Dairy Cattle

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Kentucky's Dairy Industry

In 2017, Kentucky’s 57,000 milk cows produced 122 million gallons of milk.  Kentucky dairy farmers made $195.6 million from the sale of dairy products including milk.  Kentucky was home to about 57,000 milk cows on 630 dairy farms, with the average herd size being 92 milking cows.

Kentucky’s dairy cows, on average, produced 6.9 gallons of milk each day.  This meant each Kentucky dairy cow was producing enough milk to make 2.8 pounds of butter of 5.9 pounds of cheese!  The average value of a day's milk was $9.75 per cow during 2016. 

Kentucky milk is also processed locally; Kentucky has 6 commercial milk processing plants, 3 commercial cheese processing plants, a specialty ice-cream plant, 1 on-farm milk bottling plant, and 6 on-farm cheese makers.  

The top dairy cattle counties in the state:

  1. Logan

  2. Barren

  3. Adair

  4. Christian

  5. Warren

Data provided by Kentucky Dairy Development Council.

Source: National Agriculture Statistics Service and Economic Research Commission


Delicious Dairy from Farm to Fridge

Cash Cow

The dairy industry is important to Kentucky. We have about 850 dairy farms and 80,000 cows in the bluegrass state. Together, they produce 130 million gallons of milk per year! Dairy cows are a special type of cattle that produce more milk than the cattle raised for beef only. There are six kinds of dairy cows in the U.S: Guernsey, Jersey, Brown Swiss, Holstein, Ayrshire and Milking Shorthorn. They are all shapes, sizes, and colors, but each breed is prized for its ability to produce wonderful milk.

Mooving to the Milk Parlor

Did you know that a cow must have a calf before she will produce milk? At about two to three years of age, a heifer will have its first calf. After that, she can become a milking cow. Most dairy cows will have a calf every year. She milks for about 10 months, then takes a two month break before she has her next calf.

A cow must be healthy and well-fed to make milk. A cow will eat grass, hay, corn, silage, soybeans, and drink lots of water. In fact, a cow producing milk will eat about 100 pounds of food in one day. Animal nutritionists have a special role ensuring cows get all the vitamins and nutrients they need to be happy and healthy.

Once a cow begins to produce milk, she must be milked at least twice a day, every day - even on holidays! First, she walks from her house to the milking parlor. Workers clean the cow’s udders and check to make sure she is free from illness. Then, staff attach her udders to the milking machine, which gently massages the teat to release the milk. It’s important that humans never touch the milk, so dairies use automated milkers. The milk then moves to a storage tank to cool.

From the Farm to You

An insulated milk truck comes every 1-2 days to take the milk for processing and bottling - this helps to make sure the milk you get is very fresh. The truck delivers milk to the dairy plant where it is tested and pasteurized to make sure it does not contain anything that might make us sick. Most milk is also homogenized so the cream in the milk does not separate. After the milk is bottled or placed in cartons, it is shipped to stores, schools, and restaurants.

Dairy’s Plentiful Benefits

Milk is a nutrient powerhouse. It contains calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus which play an important role in keeping bones and teeth strong.  Riboflavin helps turn food into energy and plays a vital role in the development of the central nervous system. Vitamin B12 helps build red blood cells and maintain central nervous system health. And potassium helps keep fluids in your body balanced and help keep blood pressure normal. Milk also contains Vitamin A, which is important for good vision, clear skin, and a healthy immune system, and niacin, which helps the body turn nutrients into energy. Last but not least, milk contains protein and carbohydrates which work hand in hand to build and repair muscle and provide energy.

Cheese, yogurt, ice cream and cottage cheese also come from cow’s milk. Dairy farmers take great care to make sure their cows are happy, healthy and well-fed so that we can enjoy fresh and delicious milk.


In my dairy life, it was built around the love of the cows. If you take care of the cow, she will take care of you!
Denise Jones gives us a tour of her family's dairy farm - Coleman Crest Dairy - in Loretto, Ky. and tells us how they care for their cattle and collect their milk for us to enjoy. Then we go to Bowling Green to visit Chaney's Dairy Barn, where the Chaney family uses their cow's milk to make ice cream.

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