Obviously things are different now, and many people can only go so far as a few window-sill herbs or a tomato plant in a pot when it comes to gardening. To consider even a humble laying hen is out of the question, much less a family milk cow. For most, relying on what the grocery store provides is the only option. I’m not going to say that I like it, because I don’t. But what I will do, is tell you the truth about the dairy farms, especially here in the Midwest. I will also tell you the truth about what it is in the milk you drink.
So who are dairy farmers?
Farming historically has been a family business, and dairy is no exception. Many farmers have been at their profession their entire lives, and they do it because it is in their blood. Many times it goes back multiple generations, and they like it that way. The life of a dairy farmer is not easy. They don’t get often get to take vacations, because taking care of livestock is a 365 day a year job.
There are only two reasons in the world a person will work their tail off every single day of their life. One is if they make enough money to become rich beyond their wildest dreams. The other is if they truly love their job. And trust me, dairy farmers aren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, farmers are paid less than one third of the price you see milk on the shelf for. Keep that in mind when you see milk on sale for $1.79 a gallon.
Aren’t most commercial dairy farms huge, soul-less operations?
The average herd size of a dairy in Indiana is 84. Throughout the Midwest the average herd size is less than 200. I can compare that to my experience when I was a kid raising hogs. We had 60 sows, (female mamma pigs). Then there were all the babies at different stages to take into consideration. So our wee little farm had anywhere from 80-150 pigs at one time. And I can tell you honestly that between my dad and I we were able to give each animal individual attention. We noticed when things were wrong. We even had our favorites. Some even, gasp! had names. The dairy farmers are the same way.
Is there weird dangerous stuff in the milk I buy at the store?
There are two things that we commonly hear about being added to our milk lately, and those are antibiotics and hormones. To be perfectly clear, neither of those things are ever added directly into milk. EVER. It is truly pointless to add something like that to a finished product. When it comes to antibiotics, they are used on cows that are SICK. That’s it. Antibiotics are expensive, and from a business perspective, dosing every cow that is healthy with antibiotics is a huge waste of money. Also, a sick cow’s milk can not be put into the tanker for sale and delivery. I’ll explain why. Every cow gives approximately 6 gallons of milk per day. At 84 cows in a dairy, a single day of milk adds up to more than 500 gallons. That one cow who is being treated with antibiotics will contaminate the entire batch, and when it’s tested (which it is, over 4 MILLION individual batches are tested yearly in the Midwest alone.) it will be found to have antibiotics. And it will be destroyed. That’s right. Basically dumped down the tube. All 500 gallons. And who has to suffer the lost income? The farmer. That is not a risk a farmer is willing to take.
When it comes to hormones, however, it’s a different story. The most commonly used hormone is recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST). It is used to increase milk productivity in cows. The government has declared that this hormone is perfectly safe to administer to cows because 1) it occurs naturally in cows anyway and 2) when compared with milk from non-hormone added cows shows an “insignificant” difference in residual hormone. Here’s where I’m a little leery because I’m not really big on just trusting what the government tells me. The good news is that at most only 25 percent of dairy farmers even use the hormone to begin with, and the ones who are certified organic are not allowed to use it at all. So if you are concerned about the hormone, go organic for sure.
Where did all this information come from?
All of this information is available at the websites below. I welcome and encourage you to fact check every single thing I’ve mentioned in this post. I fully support you not just taking my word on it. In fact, if you were to visit even one of these sites you would learn even more about the dairy industry, because there is so much more information than I didn’teven touch on.
I realize that maybe only in my version of a perfect world is everyone able to have their own milk cow and have dairy products fresh from the source every day. I certainly know its on my list of things to do in the near future. There are always going to be things I don’t like about mass producing something for the average consumer. However, I’m pretty happy and proud to have gained some knowledge on how the dairy farmers of the Midwest operate. I really like knowing that they want the same things for me and my family as they do their own families. And that makes grabbing that carton of milk from the supermarket cooler a little more satisfying.