FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about the Ontario dairy industry. If you don't see your question here, please send it to us – we may include it in a future update.

General

Dairy milk is milk that comes from cows. This differentiates it from milk produced by other animals, or products derived from plants (like nuts or soy).

It's important to check the labels of the foods you're buying for their exact nutrient content. Milk alternatives like soy and almond beverages tend to have low amounts of naturally occurring calcium and vitamin D, and are fortified as a result. The amount of fortification is not standardized, so the nutrient content may vary from product to product For tips on how to understand nutrition facts tables, visit the Government of Canada's Understanding food labels page.

The main difference between skim, 1%, 2% and homogenized (3.25%) milk is the amount of milk fat. The following chart shows the comparative nutrient values of the various types of dairy milk. 
 

Nutritional value per 250 mL
  Skim 1% 2% Homogenized
Energy (kCal) 88 kCal 108 kCal 129 kCal 155 kCal
Total fat Trace 3 g 5 g 8 g
Saturated fat 0.2 g 1.6 g 3.3 g 5.4 g
Cholesterol 5 mg 13 mg 21 mg 26 mg
Sodium 109 mg 113 mg 106 mg 103 mg
Carbohydrate 13 g 13 g 12 g / 4% 12 g / 4%
Protein 9 g 9 g 9 g 8 g
Sugars 13 g 13 g 13 g 14 g
Vitamin A 158 RAE* 150 RAE* 142 RAE* 72 RAE*
Calcium 324 mg 307 mg 302 mg 291 mg
Iron 0.1 mg 0.1 mg 0.1 mg 0.1 mg
Vitamin D 2.7 μg 2.6 μg 2.8 μg 2.7 μg

*Retinol activity equivalent,
Source: Health Canada

There are many options to continue to enjoy dairy for lactose-intolerant people:
• Consult a physician 
• Choose lactose-free dairy products 
• Try hard cheeses like cheddar, Swiss, Edam, gouda or parmesan, as they have low levels of lactose
• Consume smaller amounts of dairy at more frequent intervals 
• Remember that butter contains low levels of lactose 
• Try yogurt or kefir, because the bacteria in these dairy products have been shown to be beneficial to lactose digestion

Dairy cattle

There are seven commonly used breeds: Holstein, Jersey, Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Milking Shorthorn and Canadienne. For more information about these breeds and their role in the dairy industry, please visit our On the Farm page. 

The average dairy cow will produce 30 litres of milk from two daily milkings. 

A cow's daily diet consists of 29 kg of feed in a combination of:
• Hay
• Silage 
• Grain
• Protein supplement
• Minerals and salt
• 80 to 180 litres of water

Cows are ruminant animals, meaning their stomachs are divided into four sections. The rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum each have a specific role to play in digesting cellulose or plant fibre.

A cow can eat a whole day's meal in just minutes and store it in their rumen. In the rumen, the food is made into small balls of food called "cuds." Throughout the day, a cow will burp up a cud of food, chew it and swallow it again, as many as 60 times. Each time, the food is digested more. Cows spend up to eight hours chewing their cud or ruminating. The food works its way through the cow's remaining compartments and, just as in a human's stomach, digestive juices and fluids are added to it so the nutrients can be absorbed into the bloodstream.

In the cow's udder, small sacs, called alveoli, produce milk. The alveoli take the nutrients from the blood and add fat, protein and lactose (a type of sugar) to produce milk.

Hay is a mixture of grass and legumes, like alfalfa. It’s most commonly used in two ways:

  • Haylage – The hay is cut, chopped and stored in a loose way in a storage silo, while it is still moist (see silage, below).

  • Hay – Usually cut after haylage, when the plants are taller, and allowed to dry in the field. It is then baled into round or square bales and stored under cover.

Corn is planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. Although it looks the same as the sweet corn people eat   as corn on the cob, it is harder and can't be cooked or digested by humans. It too is usually used in two ways:

  • Silage – The whole plant is harvested while it’s still green, after the cob has formed. It’s then cut into pieces and stored in a silo. After the silage is stored in the silo, the wet corn undergoes fermentation, or "pickling." In this process, the corn is changed by a bacterial process to make it tastier and easier to digest by the cows. When the silage comes out of the silo, it is more palatable. The same process turns wet hay into haylage.

