Explore a Dairy Farm

The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum is a working farm in Ottawa. Located on the Central Experimental Farm, the Museum offers an opportunity to explore the sights and sounds of farm life.

Dairy Farm, Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, Ottawa, Canada (2018-05-29) by Nadine Dagenais DessaintCanada Agriculture and Food Museum

During this tour, you will visit the dairy barn. It is home to more than 60 dairy cows and their calves. Built in 1914, the barn features modern equipment in a heritage building. Follow our herdspersons as they complete their afternoon chores.

The Barnyard

Located on the south side of the dairy barn, this enclosure has several functions. It serves as an exercise pen for the cows in winter, and it’s also a place to store machinery and feed. During the summer, part of the barnyard is transformed into a large pen for the calves. 

The summer paddock includes a small shelter to protect the animals from the sun and rain, and enough space for the calves to run around.


Tractors are essential for farm work. They carry animal feed, pull heavy equipment and power machinery like silo blowers. Without tractors, farm work would be much harder.

Manure Cart

Rearing cows produces waste, including manure and dirty straw bedding. Our cow waste is turned into compost, a valuable resource that is spread on the Central Experimental Farm fields. Once the cart is full, the manure is carried away to a composting site.


These large pantries are full of cow feed. The feed inside has fermented over time, making it more nutritious and easier for the cows to digest.

The Maternity

Like all mammals, a dairy cow has to give birth to produce milk. The maternity is a large, comfortable and quiet space where a cow spends the last few days of her pregnancy and gives birth. Most cows calve in less than 5 hours. 

Soon after its birth, the newborn calf will stand on its own and drink from the cow’s teats. The first milk, called colostrum, is rich in antibodies that protect the calf from disease.

Cow in Labour

A cow in labour usually walks in circles, tramples around and, eventually, lies down. This cow is almost ready to calve.


The maternity is equipped with three cameras. These allow a herdsperson to keep an eye on the expecting cow, with the use of a smartphone. Most cows calve without assistance, but a herdsperson is always ready to help if an animal shows signs of distress.


The maternity floor is covered with a deep bed of straw that absorbs the cow’s urine and doubles as a mattress. Dirty straw is removed daily to keep the stall clean.     

The Feed Room

This room is like a giant kitchen. It’s where a herdsperson prepares the ration, or meal, for the milking cows. A nutritionist makes sure it contains the right balance of ingredients to keep the cows healthy and producing a lot of milk. 

To prepare the ration, a herdsperson weighs or measures each ingredient and adds it to a motorized feed cart. A typical ration includes corn silage, high-moisture corn, a protein supplement, vitamins, minerals and sodium bicarbonate.

Motorized Feed Cart

The feed cart works like a food processor, mixing the ration ingredients. Three times a day, a herdsperson drives the feed cart to the dairy barn and dispenses the prepared ration directly into the cows’ feeder.

Silo Control Board

From the control board, a herdsperson selects the amount of silage needed for a ration. At the bottom of the silo, rotating chains push the silage out onto a conveyor belt.

Sodium Bicarbonate

A cow’s stomach has four compartments. The largest one, the rumen, is full of microbes that break down plant fibre. To stop the juices in the rumen from becoming too acidic, a herdsperson adds sodium bicarbonate to the ration.  

Fermented Corn

Fermented corn is very nutritious — and a cow favourite. The feed in the green cart is made from corn kernels. The corn silage in the blue carts is made from the entire corn plant.

The Hayloft

Located on the second floor of the dairy barn, the hayloft is a large storage room for hay, which is a mixture of grasses and legumes, such as timothy and alfalfa. Grown together in fields, the plants are cut and left to dry before being pressed into bales. 

Half empty by spring, the hayloft is filled to the ceiling with over 5,000 bales at the end of each summer.

Hay Bales

Cows of all ages eat hay. Our dairy cows each consume a small bale of hay every day, in addition to the daily ration made from other feed.

Ceiling Conveyor

During haying season, a conveyor carries the incoming hay bales from the hay elevator outside the barn to the loft interior where they are stored.

Trap Door

A herdsperson drops the hay bales through the trap door and into the barn.

The Milking Cows

These mature cows all produce milk. They live, eat and rest in the main section of the barn when they are not out in the pasture. To produce milk, cows need to be comfortable and healthy and to eat nutritious food.

Every two weeks, a veterinarian inspects the herd to look for any possible health problems. The vet also gives pregnant cows an ultrasound and looks after any sick animals. 

