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Ask a Dairy Farmer: How Do Farmers Reuse Water?

Water—we drink it, squirt it, splash it. We float in it, bathe in it. We warm it, we chill it, we bottle it, we cook with it. 

Water surrounds us and is everywhere but of course its ubiquity disguises its importance. While it keeps humans and animals hydrated, water plays a vital role in the foods we eat. Plant- and animal-based foods, including dairy, require water to grow and create the delicious, nutritious foods that sustain us.

Water is a vital resource on dairy farms for the many roles it plays, and farmers do what they can to make every drop count. “We should be careful with our water because we need to have it at the right place, at the right amount, at the right time,” says Chris Kraft of Kraft Family Dairies in Colorado. “So that is why we need to be good stewards of that water.”  

Cows “do produce milk, and 87% of milk is water,” says Abigail Copenhaver, whose farm, Ivy Lakes Dairy, is in New York. “They do drink a lot of water.” Keeping cows hydrated keeps them healthy and helps them produce nutrient-rich milk.

Water is not just a refreshing drink for dairy cows. “I think it would really surprise people to know that one gallon of water on our dairy can be reused up to four times,” says Tara Vander Dussen, who along with her family operates Rajen Dairy in New Mexico.

Reusing and recycling water is standard practice on today’s dairy farms, starting with chilling milk. Because milk leaves a cow’s body at 101 degrees, water is used in a cooling system in the farm’s milking parlor to quickly chill it to about 38 degrees, keeping it fresh from the farm to your refrigerator. Water that is used to cool milk also is used to flush dairy barns and is recaptured as a natural, nutrient-rich resource to irrigate crops.

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You can read more about how water is used on a farm in this companion story, “Water: More Than Just a Refreshing Drink for Dairy Cows.” And read on for even more dairy cow facts.