Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Evolution of Dairy Farming

Today is National Ag Day. I’m dedicating my weekly blog to the improvements dairy farmers have made over the years. In preparing this post, I spoke with dairy experts; my father, Tony Souza, and my father-in-law, Duane Hastings. These seasoned dairy farmers have experienced many changes from the way their parents operated to today. These men farmed in different parts of the country, one in California and one in Ohio, with different size dairy farms, but share many common experiences.

My Dad, Tony, in the milking parlor in Califonria
My father-in-law, Duane, helping pack corn silage at our farm
How has dairy farming improved over the last 50+ years?
Nutrition: “Cows today consume a balanced diet tailored to their needs,” explained my Dad. Most
cows are fed a total mixed ration (TMR) which is all the feed ingredients mixed together like a
casserole. “The TMR is the biggest thing that has helped dairy cows,” shared Duane. In years past, there were not as many feed choices available and each ingredient was fed separately; the grain in the milking parlor and corn silage and hay in the barn. There are a variety of feedstuffs available to cattle today. Many of these are byproducts with limited alternative uses such as cottonseed, almond hulls and distillers grain. Cows today receive specialized diets for optimal health, well being and productivity.

Cow Comfort: Duane advised, “Technology has played a big part in improved animal care. I’m
always amazed at how happy the cows are in your freestall barns due to good ventilation, fans, water misters, and sand bedding. Our barns didn’t have good air flow or fans and the cows were hot in the summer. The housing today is so much better and more comfortable for the cows.”

Health & Productivity: “Cow’s health has improved over the years due to good vaccination programs to prevent sickness. Today there are fewer sick cows therefore less need for antibiotics”, my Dad shared. He went on to say, “the milking machines today are more cow friendly providing a comfortable milking experience for the cows.”

Genetics: Cattle breeds have been enhanced through the use of genetics for improvements such as better feet and legs and increased milk production.

Milk Quality: “There have been many improvements over the years to enhance milk quality. Today everything is sealed so milk is never exposed to open air. Instant milk cooling, stainless steel pipes and refrigerated tanks have improved milk quality. Our cows used to be milked into a sealed bucket then the milk was poured into cans where it was stored and shipped,” Dad described. Milk cans were used until about 1960. “The food supply in this country is the best in the world. It’s much better than it used to be”, shared Duane.

Productivity: “In the 1950’s, really good milk production was 4 ½ gallons/cow/day. Today, many
cows produce 9 gallons or more each day”, Duane said. Today, there are fewer cows needed to
produce the same amount of milk. A smaller number of cows use less resources (feed, water, land)
which is better for the environment.

How has dairy farming stayed the same over the last 50+ years?
It Requires Dedication: Dairy farming is a huge commitment. “The cows dictate your lifestyle”,
Duane shared. The lives of dairy families revolve around their cows. “It’s a business that operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and it’s hard work,” Dad advised.

Cow comfort is Job #1: “Cow care is the top priority, that has not changed,” Dad explained. As
research and technology change we learn more about how to improve what we do on our farms.
Each generation does their best with the information, experience and technology available to them.

Family Farms: Today, 98% of dairy farms in the country are owned and operated by families.

What are the issues dairy farmers face today that you didn’t experience 50+ years ago?
Regulations: There are more rules, restrictions and guidelines administered by federal and state
government. Duane shared, “For example, manure application is monitored much more closely.”
Dad explained, “In California, dairy farmers must complete a lengthy annual report outlining their
farms impact on air and water quality”. Farmers understand they must be responsible stewards of the land. Farm families work and live where they farm so doing the right thing is in their best interest. Our parents taught us to be good neighbors and contribute to our community.

Government Policy: State and federal policy has a larger impact on farms today. Tony shared,
“For example, the federal ethanol mandate has made it much more expensive to feed livestock.”
Government policies can have unintended consequences. It’s not the role of the government to pick one commodity or industry to support while harming another.

Public Perception & Media: “Today, food producers have to answer to many groups. As a dairy
producer, you know what is best for your animals. The improved practices lead to better care and a better product”, said Duane. “People look to chefs, reporters and authors for information instead
of seeking answers from the farmers who produce the food”, Dad shared. Today, farmers are doing
more to reach out to consumers and having conversations about food and farming practices with the goal of enhancing consumer confidence in animal care and food production.

We as dairy producers are always looking for ways to incorporate improvements and utilize the best technology available on our farms. Our goal is optimal cow care and producing great quality milk. Much has changed in the last 50+ years, but these basic goals remain consistent from generation to generation.


  1. I'm a 16 year old from Wisconsin and I live on a farm and I relate to your whole blog. I intend on going into the Ag industry after high school. I want to give tours on our farm and all that jazz. Thanks for sharing all your information/adventures on here! :)

    1. Thanks for the comment Emily. I'm glad you are planning a career in agriculture. We need good young people in production agriculture. It's neat you want to host farm tours. I believe interacting with our consumers is an important part of producing food. Good luck!

  2. Wonderful reading. In Kenya I am an upcoming dairy farmer and currently our system is 50 years behind! Milk coolers are the preserve of processors who collect milk from many small scale farmers for packaging and reselling. While many small scale farmers keep an average of three dairy cows each producing 15 to 18 liters a day, mostly hand milked, interaction like this gives an opportunity to learn and know where we should head to. Thanks so much;
    Mayamba Ywaya.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Mayamba. It's interesting to hear about how things are done in other parts of the world. Good luck with your herd!

  3. Hi my name is Nixon and I am an 11 year old i have been researching and looking at websites that can suite my topic and this one so far is probably the most best research i have ever seen thankyou for sharing that with the world


Thank you for reading my blog and taking the time to comment! I’m opening the doors of our farm to share with you and enjoy engaging in discussion. Please be respectful in your comments. I reserve the right to remove posts that include name calling, slander, and vulgar language or contain links to websites that assault animal agriculture.

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