly balanced, well shaped udders.

Milking Shorthorns are either red, red and white, or roan. Milking Shorthorns are known for their excellent reproductive efficiency and long life.

Related Links:
The American Jersey Cattle Association
Holstein Association USA, Inc.
Brown Swiss Association
The American Guernsey Association
Michigan State University Dairy Team

Feed & Nutrition

Click here to view full size pictureThe vast majority of dairy cows in Montcalm County are Holsteins. Most Holsteins are readily identified by their black and white spots, although some have a red and white color pattern. A healthy Holstein calf weighs 90 pounds at birth. A mature Holstein (3 years of age) weighs 1500 pounds. Holsteins are the most popular breed of dairy cattle in the United States, comprising about 90% of the cow’s milk produced in the US. This is primarily because Holsteins excel at producing large quantities of milk.

The Jersey is the second most common breed in Montcalm County. Jerseys very greatly in color, but they are characterized by a shade of fawn with or without white markings. Their muzzle is black encircled by a light colored ring, and the tongue and switch may be either white or black. Jerseys are the smallest of dairy breeds, with a mature size of about 1000 pounds. Jerseys are noted for having the highest milkfat of any breed.

In addition to Holstein and Jersey, Montcalm County is home to a limited number of Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire, and Milking Shorthorn dairy cows.

The Brown Swiss breed originated in Switzerland and is the oldest of the pure dairy breeds. Brown Swiss are known for their long life and outstanding feet and legs. They are colored solid brown with a black nose, tongue and tail.

The Guernsey is a shade of fawn, either solid or with white markings, with golden yellow pigmentation. The breed is moderate in size with mature cows weighing 1,150 pounds. The Guernsey is noted for the superior flavor of its golden-colored milk – naturally high in all milk solids.

Ayrshires are deep cherry red, mahogany, brown or a combination of any of these colors with white or white alone. A mature Ayrshire weighs at least 1,200 pounds. Ayrshires are characterized by strongly attached, evenly balanced, well shaped udders.

Milking Shorthorns are either red, red and white, or roan. Milking Shorthorns are known for their excellent reproductive efficiency and long life.

Housing

Click here to view full size pictureDairy housing facilities range widely by farm and age of the animal. Calves are typically housed individually to prevent respiratory and other diseases from spreading from one animal to another. Calves need a dry, draft-free environment. Hutches or individual pens in a larger building are the most common housing arrangements for calves.

As calves age, they are grouped by size. A common way to house heifers is in open fronted buildings designed to minimize labor requirements during feeding and manure removal.

Most dairy cows in Montcalm County are housed in either stanchion barns or freestall barns. Some are given access to an open corral or pasture. Stanchion barns, sometimes called stall barns, are the more traditional type of dairy cow housing. Because each cow has her own stall, stanchion barns allow for more individual attention for cows. However, the disadvantages of stanchion barns include having to stoop down during milking and increased labor for distributing feed to each individual cow.

Most new housing facilities built today are freestall barns. Freestalls are simple in design, allowing each individual cow to select her own stall to lie in. The cow makes her own decision when she wants to exit the stall and move to the feed bunk or water trough. Many different bases for freestalls are used throughout the county including sawdust, sand, or mattresses made of rubber. Another major advantage of freestalls is the ability to feed all cows along a fence line by a feed wagon or truck. In addition, freestalls allow for ease of grouping cows by production or other management considerations like stage in reproductive life.

Milking

Click here to view full size pictureWhile each individual farm may have its own standard operating procedure for milking cows, there are some key steps that nearly every farm follows. Once the cow enters the milking parlor or stanchion barn where she will be milked, the cow’s udder is cleaned. This may be done by wiping the udder with a clean, dry cloth and coating the cow’s four teats with a cleaning solution containing iodine or some other sanitizer. This process does two things: removes dirt and bacteria to ensure a clean milk supply and stimulates the cow to “let down” or release her milk. After 15 to 20 seconds of contact time to kill bacteria and stimulate milk let down, the teats are then wiped clean with a towel or cloth and the milking unit is applied. The milking unit creates a controlled vacuum that opens the teat end and allows milk to flow out. The vacuum does not hurt the cow, operating similarly to the action of a suckling calf or a baby sucking his thumb. Many milking units are automated so they release automatically from the cow’s teats when milk flow slows. It takes approximately five minutes to milk a cow. Once the milking unit is removed, teats are dipped with a safe, proven teat dip containing an effective germicide. During this process, milk is never exposed to air. It travels through the milking unit through sanitized pipelines to a refrigerated storage tank where it is quickly cooled to 45°F or lower.

Related Links:
Michigan Milk Producers Association
Worlds Best Milk Quality Web Site
Dairy Farmers of America

Marketing

Most Montcalm family farms are members of milk marketing cooperatives. These cooperatives are owned and controlled by the member patrons. Often a single farm does not produce enough milk to ship an entire truckload to a milk processing facility. The cooperatives market the farmers’ milk as a group, shipping truckloads of milk to various processing facilities across the state. Milk is either bottled for the fluid market or manufactured into one of many scrumptious dairy products like ice cream, yogurt, butter or cheese.

The northern part of Montcalm County is home to a large Amish community. Many Amish make all or part of their living from the dairy business. Milk from many of the Amish farms is shipped to the Farm Country Cheese House, located south of Lakeview. Visitors have an opportunity to watch cheese making and select from a wide variety of cheeses for purchase when visiting the Farm Country Cheese House.

Related Links:
Dean Foods