How Often Do Cows Produce Milk?

Most dairy cows are milked 2-3 times per day, with most producing 6 to 7 gallons of milk daily. Dairy cows produce milk for around 10 months after calving, and on average, will produce over 2,000 gallons of milk each year. 

A cow will become pregnant around 4 times in her life, meaning she will undergo 4 milk-producing cycles across 6 to 10 years.

How Much Milk Does a Cow Produce Each Day?

A dairy cow gives around 7 gallons a day, and you can expect a beef-suckler cow to provide about 1 gallon. At the peak of her lactation, a high-output milk cow like a Holstein-Friesian can feasibly produce up to 16 gallons a day! That’s well over 3,000 gallons during her complete lactation.

A modern-day, high-yield dairy cow can produce around 11½ gallons daily, and in the early stages of lactation, it can be as high as 15 gallons a day.

The world record for a milk-producing cow belongs to a Holstein called Stone-Front Leader Hilda, owned by Andrew Jay and Lynette E. Buttles of Lancaster, Wisconsin, W.I. By her 15th birthday, she had produced nearly 54,000 gallons!

Selective breeding has made a massive difference to the dairy industry. Interestingly in the United States, dairy cows produced 2½ gallons a day in the 1970s. By 2012, this quantity had grown to 5¼ gallons. In the U.K., milk yields increased by over 8.5 percent from 2011 to 2021.

Must Cows Be Pregnant To Produce Milk?

Cows are similar to humans in that they only produce milk after giving birth. Once a cow stops creating milk for a calf, she must become pregnant again before she starts to produce any more milk. While every cow can produce milk, they are not in a constant state of producing it.

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Cows may receive artificial insemination within 3 months of giving birth to start the cycle all over again.

Dairy cows give birth after a pregnancy of just over 9 months. Cows continue to produce milk for around 10 months after calving and need constant milking as they experience acute discomfort from the strain of a full udder.

a cow being milked
Full udders certainly lead to discomfort

Most farmers send their dairy cows to a milking shed 2 or even 3 times daily. Dairy cows will usually be around 4 years old when they no longer produce enough milk to be economically viable. They will then go to slaughter and be sold as ground or minced beef for processed meat products.

In contrast, the natural lifespan of a cow is about 20 years, with the famous Big Bertha living to almost 50 years old. 

Dairy farmers usually plan for their cows to give birth to their first calf when they’re about 2, so heifers will usually be pregnant for the first time when they’re around 12 to 15 months old. After this, farmers aim for their cows to calve again yearly.

Milk production involves a complex interaction between several different hormones triggered during pregnancy. In the second and third trimesters of her pregnancy, a cow produces estrogen and progesterone, and these hormones encourage the development of the milk duct system in the udder.

Oxytocin is another hormone that permits milk secretion which also known as “milk let-down”. It raises levels of a protein called Prolactin (a protein), and the suction pressure of a calf suckling or a milking machine cup triggers the release of milk.

Dairy cows have gone through selective breeding to give large quantities of milk that are much more than any calf could drink on their own. The volume of milk a cow produces depends on several factors like breed, age, nutrition levels, and genetics.

How To Increase Milk Production Naturally

Yields often come down to common sense, with a happy cow providing quantity and quality in her milk production.

Here are a few tips that you might not have thought of that will keep your cows in tip-top milk-producing condition:

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1. Access to Proper Water and Feed

Ensure your cows have access to a constant and sufficient fresh water supply from a groundwater source or a trough that are kept clean. Apart from the grass in your pasture, provide 5lb to 10lb of supplementary feed and grain daily.

The following additives will keep your cow well-fed and healthy:

  • Protected amino acids
  • Yeast culture
  • Rumen-protected choline
  • Ionophores
  • Antioxidants

Keep a close eye on how you store supplementary feed supplies to avoid contamination by mold or animal droppings.

2. Allow a Dry Period

Standard practice is to allow a cow a milking-free period of at least 60 days during pregnancy which is known as the “dry period.” A cow’s milk production will begin to tail off at the end of the gestation period, so perhaps this is nature’s way of telling her to slow down.

Stop milking as soon as the dry period starts and keep the cow away from other milking cows.

Research shows sound dry period nutrition and management improves your cow’s health and performance after birth. Keep their intake of dry matter to around 30 lb daily, with too much leading to an increase of their body condition score.

There are two feeding stages involved in the dry period:

  1. The “far-off“ phase consists of the first four to six weeks
  2. The “close-up” period is the last three weeks before parturition.

D.M.I. or “dry matter intake” should be increased in the close-up period to maximize health and body mass, not to mention future calving facility and milk production.

3. Allow Your Cows To Relax

To optimize your cows’ health and body condition, avoid overcrowding and separating cows from their usual herd companions.

The more stress-free, content, and relaxed your cow is, the better her health will be. This allows her to produce more plentiful and better-tasting milk.

Provide a shelter from the elements that protect the cow from over-exposure to blazing sunshine, wind, rain, and snow. Dry or lactating cows are susceptible to extreme heat stress, so a cow-cooling device is advisable.

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If you have multiple cows, provide adequate bedding and give each cow her own stall if space permits. Your stall should be long and wide enough to fit the cow comfortably without her having to “perch” (having some part of her body outside the stall perimeter). Cows’ hooves also need to be trimmed at least once a year.

4. Maintain Their General Health

As a rule of thumb, you should look for your cows to have a body condition score of 2.5 to 3, which is the middle range between being underweight or overweight.

If a cow is underfed, she will have to use her body fat reserves to produce milk. These will eventually deplete, leading to an underweight cow unable to produce decent quantities of milk. Low blood calcium levels in the first week of lactation can also reduce milk yields.

Vaccinate cows and heifers as necessary and regularly check for internal parasites; deworm if on pasture. Check the field for areas of long grass or stagnant water are these are ideal breeding areas for ticks and mosquitoes respectively.

If you feed your newborn calf additional colostrum, ensure it is over 22 percent Brix. This figure corresponds to 50 mg/mL and is therefore considered high quality. You may wish to subject calves to an iodine navel dip soon after birth. Promote rumen health and avoid ruminal acidosis by feeding alfalfa and grass hay directly after calving for fiber.

What To Do With Excess Milk

Even the most miniature cow breeds produce around three gallons of milk daily which is far too much for even a family of four. You could always sell or even give it away, but more creative solutions are available:

  • Make yogurt, butter, and cheese are the most obvious ways to use that excess milk
  • Create kefir (fermented milk) which is similar to a thin yogurt
  • Make fresh chocolate milk, buttermilk or smoothies
  • Create a custard as a delicious topping
  • Make sour cream that can go with many foods, sweet or savory
  • Lastly, create your own farm-fresh ice cream. Better yet – you can also use it to make the pancakes that can go with it!


Adam has always had a fascination with farmyard animals, no doubt sparked by the farm in Devon he used to visit every summer when he was a young pup. He became close friends with the farmer’s children, two of which were about his age, and they allowed him to help out with cattle milking, herding and tagging. Being a fondly magical experience, he recently jumped at the opportunity to help the team at Cow Care Taker.

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