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Interesting facts about milk and agriculture

There are a lot of information and questions about agricultre. Following you find the themes of our information boards at the different interactive activity stations. We will continously provide further issues about agriculture. In the meantime if you have further questions or ideas, please do not hesitate to e-mail us.

helma@milchpfad-usseln.de.

 

Basics about agriculture

What happens in agriculture?

Agriculture involves cultivating plants and breeding animals for eating or sale. Many other things can be made from these, too. Agriculture is therefore a vital part of our economy. Without it, we would not have enough to eat – not to mention all the other things. In arable farming, you plant something and ensure it thrives, so that you ultimately enjoy a good harvest. There are two reasons for breeding and rearing animals. On the one hand, some animals are sent for slaughter to produce meat products. On the other, many animals provide useful products while they are alive – for example, milk from cows, eggs from chickens and wool from sheep.

What do vehicles do on the farm?

From spring to autumn, there is a whole range of jobs that need to be done around the farm, including in the fields and meadows. Vehicles and machinery play an important part in this. They take care of strenuous work for the farmer and animals – and do it much faster. The most important vehicle is the tractor. Various pieces of equipment can be attached to the front and back. In the spring, the tractor is used for spreading slurry. This makes the grass on my pasture grow well, because the cow pats and urine contain vital nutrients for the plants.

In summer, the farmer makes sure we will have feed in the winter. The mower on the tractor cuts the grass and the hay turner spreads it so it becomes dry hay. To turn it into silage – a storable feed – it is wrapped in air-tight film. These are the giant white bales in the field. Most farmers also harvest grain, corn, potatoes or sugar beet throughout the summer and into the autumn. The giant combine harvester and potato harvester help with this, for example. All the machines are serviced or repaired in the winter.

From grass to milk

Love in the barn

Like all mammals, we cows naturally produce milk to feed our new-born young until they are old enough to consume other types of food themselves. Pregnancy lasts about nine months for cows like me. To ensure we always produce milk, we have one calf a year. This means we are regularly inseminated either naturally by a bull or artificially by the vet.

What's on the menu for a dairy cow?

Per day I eat around 60 kg food and I drink around 120 l water, if I produce approx. 30 l milk.

Former and today

In former days, cows used to produce only about eight litres of milk a day.  This is roughly how much a calf needs to grow. Now, we cows are therefore producing about four times as much milk as we used to. This is thanks to the composition of the feed, but primarily due to breeding.

The four stomachs of a cow

Cows rip the grass up with their tongue and swallow it without chewing very much. It lands in the first stomach, where it soaks in lots of liquid. Bacteria and single-cell organisms act as “little helpers” to break down the food. It is then regurgitated back into the cow’s mouth and chewed thoroughly. The grass keeps going back and forth until it is completely broken down and then it enters the next stomach for further digestion.

Out of the udder and into the tank

We have to be milked every morning and evening. This used to be done by hand, which was a lot of work. Now, the milking machine does all the work. Four cups are attached to our teats and the milk is pumped out of the teats. Long hoses then transfer the milk into a refrigerated tank. From there, it is picked up every two days by a milk tanker and taken to the dairy.

Dairy

When the tanker arrives at the dairy, the milk is examined to check it is okay. The raw milk is then sent for processing. The graphic shows you what happens there.

All the things milk can be turned into

In addition to being used for drinking, milk can be processed into yoghurt, quark, cream, buttermilk or cheese in the cheese dairy. When you get to the end of the Trail, you will see many of these products at the Upländer Bauernmolkerei, or in the supermarket when you get home.

Milk price

How much does milk cost?

There are many factors that go into setting the price of milk, and these are generated all the way from the farmer, via the dairy, to retail.

What are the costs to the farmer?

We dairy cows need a barn, pasture, lots of feed, care and hygiene measures. The farmer therefore has costs relating to feed, fertilizer, energy, insurance, operating material, acreage, buildings, machinery, wages and salaries, and breeding. In return for the milk, the dairy pays the farmer the producer price. This is made up of a basic price for the volume delivered with bonuses or deductions for content and quality characteristics.

