Origins Where Does Milk Come From?

About where the dairy product milk comes from, how a cow produces milk biologically, the milking process.


The milk we use is mostly cow's milk. A cow cannot start lactating until after she has calved, although there are cases of spontaneous lactation in heifers who have not produced a calf but whose pedigrees extend back for generations in high-milk-producing families.

A cow (called a heifer until she produces her 1st calf) usually calves at the age of 2 to 2 1/2 years. The gestation takes an average of 283 days but can be as short as 265 or as long as 300 days. The newborn calf is left with his mother for the 1st 18 hours or so, and is then taken away from her. The colostrum, or 1st 3 or 4 days' milk, is necessary for the calf's survival and is unfit for human consumption. At this age, the calf learns to drink readily from a bucket.

The cow's lactation usually lasts 10 months, peaking a month or 2 after she has given birth, and declining thereafter. She is usually allowed to dry off after 10 months, so that she has a rest of 2 months before her next calf is born. The cow can breed at any time of the year and she usually has a calf at 12-month intervals. Milking is done every morning and evening, and the fact that the cow is milked mechanically or by hand, and not sucked by the calf, increases the amount of milk she eventually gives.

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