A day in the life of a tie-stall dairy farmer

by Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

 In Canada, there are two main types of dairy farms – called tie stall or free stall farms. In a tie-stall barn, the cows live in stalls next to each other where they have constant access to water and are fed in a manger in front of them. They are also milked in their stalls. In a free-stall barn, cows are housed in large group pens or individual stalls. They get milked by walking to a milking parlour or sometimes a milking robot. You can actually tour both types of farms on the virtual farm tour website at www.virtualfarmtours.ca  Click on the “Dairy Cow Farm” button when you get there.

Our third generation family farm is a small, family-run tie-stall dairy operation.  As with any dairy farm, all plans are made around the two milking times.

At 5:30 each morning, my father-in -law, Everett, begins feeding the cows.  Before 6 a.m., he is joined in the barn by his son, my husband Daryl.  Daryl prepares the milking equipment and by 6 a.m., the first cows are being milked.  While Daryl milks the cows, Everett can be found feeding the milking cows, dry cows (cows who are waiting to give birth and who are not producing milk), and calves.  The cows also need to be given fresh bedding, and young calves need to be fed milk.

By approximately 7:30, Daryl is finishing the milking, and begins washing the milking equipment and the milk house.  He assists with the calves and with cleaning the barn.  While Daryl is in the barn, he is continually monitoring the health of the cows and calves.  If he has any concerns, he will make sure the animal in question receives the proper care.  When chores in the main barn are finished, Daryl goes to the heifer barn.  Heifers are young females that have not yet had a calf. He feeds each of the pens of heifers, gives them fresh bedding, and monitors their health and reproductive cycles.

Daryl is normally home for breakfast at 8:30.  During the day, he has a variety of jobs to do, which change based on the day.  During the spring, summer and fall there is work to do in the fields, which Daryl helps with as needed.  All year he spends several hours in the barn during the middle of the day doing paperwork, working with cows and heifers, and cleaning the milking equipment.  As needed, the pens where the calves, heifers and dry cows are housed are cleaned out.

Lunch is normally eaten at approximately 2 p.m.  And if there is nothing to fix and the extra jobs around the farms are done, Daryl has a few hours to spend with his family.  While in the house, he is also checking records online, reading trade magazines and papers, and making any needed calls to the many sales representatives that our farm deals with.

At 5 p.m., it is time to go back to the barn to begin night chores.  At night, Daryl feeds the heifers before milking.  The only other change from morning to night is that Daryl’s youngest brother Tim joins the team - providing the cows with fresh bedding and taking care of the calves.

Supper is at 8:30 p.m., when Daryl comes in for the night.  After supper, it is family time.  If there is a cow or heifer that may soon give birth to a calf, or an animal that he is concerned about, Daryl can sometimes make one or more visits to the barn in the middle of the night to keep a close eye on the animal in question.

It’s a demanding life but one that Daryl has chosen. He tried working in another career after college but he found himself missing the farm too much and so returned home to work alongside his father.


Posted by OFAC on January 19th, 2011 :: Filed under Dairy cattle,Farm life,Sustainability of the family farm
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