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Dairy farmers say daylight saving throws cows for a loop, too

The cows at Perrydell Farm eye up herdsman Mike Saylor as he milks other cows Friday. Farmers say daylight savings time, which is Sunday, messes up their schedules, too. (DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS–JASON PLOTKIN)

Consider the cow.

Not very high on the intellectual ladder, as far as mammals go, you would think time, being an abstract concept, would be beyond their grasp. Cows don’t know what time it is. Look at most cows. They don’t even have watches.

But twice a year, the human concept of time wreaks havoc with them. The switch to daylight savings time — and the switch back to standard time in the fall — throws them for a loop, dairy farmers say.

“It can be a challenge,” said Greg Perry, partner in the family-owned Perrydell Farm in York Township. “If you change anything, like the time of milking, the cows can recognize it. It takes a little time for them to get used to it.”

One of the reasons for extending daylight saving time — in addition to energy savings and giving school kids and those who work during the day an extra hour of daylight at the end of the day — has always been that it helps farmers, that farmers are able to get more work down in daylight hours.

But to dairy farmers, generally, it’s more of a headache than anything.

“I don’t know if it makes a big difference,” said Thomas Boyer, who has 100 head and farms 130 acres in Jackson Township. “It’s dark when I get up and go to the barn and it’s dark when I’m done for the day.”

Dairy farmers schedule their day around milking times, usually beginning the day long before sunrise is merely a rumor. It’s not out of tradition, or because they enjoy getting up at 3:30 a.m.; it’s what the cows demand.

Cows have finely tuned internal clocks, dairy farmers said, and any variation of their schedule causes problems. Dairy farmers would adjust by milking the cows at the same time even after the clocks change — in essence, ignoring daylight savings time — but delivery schedules and other factors make that difficult.

“I know some farmers who don’t observe (daylight savings time) as far as their milking schedules go,” Perry said. “We observe it because that’s what everybody else does.”

Some dairy farmers have ease their cows into the time change.

“A lot of people I know move their milking up half an hour, and then when the cows adjust, move it to the match the regular time,” Boyer said. “Half an hour might not seem like much, but it makes a difference. Half an hour doesn’t seem to upset them that much.”

Some dairy farmers would just as soon see daylight savings time go away. It’s not as if the change creates an extra hour of daylight; there are still so many hours of daylight a day.

All it does it upset the cows, which apparently can tell time.


Daylight saving time begins this weekend so set your clocks an hour ahead before you go to bed tonight. And firefighters say it is also a good time to check the batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

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