Farm FAQs

Your source for real, evidence-based information about dairy farming.

General Farm Questions

How many dairy farms are in New England?

There are about 1,000 dairy farming families in New England (MA, CT, RI, VT, NH & ME). 

We love dairy so much in New England that our neighbors in Eastern New York share milk from their farms with us. Some milk produced on New York dairy farms also travels into the New England region to feed and nourish our population. There are over 3,000 dairy farms in New York.

What is the difference between "Organic" and "Conventional" dairy farms?

The term organic simply refers to on-farm practices. All milk produced in the US must adhere to the same strict federal standards for quality, purity and sanitation. Both are equally nutritious. There is no scientific evidence concluding that organic dairy products are safer or healthier than regular dairy products. 

Across our region and the country, dairies embrace best practices that are right for them – they make different choices based on what’s right for their families and where they’re located, just like you do in making your own decisions. Dairy farmers may embrace some or all of the below practices to different degrees; they simply may not be 100 percent organic or choose to undergo the organic certification process.

If a farm decides to produce certified-organic milk, they must go through the process and then maintain specific standards set in place by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Those using the “USDA organic” seal must meet the following criteria:

  • Cows spend at least 120 days per year on green pasture. They usually eat supplemental feed as well, to make sure they get enough protein.
  • In the winter, cows on organic dairy farms eat the same type of feed as cows on other farms, except the ingredients must be certified organic and grown without the use of pesticides, commercial fertilizers, or genetically modified seeds.
  • Organic farmers are still able to use pesticides – but they are approved for organic use.
  • Cows are not treated with supplemental hormones (rbST).
  • Cows have not been given antibiotics to treat illness. If a cow at an organic dairy farm does have to be treated with antibiotics, the farmer can no longer use her milk, even after she is no longer taking antibiotics. There are never antibiotics in your milk once it’s at the store whether it’s organic or conventional. Learn more here and on on the Nutrition FAQ section under the question: What is in my milk?

No matter if a farmer decides to become certified organic or not, each dairy farm family carefully considers the right option for their farm, their family, and their animals.

So whether you choose organic or conventional milk, you can feel good knowing it is safe, wholesome, and nutritious.

General Cow Questions

How much milk does a cow give each day?

Most dairy cows are milked two to three times per day. On average, a cow will produce six to seven gallons of milk each day.

What do cows eat?

A cow that is producing milk eats about 100 pounds each day of feed, which is a combination of hay, grain, silage and proteins (such as soybean meal), plus vitamins and minerals. Farmers work with professional animal nutritionists to develop scientifically formulated, balanced and nutritious diets for their cows. Cows also need fresh, clean water.

Learn more about what cows eat.

Is it true that cows have four stomachs?

Cows technically only have one stomach, but it has four distinct compartments made up of Rumen, Reticulum, Omasum and Abomasum.

It is very different than a human stomach. That’s why people often say that cows have four stomachs.

The first three stomachs process food in a way that our stomachs cannot. This unique digestive system makes cows the ultimate recyclers. They have the ability to convert plants that humans cannot eat into nutritious foods like milk.

Learn more about what cows eat and how they contribute to a sustainable cycle.

What do you call male and female dairy animals?

Males are called bulls. Females, prior to giving birth, are called calves or heifers. After they give birth, female dairy animals are called cows.

How does a cow produce milk?

Cows begin producing milk once they give birth to a calf. Most dairy cows have their first calf around 2 years of age. They are milked for about 9 or 10 months after they give birth and are then given a resting period for 2 to 3 months, until they give birth to their next calf. This break, also known as a “dry period,” is necessary to maintain the health of the cow and her udder. Similar to humans, cows are pregnant for nine months before they give birth.

Cow Care

How do dairy farmers care for their cows?

Healthy and happy cows make high quality, nutritious milk.

Dairy farmers use new technologies to keep their ladies comfy. Did you know that cows have back scratchers set up for them in the barn? At many farms, cows can create their own milking schedule thanks to robotic milking machines. This has shown to increase their happiness and milk production. Check out how farm technology is improving the lives of dairy cows.

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Are cows cared for better on smaller farms?

No. The size of a farm does not affect the well-being of cows.

