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Where Does Your Milk Come From?

Cow entering the milking parlor
Cow entering the milking parlor

After years of patiently waiting, I finally had the opportunity to take a Dairy Farm Tour in the Rochester area.  Our experience started a with a number of child health experts discussing health, obesity, school lunch/breakfast and dairy.  Regardless of your “politics” when it comes to milk and dairy, the fact is – it is an inexpensive, nutrient-rich food.

Of all the presentations, the “diamond” among all the factoids was that dairy consumption in the US was at its peak in the 1960s.  If you want to overlay the statistics about the early maturation of girls and menstruation – it is not tied to milk consumption.  If you want to look at obesity rates – it is not tied to milk consumption.   I have some useful data to debunk the urban legend about girls and the early onset of maturation.

But hormones, antibiotics… I know you are thinking that is the cause of early maturation.  The science is not there.  Let me repeat, the science does not show a cause and effect.  Funny, young boys don’t seem to be hitting puberty any younger. 

First, we visited El-Vi farms… which is owned by several farmers.  Interestingly enough, the farmer who lives on the farm, has 8 children.  Their kids were home schooled AND two of their daughters became registered dietitians.  We were treated to a talk by a former child actor, turned veterinarian – Dr. Peter Ostrom.  He was a child actor in a classic movie and I’ll give you one hint: chocolate.

This was a conventional farm.  It is biodynamic in that they grow and prepare their feed for the cows –silage, grain, grass, and hay.  They use all of the waste – liquid and solid, for manure – transported through in intricate network of underground pipes to the fields where they are used.

A single cow consumes 90 pounds of food and drinks 25-50 gallons of water each day to yield approximately 8 gallons of milk.

Cows are social animals – that when they are divided into groups – they do much better in even numbers (sounds like my kids when they had play dates).  We saw baby calves along with mature cows.  The males are sent to other farms, and on occasion, they get to stay to be sperm donors.  It was interesting to see the milking parlor: modern, clean and not terribly loud.  The cows appeared to be quite content with having their teats cleaned and their udders milked.  When they are “done” the milking device releases its grip and shortly thereafter, the cows leave the milking parlor.

Of course, the question of hormones was raised.  The answer: many dairy farmers are not using recombinant bovine somatropin (rBST) because of consumer demand.  Research has proven that rBST does not cause harm to humans.  What does rBST do?  It increases milk production in the cows.  The issue is that it may increase the rate of mastitis (infection of the nipple – lactating women can get this).  When cows get mastitis, they may need to be treated with antibiotics – just like humans.  And just like in humans, if a dairy cow has been treated with antibiotics, her milk is pumped and dumped.

When milk is collected, it is pooled into a tanker.  The milk is tested – for screening purposes – prior to being added to the tanker because if there are any traces of antibiotics in the milk, it will contaminate the entire load.  When the tanker arrives at the processing facility, the milk is also tested again.  If there are any traces of antibiotics, the load cannot be used.  There are fines – all the way back to the farmer – for loss of income to their fellow farmers.  So there are great reasons for farmers to play by the rules.

We visited an organic farm – Har Go.  Until a few years ago, this farm had been a conventional farm.  However, due to consumer demand, this farm, with assistance from a cooperative that supplies Wegman’s, became organic.  Again, no hormones are used in these cows… but what happens if they get sick and need antibiotics?  The cows are treated and sent to a conventional farm.  The taste and nutrient quality of organic versus non organic milk are the same.  The cost is quite different.

Regardless of organic vs. conventional, the farmers care about the well being of their cows.  As I have heard so many times, happy dairy cows produce more milk.  If you’ve ever breast fed a newborn, if you are stressed, less milk comes out.  The practice of consuming dairy has been around for thousands of years.  Once humans figured out they could feed more people with the milk of a mammal vs. only eating the muscle, less people may have died from hunger.  Even before there were microscopes, humans figured out milk was a good source of nutrition.

Remember that dairy is a part of the Mediterranean diet.  Whether you drink milk, eat yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese or ice cream – it is an excellent source of protein, vitamins and minerals.  Europeans and others in the Asian continent have dairy as an integral component of their food ways.  The owners of the luxury shoe brand, Manalo Blahnik, have a dairy farm in Litchfield, Connecticut.

One of our speakers had a great list of “benefits” of being a dairy cow – which I’d like to share with you:

  • Full time pay, part time work.  Work approximately 20-30 minutes per day. 10 months on, 2months off.
  • Employer provides complete paid medical coverage.  Doctor on call 24/7 -- 365 days.
  • All meals are prepared by a nutritionist, with room service and clean up every time.
  • Full time housekeeper who even cleans bathrooms.
  • Hair dresser, pedicurist and spa facilities are provided.
  • 24 hour security surveillance.
  • Mate selection made through a directory of selective traits and could be a different mate each year.  Artificially inseminated, with no concern about contracting a communicable disease.
  • A paid team of experts are always available.
  • All transportation is provided.

I always love learning about where our food comes from and about the people who make it possible for us to eat.  My gratitude to the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council for arranging such an enlightening experience.


This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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