Dairy Farming Meaning & Definition | What Is Dairy Farming?

Tamia Tutson
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    When people think of dairy farming, there's usually one image that comes to mind: milking a cow in order to produce milk. While this is one small part of the process, there is much more to dairy farming than meets the eye. We know that wholesale dairy is any dairy product like milk and cheese sold in bulk to buyers. Yet what’s required to turn these products from animal byproducts to shelf might surprise you. 

    There are many opinions and misconceptions out there about dairy farming. Is it right, is it ethical, or why is it important are just three of many questions surrounding this topic. However, the purpose of this article isn't to debate the rights and wrongs of dairy farming. Instead, our aim is to educate you on what it is, and what some of the best dairy farming companies are. 

    As part of the wholesale directory research process, it's important to know where your produce wholesaler gets their produce. More importantly, what the conditions are like for animals on the farm and the farm itself. Those factors impact the quality of the product you offer your customers. You should always choose a farm that engages in safe practices and checks all your boxes. 

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    The History of Dairy Farming

    Humans have been drinking dairy milk from cows for hundreds of years. Dairy farming got its origin in the 1900s, after the creation of pasteurization (a process that rids milk of bacteria and extends its shelf life). As such, we're now able to ship milk across the country without it spoiling, and keep it in our fridges for longer than two days. 

    When the dairy farming process first began, there was much concern about environmentally safe practices. Namely, dairy farming used lots of land, fuel, and water. Not everyone believed the long-term effects would be good.

    However, today, dairy farming has reduced its environmental impact. From 2010 to 2017, dairy farms used 20% less water, 30% less land, and 24% less fuel (American Dairy Association). 

    Dairy farmers are now just as committed as environmentalists to preserving sustainability. Small changes such as changing how the farm is operated to the physical state of livestock on the farms help. So you can trust that farmers are doing everything in their power to produce milk efficiently. 

    What Is Dairy Farming? 

    Dairy farming is the process of raising mother animals like cows, goats, donkeys, and other livestock to use their milk for humans. The most common dairy wholesale products include milk, cheese, budder, and creams. If you're wondering "are eggs dairy" the answer is no. Dairy farming also produces many common non-edible byproducts. Paint and colored paper are two examples of dairy farming byproducts. 

    Today, the majority of dairy farms are family-owned. To be more precise, about 94% of dairy farms are family-owned (American Dairy Association). This is  significant change from when things began.

    Family-owned dairy farms tend to be more ethical as opposed to corporate dairy farms. So, if you're looking for a quality dairy product that is ethically produced, a local family farm is your best option.

    When it comes to the specifics of dairy farming there are many techniques farmers use. The most common include milking pipelines, milking parlors, and automatic milkers. We'll describe these three methods in detail below. 

    Milking Pipelines

    A milking pipeline uses vacuum pumps, attached to a cow's udders, to move milk from the cow to a milk storage tank. Milking pipelines are the most common milking method. They also include the farmer in the process as dairy farmers have to manually attach a milking device to the cows' udders.

    The milking device uses a combination of suction and gravity to pull the milk from the cows. Each pipe connects to a different port usually stored on the ceilings of the farm. The ports are then emptied and the pasteurization process begins.

    Milking Parlors

    With a milking parlor, farmers bring their cows to a waiting area where they'll await entry to the parlor to get milked. Only a few cows are allowed to be in a milking parlor at once. The farmer then brings an individual cow into the parlor and removes bedding and debris from their udders. From there each individual udder gets disinfected with an iodine solution. 

    Next, the farmer pulls on each udder to stimulate the milking process in the cow. The pulling motion mimics a baby cow suckling, so mom releases milk. All of this takes place before attaching the milking device. 

    Finally, once all the cows finish milking, the farmer starts the cleaning process. By standard practice, milking parlors get cleaned twice a day, or after each milking session. They'll disinfect the floors and equipment, then thoroughly wash the floors too. 

    Automatic Milkers

    Automatic milkers are milking mechanisms made to stimulate the natural feeling of a baby cow suckling its mom. Farmers put the milking mechanism on all the cows' udders.

    From there, the milkers, lined with rubber, squeeze mom's udders. Vacuum pumps begin operating in a rhythm on each udder.  The milk will flow through a sensor that is able to tell when no more milk is coming through. At this point, the milkers will fall off of the cow. 