Dairy farms – whether large or small – make animal care a top priority. Farmers care for their cows by providing a nutritious diet, good medical care and healthy living conditions because they depend on the animals for their own livelihood. It’s typical for farmers to spend the majority of their operating costs on the care of their cows.

Research shows that cows need to be calm, happy, comfortable and well fed to make high quality milk. Cow comfort includes soft bedding like water beds, misting cows in the summer to keep them cool, new options for feeding so that cows are well-fed, and reducing noise to keep cows calm including playing music in barns.

Farm to You

Is dairy local?

Dairy milk remains a consistently local food, even as food supply chains have become longer and more complicated.

The majority of milk in the New England region is sourced from family farms in New England or Eastern New York, and many of these dairy farm families live within 100 miles of you. While some of our dairy farms may still bottle and sell their own milk directly, the majority belong to a co-op and have their milk picked up daily or every other day and it’s sent to a nearby processor. There, it is pooled with milk from other dairy farms in the region, processed, and packaged for the supermarket, for schools or turned into other dairy products we love like cheese, butter, ice cream and yogurt.

How can I tell if the gallon of milk I purchased at the supermarket was produced in New England or my state?

  • Each container of milk is identified by a 5-digit code. The code includes a 2-digit state code followed by a 3-digit processing plant code. Visit and enter your code. The same goes for your yogurt, chocolate milk, coffee creamer, cottage cheese, ice cream and more.

In New England and New York, the dairy industry has laid the groundwork for today’s growing local food movement. Generations of dairy farmers have supported local agriculture businesses and organizations like farm equipment dealers, banks, land trusts, and veterinary practices. It is these businesses and organizations that provide the foundation of support for the farm stands and CSAs that provide fresh and delicious fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat, and dairy products to a growing number of communities.

How does the dairy industry impact our local economy?

New England and New York dairy farms are the nucleus of the region’s agriculture economy managing over 50 percent of cropland. Dairy farms steward thousands of acres of woodlands, wetlands, and pasture.

Learn more about the economic impact dairy has in your state:

Environment & Sustainability

Do dairy farmers really care about the environment?

Yes. Dairy farmers live and work on their farms, so it’s important for them to protect the land, water and air for their families, their communities and future generations.

All dairy farms must meet the standards for manure storage, handling and recycling set forth by their state and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Caring for the environment is a responsibility dairy farmers share with their local community. Good environmental practices are essential to a dairy farm’s success, and leave a positive legacy for future generations.

It takes about  2 days (48 hours) for milk to travel from the farm to the grocery store. Dairy farm families are committed to producing wholesome, nutritious milk and dairy foods.

How does cow manure impact the environment?

A dairy cow can produce more than 100 pounds of manure a day. However, farmers recognize that manure is a valuable resource to be recycled instead of wasted.

Manure contains important nutrients for growing plants, such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Applying manure to farm fields reduces or eliminates the need to add these nutrients via chemical fertilizers. Anaerobic digester systems allow farmers to go a step further and recycle manure into biofuel or clean, renewable electricity. In America, the dairy industry is responsible for only about 2 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. U.S. milk production has the lowest carbon footprint per gallon compared to all other countries.

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If a cow produces more milk, does that affect greenhouse gas emissions?

Increases in milk production per cow allow farmers to be more efficient with the resources of land, water, fossil fuels and fertilizers thereby promoting environmental stewardship.

In recent decades, improvements in animal breeding, animal health programs, cow comfort, and farm management practices have allowed dairy cows today to make more milk from the same quantity of resources (or the same amount of milk with fewer resources). This reduces the demand for non-renewable or energy-intensive inputs (e.g. land, water, fossil fuels and fertilizers) and promotes environmental stewardship. It’s estimated that the carbon footprint of milk has been reduced by 63% since 1944, according to Cornell research.

Additionally, dairy is not easily replaced in the diet as a source of essential nutrients. Recent research by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that removing animals from U.S. agriculture would result in a 2.6% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, but would also create a food supply incapable of supporting the U.S. population’s nutritional requirements.

How are dairy farmers protecting our soil and water?

Healthy soil is essential for nutritious food and clean water.

Farmers are adopting soil-building practices, such as covering their fields with plants all year long, and many use apps on their smart phones to precisely track the amount of nitrogen that is applied to their fields in manure or fertilizer. That way, they only use exactly what the plants can use, ensuring these nutrients stay in the ground.

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