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A day in the life of a freestall dairy farmer

 by Patricia Grotenhuis, Lifelong farmer and agricultural advocate

In an earlier post, I highlighted what a day in the life of a tie stall dairy farmer looks like. Today, I thought I’d cover the other type of dairy farming – a free stall farm. 

Here's a milking parlour awaiting cows for one of two daily milkings on one Canadian dairy farm

On any dairy farm, days are laid out based on the milking schedule.  Cows cannot miss a milking, so someone always has to be present. Dairy farmers milk their cows two or three times per day.  The farmer makes the decision about how often the cows are milked, and a big factor to consider is how many employees work at the farm.  For farms that milk three times each day, extra workers are required.

At my parent’s farm, cows are milked twice per day.  George and Agnes wake up at 5 a.m. to go to the barn and begin milking by 5:30.  They have a free-stall barn, which means the cattle live in a large open space between milkings, and at milking time walk to a central milking parlour to be milked.  An example of both a free-stall and a tie-stall dairy operation can be found on the Virtual Farm Tours website at www.virtualfarmtours.ca

As Mom begins milking the cows, Dad can be found cleaning the free-stall barn with the tractor, giving the cows a cleaner surface to walk on.  My two siblings also help when needed although they’re also busy with chores at their own farms.

Chores on the farm include milking and feeding the cows, but they also include feeding the heifers and calves, giving the animals clean bedding, and keeping the barn and milking equipment clean.  As one person milks the cows, another can be found making feed for the cows, and running it out for them on a conveyor belt system.  As large amounts of certain feed ingredients, such as haylage and silage, flow into the mixer, the farmer is feeding the calves and heifers in the main barn.

Once feeding and milking are finished, there is still plenty of work to do.  The calves and heifers need clean bedding, hay needs to be fed, fresh water needs to be given to the youngest calves (larger animals have water dishes which give them a continuous supply of water), milk needs to be fed to the young calves, and the barn has to be cleaned.  The milking parlour is washed after each milking to ensure equipment is clean and disinfected.  The manure in the area where cattle wait to be milked is scraped away, and gates are moved to give the cattle as much space as possible to walk. 

In the rest of the main barn, pails for feeding the calves milk are washed, floors are swept and the milk house, where the large bulk tank for storing milk between pickups is kept, is cleaned.  All of this normally takes until approximately 10.  Then it’s finally time for breakfast.

Once a quick breakfast is eaten, the family is back to work.  During spring, summer and fall, there’s a lot of work to be done in the fields.  During the winter there is snow to clear and water pipes to thaw.  There is also always a lot of paperwork to complete and any number of things that need fixed!

Before night chores start at 5, my parents may take a short break for another meal, and if they are lucky, a short rest.  Then, it is back to the barn for chores, which are similar to morning chores.  Night chores do generally go a little bit faster, and that is because some of the jobs around the barn are only done once per day. 

At 8:30pm on average, the day’s chores are finally done although when there is field work to do, it can continue well into the night.


Posted by FFC on February 16th, 2011 :: Filed under Animal care,Dairy cattle,Family vs factory farming,Farm life,Sustainability of the family farm
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2 Responses to “A day in the life of a freestall dairy farmer”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ontario Farm Animal , Ontario Farm Animal . Ontario Farm Animal said: New post: A day in the life of a freestall dairy farmer http://www.letstalkfarmanimals.ca/?p=543 [...]

  2. Aaron
    August 14th, 2011

    My daughter want to experience a day-in-the-farm experience. Would you know if there are any place in Central Ontario that allows visitors to perform some duties as a farmer? thanks

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