Most dairy producers in Alberta provide sheltered accommodation. This includes loose housing (straw pack with no stalls) or a free stall set up (free choice of an individual straw-bedded stall or a stall using another type of bedding). Feed is delivered to the cows in the barn year round. Dairy cows have access to fresh water, clean air and to exercise areas. Exercise areas may be indoor or outdoor. Some cows also have access to pastures where they can graze.
When a farmer decides to use a sheltered loose housing or free stall type operation, it is because they want to protect their cows from the weather (including our harsh Alberta winters and occasional extreme heat in the summer) and to feed them customized balanced feed. This feed is often prepared by dairy nutritionists to optimize cow health and milk quality. As we mentioned in Steve’s question, virtually all Alberta’s dairy producers feed their cows harvested grains, grass hay and other crops.
While cows in sheltered operations typically do not go outside whenever they want or graze outdoors, they are healthy and happy because they are receiving the feed they need in a comfortable environment to produce Canadian quality milk.