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From calf to cow

Cows’ 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.

Preparing for birth

Most dairy farms don't keep bulls anymore, and dairy cows are bred using artificial insemination. If this is to be her first calf, the cow will stop milking for a two-month dry period before insemination. A cow's gestation period (time from conception to birth) is typically about 276 days, 10 days longer than humans.

A young cow who hasn't given birth yet is called a heifer. Heifers are usually bred at about 15 months of age and can't produce milk until they've given birth to a calf. They'll produce milk for about 10 months afterward.

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.

Weaning and feeding

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.

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.

Cows get a lot of information by smell. They release pheromones that indicate when they're in heat or when they're distressed. A cow may avoid going into an area where other cows have been under stress.

Dairy cow facts

How much do you know about cows? Here are a few little-known facts about cow health and habits.

Cows are super tasters

Cows have two to three times more taste buds than the average human, so they literally have excellent taste – and can be quite fussy about their food.

Light sleepers

A dairy cow typically spends 11 hours a day resting or lying, but they only need about four hours of sleep per day.

Long tails by law

The practice of docking cows' tails, once thought to improve hygiene, has been banned on Canadian dairy farms since 2017.

Read more about how dairy farmers maintain quality standards

Environmental sustainability

Protecting the environment can help reduce waste and costs while keeping farmland viable for future generations.

Learn about sustainability

Farming technology

Advances in technology have helped make cows more comfortable, healthy and productive.

Learn about farm technology

Regulatory procedures

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

Explore regulatory procedures