Originally posted on the blog Trends and Tips by Sherri Schubert
On a beautiful day in Hilmar,CA, the quasi-sweet aroma of the land and the raw beauty of the neighboring almond trees and cornfields surrounded me in the day of the life of a modern dairy farm – a far cry from NYC. What I discovered this day influenced my views and thoughts about dairy cow care and food safety forever.
More and more we are questioning where our food comes from and how it is processed. Milk and cheese are two of the most scrutinized foods due to reports of inhumane treatment of cows, hormone and antibiotic use, dairy farming CO2 emissions, and nutritional misinformation.
I have to be honest. My family primarily drinks soy and almond beverages. About ten years ago I visited a dairy farm in New Zealand and stopped drinking milk. Unlike my experience in New Zealand, my trip to the Clauss Dairy Farm in Hilmar, CA, where 2000 light brown Jersey cows (each weighing 1200 lbs), was much more enjoyable and educational. Will I start drinking milk as a result? Probably not, but I what I learned must be shared.
Visiting the Clauss dairy farm was like visiting a spa for cows. Seriously! I was so impressed by the humane treatment of the dairy cows and how content they were. A typical dairy cow’s day includes many of the same activities we engage in.
REST – lay resting 12-14 hours per day (6-8 of that sleeping) in free stalls (50% of dairy farms use) vs. communal pens (30% of dairy farms use) and pastures (15%). Beds are made of almond shells, corn husks and wood chips fluffed 2 times per day.
EAT – eat 3-5 hours per day (9-14 meals), made of all non-organic corn, rolled corn, cottonseed and barely. Drink water 30 minutes per day.
SOCIALIZE – social interactions, like estrus and grooming 2-3 hours per day.
MILK – 45 minutes- 3 times per day. Watching this was the most fascinating part of the day. I was completely amazed by the technology, the process, and the happy behavior the cows exhibited through it all. Allow me to elaborate.
Step 1– 250 cows enter the washing area where sprinklers mist them for 2 minutes. They dry as they wait to enter the second area.
Step 2 – the cows enter the waiting pen (area 2) directly in front of the washing area where they wait to move onto the carousel milking parlor (rotary platform).
Step 3 – 50 of the waiting cows excitedly(really!) usher themselves onto a highly technical rotary platform. One cow enters an individual stall on the carousel at a time. Each are quickly checked by a milker for mastitis, and then connected to the pulsating/vacuum machine. They ride the carousel for about 5 minutes (from start to finish) during which time they are electronically monitored by sensors to evaluate how much milk is being extracted (4-5 gallons of milk per cow, per milking – totaling 20,000 lbs. of milk per cow per year).
Step 4 – the cow comes to the end of the carousel, a milker removes the electronic connectors and puts iodine on the teets to ensure no bacteria enters. One cow at a time is prompted by a mist sprayer located at their feet to exit (in reverse) the carousel.
Step 5 – return to their stall for water and rest.
Now that we are comforted by the fact that the dairy cows are well-cared for, let’s look at food safety.
During my conversation with Kim Clauss, second generation dairy farmer, and their veterinarian, I learned that the Clauss Dairy farm is a conventional farm. This means that the cow feed is non-organic and the cows are treated with antibiotics and administered BHT (growth hormone). I was a bit surprised to hear this given the trend to buy organic, antibiotic and hormone free dairy products today. What I discovered; however, is that you may be buying antibiotic free when the packaging doesn’t indicate it. How is this possible? What I am about to share is important, so read on.
When a cow is treated with antibiotics, it is isolated and the milk is pumped and discarded. When the cow has recovered, it returns to the herd. Each truck carrying some 50 thousand gallons of milk is tested for antibiotics before entering the plant. Any milk testing positive with antibiotics is rejected – a dairy farmers worst nightmare because they stand to lose a lot of money. Rejecting milk with antibiotics is a standard practice across the US. Knowing this, we could assume that all US milk and cheese are without antibiotics. Right? It would seem that way to me. Then why don’t all milk and cheese packages indicate that they are antibiotic free? Is it a scam to get us to spend a few more dollars for products that say no antibiotics?
Something else to ponder….According to the veterinarian at Clauss Dairy Farm, the levels of naturally occurring BHT in cows is the same as in cows who are administered BHT. “So why give it to them,” I asked. The answer: Because the cows produce 10-15% more milk. Question? If the levels of BHT are the same in both cows, then why does some packaging indicate BHT free and others don’t?
1. Livestock production (including dairy, eggs, and other animal protein), is responsible for 3% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (March 2010), NOT 18% as reported in the 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Report.
2. The dairy cows life span is 6-8 years. They are bred every 13 months. Dairy cows with low production or no longer lactate are sold to other dairy farms or to beef factories.
If you want to learn more about what happens to the milk when it leaves the farm, check out this really cool three-minute video (http://www.hilmarcheese.com/CowTour.cms#) from the Hilmar Cheese Company (http://www.hilmarcheese.com/), largest cheese plant in the world, producing 1.4 million pounds per day.
We ended our amazing day at the home of Richard and Sharon Clauss who hosted a culinary delight with food made from Real California Milk (http://www.realcaliforniamilk.com/) and created by Chef Ryan Scott (http://www.ryanscott2go.com/). My favorite was the Cucumber and Yogurt Gazpacho with Caraway Seeds and Honeycomb and Panna Cotta with Bing Cheeries. Yummy.
Many thanks to the California Dairy Association Board and Real California Milk, sponsors of the dairy farm and cheese factory excursion, for extending an opportunity of a life-time to educate us about how modern dairy cow’s live, how milk and cheese are produced, how dairy farming is eco-friendly, and how milk and cheese are nutritional choices.