What are the costs to the dairy?

The dairy processes the raw milk into various products such as drinking milk, yoghurt, quark or cream. The entire production process is accompanied by laboratory examinations. Overall, the dairy incurs costs for transport, energy, water, cleaning materials, packaging, personnel, production facilities, disposal costs, administration and advertising.

What are the costs to retail?

The dairies deliver their products to large refrigerated warehouses. From there, the deliveries are put together for the individual food shops. After transport, the dairy products continue to be kept in refrigerated storage and are offered for sale. The refrigeration, storage, transport, insurance, buildings, staffing and administration all involve costs.

 

Agriculture in Germany

A few facts & figures

In Germany, there are around 266,000 agricultural businesses that have more than five hectares of farmland. Although their numbers are decreasing, the businesses themselves are getting bigger. According to figures for 2018 from the German Federal Statistical Office, the majority of these businesses are situated in Bavaria (87,000). Accounting for just under 16,000 businesses, Hesse ranks sixth among all German federal states. (As at 2018, German Farmers’ Association (DBV))

How many dairy cows are there in Germany?

Between 2009 and 2019, the number of dairy cows fell by 37 percent. In 2019, there were four million dairy cows. An average dairy farmer looks after 67 cows. However, the numbers differ considerably from one region to the next, with the average being 51 cows per farm in Hesse compared to 250 in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Not all cows are blue ...

... like me, Helma the mascot cow! The most popular breeds are “Holstein Black Pied” and “Holstein Red Pied” cows, which either have black and white or reddish brown and white spots.

Who works in agriculture?

The majority of farm workers are family members, but farms are also steadily bringing in other employees, with many jobs now being carried out by external contractors.

Agriculture as a custodian of the countryside

Why custodian?

We cows – and other plant eaters, too – play an important part in looking after the green areas of our countryside. Meadows and pastures are permanent grassland, meaning they are covered in grass and herbs year-round for at least five years. They provide the food for ruminants like me – that includes cattle, sheep, goats, and even horses. In addition, the grassland helps to protect the soil and groundwater, preserve biodiversity and maintain the high recreational value of our cultivated landscape.

Why the meadows bloom ...

There are other ways the farmer can help look after nature. Since the farmer sends us out onto the pasture in the summer, the grass doesn’t need to be mown until late in the season, meaning the plants are in bloom longer and can spread their seeds. What’s more, our cow pats provide insects with the ideal place for laying their eggs and finding food. This, in turn, is great for some types of bird whose diets rely on the insect population.

… and the fields do, too

Another task is sowing arable land with a diverse mix of cultivated and wild plants. Creating ecological compensation areas also helps protect and maintain lots of different types of plants and animals.

Personal ID's for cows

Immediately after they are born, our calves receive two ear tags. This makes it possible to tell which animal is which, and you can also see where each cow was born. One of the ear tags has a bar code that can be read using a special device that is similar to what you find at the supermarket checkout.

The ear tags also have various letters and numbers that make it possible to trace where a cow is or where it comes from.
“DE” is the abbreviation for the country of origin, in this case Germany.
“06” stands for the state or region, in this case Hesse.
“333” denotes the farm, and “23 267” is the number for this specific cow.

What happens to our data?

Once we have been given the ear tags, the data is put into a computer program. Using the ear tag number, it is then possible to find out about the sex, age or breed of the cow, for example. In addition, every detail can be traced from birth on. If a cow is sold, this is logged and the buyer has to register the cow in its new farm.

Computers in the cow barn

In addition to the legally required ear tags, dairy cows like me often also wear a band around our necks with a herd number and a transponder. This enables us cows to receive the amount of concentrated feed calculated specifically for us. At the milking unit, the transponder also makes it possible to accurately record the volume of milk provided by each cow. With the help of this data, the farmer can monitor our health, among other things.