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Technological advances have changed dairy farming from the old-fashioned, messy and labor-intensive system of hand milking into a bucket while sitting on a stool. Today's types of dairy farms are spotlessly clean, efficient and often highly computerized businesses. Many dairy farms in the U.S. also produce cheese and butter. Some encourage school or clubs to tour their facilities.
Extensively Grazed Dairy Farms
Extensively grazed, or ‘New Zealand’ style, dairy farming suits locations with warmer climates, because cattle spend most of their time outside even during winter months. Requirements to make this system work include a moderate amount of rain and soil temperatures warm enough to encourage grass to grow for as many months as possible. Careful management of pastures ensures a bountiful supply of fresh food for the cattle. When the cold weather finally sets in, farmers use stored or purchased fodder to make up for the loss of grass.
Pasture-Based Dairy Farms
Pasture or grass-based dairy farms are similar to the old-fashioned systems of raising cattle in fields during warmer summer months and housing them in covered sheds during the colder winter months. Depending on the location's climate, cattle may be in shelters for half of the year or more. These sheds also provide protective cover for cattle during periods of unusually hot weather to avoid heat-stressing the herd. According to the Center for Environmental Farming Systems, this system's benefits include significant cost reductions when compared to more technological-based types of dairy farming. Pasture-based dairy farming also decreases the need to store large amounts of manure by recycling it as fertilizer for grass production.
Housed Dairy Farms
Cattle that spend most of the year in a controlled inside environment are raised at dairy farms using the housing system. Housed systems keep cattle in modern sheds, also referred to as “year round" or “continuous” housing systems. Access to pastures varies in this method; up to three months a year is usual. To ensure maximum comfort for the herd, stalls are designed with room for movement, bedding and feeding areas. Some sheds also have grooming areas, socializing areas and “cow showers” featuring water sprinklers. Feed consists of freshly cut grass or silage mixed with commercial supplements to round out their diet.
Experimental Dairy Farms
Experimental farms research improvements in dairy farming. Many, like the North Carolina Center for Environmental Farming Systems, are open to the public for guided tours. They use a variety and combination of farming methods to find the safest and most economical way to provide dairy foods for market. Important research into new cow diseases, breeding or drought-tolerant grasses are undertaken in consultation with local, national and international universities. Some also provide training for farmers in new techniques and technology. Others maintain field staff to visit farms and promote dairy farming locally and nationally.