  • Grain corn – Only the kernels from the plant are harvested and stored in a dry form. Grain corn is usually ground up and mixed with any barley or oats, a protein food like soybean meal, plus vitamins and minerals.

Cattle names change as dairy animals grow older. A calf is a newborn dairy animal. A heifer is a young female that has not yet had a calf and begun to milk. A cow is a mature female dairy animal, and a bull is a mature male dairy animal. Cows give milk for about ten months (or about 305 days) after having a calf. They stop milk production during a two-month dry period before giving birth and entering another 10-month milk cycle.

Before a milking machine is attached, the cows’ teats are washed with a disinfectant solution and dried. In a pipeline system, the cows are secured in their stalls, the udders washed, and a milking machine attached to all four teats on the cow's udder. A hose runs from the milking machine to a stainless steel pipeline located over the cow's head. The pipeline runs the length of the barn and is connected to a big bulk tank in the milk house. The milk is quickly cooled in the bulk tank and kept there until the milk truck picks it up.

In a milking parlour system, the cows walk onto a raised platform with gates. The gates keep the cow from moving while she is being milked. When milking is over, she walks out the other side. The milk goes directly through a pipeline to the bulk tank in the milk house.

After every milking, all milk contact services are washed and rinsed. Just before the next milking, the surfaces are sanitized.

Dairy education

The Dairy Education Program is an educational program sponsored by Dairy Farmers of Ontario. Teachers in Ontario are invited to have a Dairy Educator present to their classroom. Their role is to educate students in the areas of dairy farming, dairy goodness, careers in the dairy industry, processing of milk products, and technology on the farm in a manner that is consistent with the latest Ontario Curriculum.

Yes, the program is free to all schools in Ontario.

The program is delivered from kindergarten to Grade 12.

A presentation is usually 45 minutes but can be adapted to meet the needs of the classroom.

There are 54 educators across Ontario. Their backgrounds and experiences vary, but they each have one or more of the following: a dairy background, a teaching certificate, an ECE designation, or a diploma in agriculture, Health Sciences or another related degree/diploma. One thing they all have in common is their knowledge, expertise and dedication to the dairy industry.

Here’s what you should have on hand:
• A table or a couple of desks to lay out supplies and props
• TV/VCR or a whiteboard and projector
• Board space or wall space for posters and other visual aids

Check the Contact us list of Dairy Educators at education.milk.org. You can also call the Dairy Education Program at Dairy Farmers of Ontario: (905) 821-8970, ext. 2149.

Pasteurization

Yes. Since 1938, the Ontario Health Act has required pasteurization of all milk and cream for human consumption. It’s illegal to sell or even give away milk, cream or milk products that have not been pasteurized in a plant licensed under the Milk Act. Pasteurization destroys pathogens, like salmonella and E. coli, that can cause human illness. It’s been used extensively as an effective and efficient method of preventing transmission of foodborne illness to consumers via milk and milk products.

Put simply, pasteurization is the process of heating a food, usually a liquid, to a specific temperature for a definite period of time, then cooling it immediately. Pasteurization is the main reason for milk’s extended shelf life. It has been one of the most beneficial and cost-effective measures to protect the health of the consumer.
Dairy processing plants use three methods to pasteurize milk:


1. High Temperature Short Time (HTST) Method
• Milk is pumped rapidly through a series of steel plates
• Milk is heated to 72°C and held no less than 16 seconds
• Milk is rapidly cooled to 4°C
• A continuous-flow pasteurizer is used to achieve precise temperature control

2. Batch-Holding Method
• A paddle or coil in a large vat is used to agitate the entire batch of milk as it heats to 62°C
• The milk is held at this temperature for 30 minutes before being cooled to 4°C

3. Ultra High Temperature (UHT)
• Whole or partly skimmed milk is heated to 138°–158°C for one or two seconds
• Milk is quickly cooled and placed, under sterile conditions, into pre-sterilized containers
• An unopened package of UHT milk will keep for three months with very little change in flavour and quality
• Once opened, milk should be refrigerated and used within one week

