Where’s the milk come from?
Same place as other mammals but with special names! Dairy cow mammary glands form what’s called an udder which has four teats that the milk comes from. A squeezing and pulling action will produce milk from the teat, and this can be done by hand if you have just a few cows. On a commercial dairy, tubes with vacuum are placed on each teat and these suction the milk into tubes that feed into a chilled tank.
I highly recommend the seven-minute video from Our State Magazine about Homeland Creamery if you’ve never a milking operation in action.
Cows usually go in for a milking twice a day, typically once in the wee hours of the morning and then again in the late afternoon. Each cow produces about 8 gallons of milk each day. When they go to the barn for milking, the cows usually receive any supplemental feed for the day.
What happens next?
Usually, this is the point where the milk and cream go their separate ways. The process is called standardization and involves spinning the liquid at high speeds in a centrifugal separator so the skim and cream separate. After that, the cream is then reintroduced to produce the familiar skim, 1%, 2% and whole grades.
Following standardization, in North Carolina all milk products must be pasteurized, a process that kills potentially harmful organisms without majorly changing the chemical composition of the milk. Most milk we drink is then also homogenized, a process that causes the fats in the milk to stay in the milk, as opposed to rising to the top. “Creamline” milk is milk that is un-homogenized (heterogenous) and has a nice, tasty layer of cream at the top. Either way, the milk can then be put into bottles, jugs and cartons and sold at your local store.
Of course, some of that cream stays separate in the standardization process goes to the creamery for pasteurization before being transformed into some of our favorite things: butter, ice cream, cheese and butter. Did I mention butter?
The report summary of a study done by the USDA Economic Research Service sums up current US dairy trends nicely “U.S. dairy production is consolidating into fewer but larger farms”. NC Dairy Advantage reports that in 2011 the number of dairy farms in NC was 285, but less than 25 years before, there were 1,132 farms, even while milk production in our state is shrinking and population is growing. Small farms like we currently have in NC grow more of their own feed, raise their own heifers and allow their cows to graze on pasture. They’re being displaced by farms in other states that raise over 1,000 and sometimes more than 5,000 cows.
Getting into why this trend should concern you is another blog post entirely, but it essentially boils down to your personal philosophy about your food (you’ve got one, right?). I’m all for the free market, but when it comes to milk, I prefer a dairy with cows that have access to green pastures and humane living conditions, which means I prefer my milk, ice cream and butter (did I mention butter?) from dairies I know.
Next time, Homeland Creamery in Julian!