Got milk?! The answer is a resounding “yes!” from American families. Approximately 212,436,000,000 pounds of milk were produced in the U.S. in 2016 according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), adding that milk consumption has consistently increased since 2009.
For most of us, the journey to get our milk (and other dairy products) is a short one; it begins at the grocery store and ends at your kitchen table. What you don’t see is everything that happens before the milk ever gets to the grocery store. It’s quite a journey!
Down on the Dairy Farm
Health and safety is a priority on dairy farms. To create a healthy foundation for milk cows to graze, many farmers typically recycle their manure as natural fertilizer. This adds natural nutrients to the soil and often requires farmers to use less water, and that’s a good thing because typical dairy cows drink nearly a bathtub full of water each day! That’s why farmers need to stay current on best practices to conserve their resources. Recycling farm water multiple times is an efficient way to provide for the animals, while also keeping operations running smoothly. Water is often recycled for cooling milk, irrigating crops and washing the barn.
Quality Care for Cows
A healthy plot of land and amount of water improve the care for dairy cows. As the main producers, the cows are the most important part of any dairy farm. Just as their intake of water is high, dairy cows consume nearly 100 pounds of food per day, which can include:
- Soybean meal
Harvesting and Storing Milk
Among the most important tasks for dairy farmers is the safe harvest and storage of milk. When it comes harvesting milk, farms typically use milking machines that take roughly five minutes per cow.
Once harvested from the cow, the milk can make its way to the grocery store in as little as 48 hours. After milking the cow, farmers must store milk in large storage vats or silos that are kept refrigerated around 39 degrees Fahrenheit.
For cleanliness and efficiency, farmers must clean the pipes and storage vats after the milk has been collected for transport. Once milk arrives at a milk plant, the milk will be tested for safety purposes before it is ever transported to a grocery store. It will also be pasteurized and homogenized. As you may know, organic milk will not be treated with any antibiotics.
From Grocery Store to Table
Because milk is transported and tested quickly upon leaving the farm, you can rest assured the milk you buy in a grocery store is fresh. Milk is a valuable resource from cows and is used in many products we use consume each day.
Milk is a diverse product in that of itself. Other uses for milk include:
- Face masks
- Soothe itchy or irritated skin
- Stain remover
- Cool a spicy or “hot” mouth
- Makeup remover
Milk, however, is most popular for its use in foods, including:
- Ice cream
- Cream or sour cream
As you can see, milk has a quick and thorough journey from farm to table for its many uses.