Did you know that it only takes 48 hours for milk to get from the cow to the store?
This fall, I was able to see the entire process of how milk travels from the farm to the store. We always grab a gallon of milk when we are grocery shopping. I love drinking milk! As a milk drinker, this farm tour was fascinating! I visited with Dale and Linda Drendel in Northern Illinois and was able to see the whole milking process.
The Drendels have dairy farming in their blood; both of their families have been farming for generations. Their dairy farm, Lindale Holsteins, has mostly Holstein cows. They are the black and white cows you may think of when you think of a dairy cow. A cow needs to have a calf before she is a milking cow. Her milk production peaks 40 to 60 days after a calf is born, and then her milk production slowly decreases.
The Drendels milk their cows twice a day; early in the morning, and then at about 4:00 in the afternoon. The cows are trained to go into the milking parlor. They line up outside the door, quietly waiting their turn to be milked. Once the cows walk to their spot in the milking parlor, the farmers clean the cows’ udders, and then place a milking machine on the cows’ teats. Dale had me put my thumb in one of the milkers; the suction was very gentle on my thumb. The milk is collected in large glass containers and sent to a cooler through stainless steel pipes to be cooled down to 38 degrees as quickly as possible.
A refrigerated tanker truck picks up the milk from the cooler and takes it to the milk processing plant. At the plant, the milk goes through several tests before it is even allowed to leave the truck. These tests include screening for bacteria and antibiotics. The milk is then put into a refrigerated raw milk silo. I was lucky enough to be able to visit a Dean’s processing plant in Huntley, Illinois, to see milk being prepared for its trip to the grocery store. (I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures inside the plant, due to security reasons.
At the processing plant, several things happen to the milk. A very important step is pasteurization. There are several different forms of pasteurization, and most of the milk we see in the store is heated to 168 degrees for 25 seconds. This kills harmful bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria. Think about that temperature for a second. I steam my vegetables at a higher temperature and for longer than 25 seconds, and yet I don’t lose all of the nutritional value vegetables have to offer. Most of the nutrients in milk are not affected by the pasteurization process. One vitamin that is affected by pasteurization is Vitamin C. However, milk is not a good source of Vitamin C anyway. Milk provides plenty of other nutrients that are important for our bodies. Not only does milk provide calcium, it also provides Vitamin D, riboflavin, phosphorus, protein, potassium, Vitamin A, Vitamin B12, and niacin. The milk is also fortified with extra Vitamin A and Vitamin D.
During the homogenization process, the milk fat is broken up into tiny particles and spread evenly throughout the milk. Homogenization keeps the cream from rising to the top of the milk as it sits in your refrigerator, and does not affect the nutritional value of milk.
At the Dean’s processing plant, they make the plastic jugs right on the premises. After the milk is put into the gallon jugs, it is trucked directly to stores such as Jewel and Walmart. Milk has a short shelf life of about 16-20 days, and so the sooner it is on the shelves, the better it is for us as consumers.
We love to have milk in our cereal or to drink it out of a glass. I use milk for cooking and baking, and one of my favorite snacks is popcorn and milk! Does your family drink milk? What part of the milking process would you like to know more about?
Originally posted on Lemon Drop Pie.
Mount Prospect, Illinois
Christa was part of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Mom class. Throughout the year she visited Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Want to learn more? Read Our Story: Chicago moms meet farmers. Read more from Christa on her blog, Lemon Drop Pie.