Feed Pusher Robot

When they eat, cows rummage through their food, pushing some of it out of the feeder and beyond reach. This little robot pushes the cow food back into the feeder.

Dairy Breeds

The Museum keeps cows from all seven dairy breeds found in Canada. Breeds differ in the amount of milk they produce and how much butterfat and protein their milk contains, as well as in their physical appearance and even their personality.

Water Bowl

Cows drink between 110 and 190 litres of water each day. That’s enough to fill an average bathtub. To let water flow into the bowl, the cow pushes on the black nozzle with her nose.

Holstein Cow

The black and white Holstein is by far the most popular breed of dairy cow in Canada. On average, a Holstein cow produces 10,100 litres of milk over 10 months. That amounts to 33 litres per day, or enough milk to fill 128 glasses.

Milking Time!

Twice a day — early in the morning and late in the afternoon — herdspersons use a milking system to milk the cows. By milking time, the cows’ udders are heavy with milk. Before placing the milking machine on the cow, a herdsperson cleans the teats.

On average, it takes 5 minutes to milk a cow. After milking, the system goes through an automatic wash cycle. Every pipeline, teat cup and surface that has touched the milk is washed, rinsed and disinfected.

The Udder

A cow’s udder has four sections, called “quarters,” where milk is made and stored. Each quarter ends in a teat, from which the milk flows.  

Cow Being Milked

The milking machine has four teat cups that are placed on the cow’s teats. Inside each cup, a rubber liner opens and closes under the teat. This regular pattern of suction and massage allows for gentle extraction of the milk.

Milking and Vacuum Pipelines

These two pipelines are part of the milking system. Like a hose on a vacuum cleaner, the white vacuum pipeline has a sucking function. The stainless steel milking pipeline carries the milk to the milk house.  

Dip Cup

This “dipper” contain iodine. Before and after milking, a herdsperson dips the cow’s teats into the iodine to disinfect them

The Milk House

The cleanest place in the barn, this is where the milking equipment is sanitized. The milk house is also where the milk is filtered and stored before being shipped to a dairy plant.

Just like any other dairy farm in Ontario, the Museum sells its milk to a marketing board called the Dairy Farmers of Ontario. The marketing board immediately resells the milk to dairy processors, based on their requirements.

Receiver Jar

During milking, the receiver jar fills up little by little with fresh, warm milk. As soon as the milk touches the three black sensors, a pump empties all the milk from the jar into the refrigerated bulk tank.

Milk Cans

A herdsperson uses a milk can to collect milk from any sick cows treated with antibiotics. Their milk is discarded until it no longer contains any trace of the medication.  

Bulk Tank

This is where the milk is stored and cooled. The bulk tank can hold 4,000 litres of milk, which is the maximum our cows can produce in three days. Every two days, the milk truck pumps out the milk collected and the bulk tank is cleaned.

Milk for the Calves

A herdsperson empties the milk from the receiver jar into buckets. This milk is later fed to the calves.

The Calf Barn

This is where the baby cows, or the calves, live and where herdspersons care for them. In the calf barn, each calf has its own pen, where it has enough room to exercise, as well as access to water, hay and a special sweet feed that contains molasses. 

Social creatures, calves enjoy seeing each other — as well as visitors. Calves grow very fast. In two years, these animals will already have reached adulthood. They will be producing milk, along with the other dairy cows at the Museum.


Twice a day, a herdsperson bottle-feeds the younger calves. These animals have strong appetites: each can drink 4 litres of milk at every feeding. As they grow older, the calves are gradually trained to drink from a pail.


A female calf is called a heifer. Since only female cows produce milk, the Museum sells the male calves when they are a few days old.

Calf Sign

Each calf has a sign showing its name and date of birth, as well as the name of its dam (mother) and sire (father).

The Dry Cows

These cows are taking a break from making milk. Herdspersons stop milking a cow, two months before her due date. During this period, the cow will rest and focus her energy on the rapidly growing calf that’s inside her. A cow’s gestation period lasts nine months.

A few days before her due date, the cow is moved to a maternity pen where she will rest until the calf is born. In the summer and fall, the dry cows spend all their time in the pasture.

Small Udder

This dry cow has a small udder. This means that she is no longer making milk. As her due date approaches, her udder will begin to fill up with colostrum.

Due Date Chart

The due date for each cow is written on this chart. Visitors and herdspersons keep an eye on it to track when the next cow will give birth.

Tie Stall

To keep the cows comfortable, the floor in every stall is covered with a rubber mat and a thick layer of straw. The stall is large enough for the cow to stand up and lie down comfortably and to stretch.

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