From calf to cow

Cows' health needs change as they grow, and it's a dairy farmer's job (often in partnership with a veterinarian) to make sure they're well taken care of.

Dairy farmer holds a stethoscope to pregnant cow

Preparing for birth

Cows are usually bred at 15 months of age, and after a nine-month pregnancy, they will have their first calf at around two years old. Cows are usually milked for about 10 months and then dried off (milking stops) for two months as they prepare for the birth of their next calf. A cow's gestation period (time from conception to birth) is typically about 285 days, 10 days longer than a human’s.

Caring for the calf

Like any young animal, the calf will require special attention. Newborns are particularly susceptible to disease, so they're isolated and fed colostrum – the first of their mother's milk which is rich in antibodies – for their first three days.

Young girl giving calf water from a jug

What they eat and drink

Calves are fed milk, or a replacement (like baby formula for calves), until they're ready for solid food, which is gradually introduced into their diet. A full-grown dairy cow will eat about 29 kg of specially formulated feed and drink between 80 and 180 litres of water per day.

Farmer petting a cow’s head

Caring for the sick

Ontario dairy farmers are required to have a relationship with a licensed veterinarian to help them keep their herd healthy. If a cow is treated with antibiotics, her milk is discarded for a regulated period of time to ensure the medicine has completely cleared her system.

Dairy farming myths, debunked

Here are some common misconceptions about dairy farming.

Cows in milk production line

Are cows over-milked or overworked?

Actually, cows are milked two to three times per day, and for farms with robotic milking, each cow can decide when they want to be milked. They also have the freedom of choosing how many times a day they’re milked (some cows prefer three times a day, some less and some more).

Two young girls give water to a calf

Are cows given “growth hormones” to produce better milk?

No extra hormones are given to dairy cows. They have a natural hormone called BST that helps them produce milk. Plus, rbST, the artificial growth hormone, is strictly prohibited on Canadian dairy farms.

Jugs of milk in production line

Is there antibiotics in milk?

While there may be times when a veterinarian prescribes antibiotics to help a sick cow get well again, that cow’s milk is discarded for a mandatory period so that they have a chance to fully clear her system. All milk leaving the farm is then tested to verify that there is no trace of antibiotics or other contaminants.

A day in the life

A large barn at sunset

Wonder what it’s like to be a dairy farmer?

Explore the farm life

how dairy farmers maintain quality standards

Sustainability

We’re always working to reduce our waste to help protect the environment and keep farmland viable for future generations.

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Our farmers

Meet the local families who are dedicated to excellence in the production of Ontario dairy milk.

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Regulatory procedures

Dairy farmers work with government organizations and industry partners to help maintain Ontario’s high milk standards.

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