Spring Freshers on our Small Family Farms

Many of our farmers choose to freshen their herd so that their animals have calves during the springtime. The term “freshen” is a dairy term meaning that the mother cow is getting ready to give birth to a calf. A spring freshening program is typically found on small family farms that concentrate on producing milk during the prime grass-grazing times.

Spring Freshening Program

Spring graziers breed their cows so that they give birth (or freshen) in the spring when grass is growing. Grazing pasture is a low-cost way for the mother cow to get protein and energy that it will take to produce milk to feed their calf. 

Also, another benefit of a spring freshening program is that the weather at this time of year gets warmer in Iowa. Thus it takes less energy, in terms of milk for the calf, bedding, and facilities to keep the babies warm and growing. This time of year flies are less of an issue which is an added benefit.


Although many of our farmers opt for spring freshening there are some challenges that accompany this type of program. Just like humans, cows have a 9-month gestation period, so the bulls must inseminate the cows in July/August – which is typically the hottest part of the year in Iowa. If it is too hot on these small family farms, occasionally the bulls will not cooperate which can create sporadic breeding.

Other Freshening Programs

For those farmers who don’t choose a spring freshening program, they either tend to freshen their herd throughout the year or focus on the fall. The timing of the births are based on a couple of factors such as amounts of pasture, access to feed or money to buy organic feed, facilities, and milk pay plan. The milk pay plan typically reflects such issues as competitive pressures on the retail shelf, the prices of organic commodities in general, or milk balancing incentives. Fall fresheners have historically been offered more money for milk produced in the winter to balance the flush of milk in the spring. Each procurement organization has facets of their business that they want to incentivize, plus competitive pressure (or not) for raw milk. All of this is factored into the farmers’ calculations as to what breed to have, how much feed to feed, what types of equipment to operate, and what kinds of buildings to use.

Amish small family farms