Pasteurized milk is an excellent source of calcium, protein, riboflavin, vitamins A and D, and phosphorous, and a good source of thiamine and B12. Studies have shown that calcium absorption remains unaltered through pasteurization. Vitamins A and D, as well as riboflavin and niacin, are generally not affected by heat treatment. Pasteurization does involve a minor loss of 10 per cent of thiamine and vitamin B12 content, as well as a 20 per cent loss of vitamin C content. Because losses are small in comparison to the large amount of these two B vitamins present, milk continues to provide significant amounts of thiamine and vitamin B12. As milk is not an important dietary source of vitamin C, this loss is not nutritionally significant. All processed milk sold in Ontario is of high quality, contains no preservatives, and is backed by stringent government and quality control programs and standards from the farm to the retail shelf.

proAction

proAction is Canadian dairy farmers’ quality and sustainability program. It is made up of the following modules:
• Milk Quality
• Food Safety 
• Animal Care
• Livestock Traceability
• Biosecurity
• Environment
Initiated by Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) and supported by all provincial boards, proAction is an objective and accurate platform for dairy farmers to tell their story, one of dedication and commitment to quality, animal well-being, care for the environment and a sustainability journey that shows great leadership.
 

Canada’s dairy farmers are recognized as world leaders in producing quality milk. The purpose of proAction is to maintain both processor and consumer confidence in the quality and sustainability of the Canadian milk that goes into the dairy products they enjoy. Through proAction, farmers do their part in ensuring a supply of safe, high-quality Canadian dairy products that consumers, processors and retailers can be confident about and proud of.

proAction requirements are developed by farmers and industry experts, such as veterinarians and researchers. 

The proAction program operates with six key modules. Milk quality, Food Safety, Animal Care and Livestock Traceability modules are currently implemented in Ontario. The biosecurity module implementation began in September 2019, and the environment module will follow in fall 2021.

Provincial organizations are responsible for delivering proAction to their producers, including training and validations. In Ontario, training is available to producers in three formats: classroom, online (at no additional cost to producers), and on-farm.

Classroom and on-farm training are delivered by veterinarians who have been trained and authorized by DFO. 

In Ontario, farmers who do not meet proAction requirements are assessed a financial penalty.

Supporting Canadian dairy

You can support Canadian dairy by buying Canadian dairy products at the grocery store. The Canadian dairy system is designed to minimize waste and help support some of the highest milk quality standards in the world. When you buy Canadian dairy, you know you’re getting milk made by real farm families who are dedicated to producing milk of the highest quality.

The Canadian dairy industry is the backbone of Canada’s rural economy, employing more than 220,000 Canadians. Canadian dairy is safe and nutritious, and Canadian dairy farmers take pride in producing high-quality 100 per cent Canadian milk, providing top-notch animal care, and committing to environmental sustainability.

Look for one of two 100 per cent Canadian milk logos on the packaging of dairy products. Please note, not all 100 per cent Canadian dairy products have these logos on their packaging. If you’re unsure, you can contact processors directly to ask about their products. Packaging on Canadian dairy products usually includes the processor name and location.

Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), a synthetic version of a naturally occurring growth hormone, is banned for use in Canada. Although Health Canada has determined it does not pose a health risk to humans, it has stated that rBST negatively affects cow health. American dairy farmers are legally allowed to use rBST to increase a herd’s milk production.

Dairy processors are responsible for food labelling. We encourage processors to identify their products that are made with Canadian dairy. Some have adopted the use of Dairy Farmers of Canada’s label—a blue and white logo featuring a standing cow bearing the Canadian maple leaf. Some products use a circular blue and white cow logo that states 100 per cent Canadian milk. Other packages will state “made in Canada.” Having simple and easy labels that identify Canadian dairy on products is an industry priority.

Under the new Canada–United States–Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), each country has agreed to accept the other countries’ standards.

Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) and dairy farmers do not set retail prices. Under Canada’s supply management system, DFO’s role is to market milk to the dairy processing industry on behalf of Ontario dairy farms. In other words, farmers sell their milk to DFO, and then DFO sells milk to processors. Prices paid by processors are based on production costs on efficient farms, and DFO has no control over retail prices, meaning we don’t tell grocery stores how much to charge for a product.

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