    What Climate Is Best for Dairy Farming?

    As with fresh produce, in order to keep milk fresh and cows safe, there is an ideal climate cows must be milked in. Ideally, cattle temperature should be around 25 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. If temperatures rise above 80 degrees, cattle begin to feed less. This has a negative impact on how much milk they produce. 

    Temperature isn't the only factor at play when it comes to milk production. Humidity also plays a part in how much milk cattle produce. Low temperatures and humidity are ideal; however, farmers don't always get so lucky.

    There are three temperature ranges that cause concern for farmers:

    • 100 degrees with 50 percent humidity
    • 100 degrees with 80 percent humidity.
    • 200 degrees with 20 percent humidity

    The last of the three is a fatal range for cows. To reduce the effects of heat, the majority of farmers utilize cooling techniques.

    The most common technique is sprinkling, which is a process where farmers sprinkle water on a cow's back. This allows the heat to evaporate off of the cow and regulate its body temperature. Cooler climates are best for raising dairy cattle as overheating is less of an issue. 

    What Are the Best Dairy Farming Companies?

    Whether you're looking to sell online, buy fresh produce, or buy produce wholesale, you'll want to buy from a reputable farmer. As dairy farming is different from farm to farm, reputable is whatever meets your specifications.

    We've taken some time to perform our own research on the best dairy farms out there. Below you'll find a list of a few of those we believe are the best dairy farmers. 

    Arla Dairy Farming

    Arla is a family-owned dairy farm owned by four farmers: Per, David, Vagn, and Alfred. Each person is equally dedicated to maintaining sustainable farming practices. At Arla, they view cows as more than just milk producers.

    To them, happy cows produce better quality milk. Knowingly, their standards include animal welfare, product quality, and food safety. They even have their own dairy quality program called Arlagården. This program provides them with a long-term view of dairy farming and ensures they maintain quality products. 

    Arla's measures go beyond the cows themselves. They are a team that is genuinely committed to the future of farming and sustainable diets. Therefore, they constantly take steps to achieve their goals, including reducing CO2e emissions on their farms and supporting natural ecosystems.

    Arla promises customers that they’ll consistently reduce waste during operations and bring customers dairy through the use of nutritious products and education programs. By 2030, Arla is committed to reducing CO2 emissions by doing the following: 

    • Reducing farm emissions from packaging and logistics by 30% 
    • Reducing their energy usage and production logistics by 63%

    Aurora Organic Dairy

    Animals, people, and the planet are three of the things Aurora Dairy believes are important. Specifically, they believe it is their duty to properly take care of animals, respect people, and improve the health of our planet. Aurora Dairy maintains these values by practicing sustainable animal welfare, investing in their workers, and practicing innovative water, energy, and waste management.

    Aurora Dairy was founded in Jerome, IN, in 1976. In 1980, they began their first phase of farm building. Not long after, Aurora headquarters moved to Colorado, and their Idaho farm began producing organic milk for startup organic dairy brands.

    In 2003, the commitment to 100% organic products was set in stone. From there, the company grew by and large into what it is today. They kept their promise of sustainability and eco-friendliness the entire way through. 

    Since their start, Aurora Dairy has kept and exceeded its standards of practice. From eliminating the need for calf housing and dehorning to reducing cattle lameness (lesions and infections that cause intense pain for cattle), Aurora beats all the others. You can view Aurora Dairy's sustainability performance in full on their website. 

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    Frequently Asked Questions About Dairy Farming

    How Many Dairy Farms Are There In the U.S.?  

    There are more than 40,000 dairy farms in the US today. The majority of dairy farms are located in the Midwest. 

    How Profitable Is Dairy Farming?

    On average, dairy farming is not very profitable. Most small dairy farms are going out of business for multiple reasons. Many reports indicate that it costs more money to produce milk than it costs to sell it. Therefore, many dairy farmers make a profit by selling a wide range of high demand products

    What Are the Best Dairy Farming Companies?

    The best dairy farming companies in 2022 are: 

    • Arla Dairy Farming 
    • The Dairy Alliance
    • Aurora Organic Dairy
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