January 11th is the celebration of National Milk Day! This day originated in 1878 and commemorates the first deliveries of glass bottled milk in the United States. What a great achievement for the dairy industry and reflection of how far dairy has come.
While the unmatched nutrition and satisfaction of a glass of milk has not changed, the way milk is produced has advanced immensely. There are no longer wooden stools farmers sit on while gathering the fresh milk by hand into a tin bucket – those days are far gone! The dairy industry has come a long way and so has the technology that helps get milk from the farm to your fridge.
Dairy farming has been in my family for generations. Growing up on a farm makes you quickly realize the hard work and perseverance it takes that goes into caring for animals. It is a 24/7 operation. There is nothing a farmer wants more than to have happy and healthy cows because this directly relates to the quantity and quality of the milk. So what does that process look like nowadays? It all starts with the wellbeing of the animals.
HEALTH AND WELLNESS
To ensure cows are at their healthiest, farmers work with veterinarians and nutritionists. My family has Holsteins (the black and white colored cows) which are the most common and top milk producing. Large animal veterinarians visit regularly and work closely with farmers making sure the cows are properly cared for. The cows eat a mix of grains, hay, and corn silage called a total mixed ration, or TMR, that is formulated with a nutritionist. Similar to kids, cows like to pick and choose their favorite part of their meal which is why the TMR is mixed all together ensuring they eat a balanced diet and receive all the nutrients they need.
Next is where the magic happens! Female dairy cows typically have their first calf around two years of age and will produce milk for typically 12-14 months per lactation. For those 12-14 months, the cows are milked about two or three times a day depending on the dairy. Cows absolutely love to be milked and will often nudge or push each other out of the way in order to be at the front of the line. There are many different types of milk barns but my family has a Robotic Milking Rotary Parlor, think of this as a carousel ride but for cows. As the carousel rotates, the cows walk into an individual stall where her ear tag is scanned and milking takes place. Robots and cameras move out from underneath the stall and automatically attach to each teat of the cow. The robot cleans, pre-dips, stimulates, milks and then post dips before detaching. This saves time, labor cost, and ensures every drop of milk is clean. The milk barn technology allows us to see how much milk the cow has currently given and what she is projected to give. When the cow is done being milked, she simply backs off the carousel making room for the next.
The milk is immediately filtered and placed in a milk vat before going through cooling plates. All Grade A milk must be maintained at a temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit or below within specific timeframes to ensure the quality and safety of the milk. This is all heavily regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. The milk is then kept in a milk tank where the temperature and amount of gallons of each batch are monitored and recorded.
TRANSPORTATION & LAB TESTING
Every 24 hours the milk is collected and transported in a stainless steel, heavily insulated milk truck. All drivers must be certified and obtain a Sampler and Weigher license required by the California Code of Regulations. Each driver records the temperature, amount of gallons, and gathers a sample of the milk for testing before loading it onto the truck. The milk then goes to a near processing plant where two more samples are taken and tested before being unloaded. If the milk is not up to standard the processing plant will reject it. Once approved, the milk is finally unloaded and starts being processed.
PROCESSING & PACKAGING
Liquid milk is pasteurized, homogenized and separated before being packaged. All these steps are for the safety and convenience of the consumer. The process of pasteurization is where the milk is heated to a specific temperature for a specific amount of time killing pathogenic bacteria. This makes sure the milk is safe to drink. Homogenization is when the milk is pushed through an atomizer to form tiny particles so the fat is dispersed evenly throughout the milk, so the cream no longer rises to the top eliminating the need to shake the milk before drinking it. Separation is where the milk is spun to bring the cream to the top where it is then separated and added back into the rest of the milk to get the desired fat content. From there the liquid milk is bottled and sealed with a date, headed to your nearest grocery store to be sold!
California whole milk is 96.5% fat free and contains three of the four nutrients that The U.S. Department of Agriculture deems under consumed by most Americans; calcium, vitamin D and potassium. It is also recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that individuals 9 years and older should consume three servings of dairy a day, whether that be milk, cheese or yogurt. There are so many nutritional benefits of consuming dairy, not to mention the tons of delicious products like ice cream, cheese and chocolate.
Dairy farmers take pride in their work knowing they are providing one of the most nutritious whole foods on the planet. My hope is that you learned something valuable about the dairy industry and continue to educate yourself on where your food comes from bridging the gap between food and farming. Now go celebrate by getting in those delicious servings of your favorite dairy product!
This post was written by Hannah van Warmerdam, Marketing Assistant at AC&C. Hannah enjoys traveling, playing volleyball and spending quality time with her friends and family.