D is for Dairy Products

The kids are back in school. Well, maybe yours are. We have one last year to refrain from all the "busy-ness" that real school brings. A final cherished year with all three babies at home. That's how I'm choosing to see this "school year."

Any-hoo...if kids are back in school, that means kids are eating school lunches. And if kids are eating school lunches, that means they are probably drinking school milk. Well, you hope they are drinking milk anyway, right? Right.

And you hope they are learning new things. Addition, prepositions, boyfriend aquisition; among other things.

So now would be a good time for us, too, to pull up a chair, get a glass of cold, creamy milk, and learn some new things.

Like this, for instance - Two years ago the "urban" population on planet Earth surpassed the "rural" population. Not a big surprise for us in rural Kansas. We know our state's small population of 2.8 million is concentrated in just five of our 105 counties. (Thank you to my newest Kansas Farm Bureau magazine for this insight.)

And we also know this - milk comes from cows. Dairy cows to be specific. Usually the black and white kind, you know, the tall, leggy, large bosom-ed kind.

Which we means we most definitely know that Chick-Fil-A uses a dairy animal to encourage you to "eat more chicken." A confusing message. Enough said.

And we know that the Nickelodeon movie Barnyard portrays a male dairy cow with an udder. Cute movie. Another very confusing message.

So if the folks at Chick-Fil-A (food making people for dang's sake) and Nickelodeon can't get it right; we know we have some work to do with that growing urban segment.

Let's start with dairy products. Dairy products are derived from milk. And milk is produced by these momma cows.

(Side note...Dairy Farming Today has produced these great videos available on You Tube. My kiddos and I enjoyed watching and learning!)

Today, there are over 9.3 million producing dairy cows spread out over 67,000 dairy farms. That makes a national average of 138 cows per farm; sounds pretty good. But that's only half the truth. The dairy industry has seen huge consolidation in recent history - 15 years ago there were twice that many dairy farms in the United States.

While there is an educated, economics-based reason for this, I'll give you my own "mommy interpretation."

The kids and I visited the Meng Dairy Farm in Troy, KS this summer. (Many thanks for Fred and Norman for their hospitality! My camera batteries crashed when we got there. Of course.) The Meng brothers milk about 100 cows, twice a day, every day. Each milking takes about three hours start to finish. That's six hours per day spent just milking. Six hours. And we haven't accounted for everything else that goes into taking care of the cows, calves, and ensuring a feed supply for them. All that work to support two families. And I said support them; not elevate them to wealth.

I don't really care what economics has to say about dairy industry consolidation; spending six hours a day, every day of the year in a milk barn to work to support a family says enough.

You can see why dairy farm numbers are dwindling, while herd sizes and farm sizes are growing.

US dairy cows produce, on average, 20,576 pounds of milk per year. That doesn't mean much to me - I need a visual.

That's much better. A gallon of milk weighs about 8 pounds. (The milk industry technically says 8.6 lbs/gallon.) That would mean an average US dairy cow produces 6.5 gallons of milk each day. Impressive. To produce that much milk, a dairy cow will consume 100 pounds of feed and 50 gallons of water each day.

Want to know what's more impressive? At any given time, a dairy cow's udder can hold up to 50 pounds of milk. (This former lactater just doubled over in pain.)

Cows are milked in a special barn called a milking parlor. Cows enter individual stalls, have their udders cleaned and examined, and then are hooked up to a milking machine. Works just like a breast pump, ladies.

The milk goes directly from the machine into either a bulk tank or a large truck. On a small farm, such as Meng Dairy, the milk will be stored in a bulk tank until it is hauled away by a truck every 2-3 days to a processing plant. The milk is kept cool and is gently stirred to prevent the milk and the cream from separating. On larger, commercial scale dairies, the milk is pumped directly onto a large tanker truck with a cooling unit. Once full, the truck goes directly to a processing facility.

Farmers are paid for their milk based on every 100 pounds sold. The price is established in the commodity markets at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The current price for commodity milk is $15.95 per 100 pounds. Current retail milk prices are about $3.29 per gallon. That means a farmer's share of a gallon of milk is about $1.37. The remaining $1.92 goes to processing, transportation and retail.

At the processing facility, the milk is pasteurized and homogenized. Pasteurization means the milk is heated to 161 degrees Fahrenheit for not more than 15 seconds then cooled rapidly. This process removes any harmful pathogens present in the milk. Homogenization is the mechanical process of breaking up and evenly distributing fat throughout the milk. Without this important step, the cream would rise to the top.

Check out the label on the gallon of milk in your fridge. More than likely, it says "pasterized, homogenized and fortified." What's the fortified part all about?

Milk is fortified with Vitamins D and A. Why? Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. Since this vitamin is seldom present in any other foods, 98% of fluid milk contains this vitamin. Vitamin A is also added because during the process of removing the fat from the milk to make your preferred variety - 2%, 1%, or whole - this vitamin is stripped away. Read this for more information.

A mechanical separation process produces the different varieties of milk. And today, thanks to modern food production techniques, various mechanical processes also help produce some of our favorite dairy products - cheese, yogurt, butter, cream, and ice cream.

Organic is a favorite word in today's "foodie movement." Should you consider organic milk for your family? Certified organic milk refers specifically to the milk production techniques. The cows cannot be treated with antibiotics, cannot be administered BGH (bovine growth hormone), their feed must meet National Organic Standards for fertilizers and pesticides, and they must have access to pasture grazing. According to all research to date, organic and traditional milk have no differences in terms of quality, nutrition and safety. The biggest difference? Price. Up to double that of traditional milk. This article and this information can help you make up your own mind about organic milk.

And what about those hormones? About 25% of cows in the US are treated with BGH to stimulate milk production. The hormone occurs naturally in cows, and some dairy farmers administer BGH to their cows to boost production.

Let's remember what' most important here, mommies. Milk is a super food. A one cup serving of milk provides more than 10% of the daily recommended intake of calcium, Vitamin D, protein, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin B12, riboflavin and phosphorus. Kids age 2-8 should have two cups of milk each day; ages 9-18 should have three. And, kids who eat school lunch drink more milk than those who don't. You may also find it interesting that yogurt and cheese do not count toward the milk serving requirements for school lunch. And, chocolate or flavored milk is better than no milk at all. An eight-ounce serving of low-fat flavored milk contains an additional four teaspoons of sugar, compared six or seven teaspoons in an equivalent serving of juice or soda.

Here's hoping you and your kiddos are getting all the milk you need, and just a bit extra for some special "ice cream" moments like these...


Mike Matson said…
Great post! That Kansas Farm Bureau magazine sounds like it's particularly well-written/edited. =)

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