Experience dairy differently this month.

So in May I wrote a post about why May is such a fantastic month. Its big finale is my birthday (May 31) and it’s also Beef Month, and Egg Month. Well, if May is the best month then June is a pretty decent following act. It’s like the calendar said, “Well, May was pretty fantastic for Kelly, with Beef Month and her birthday. How can we make June the best possible start to a new year of her life?” So then June became Dairy Month.

(I don’t think that’s the actual story of how June became Dairy Month but that’s what I’m going with.)

Anyways, the day after I turned 23 this year, June Dairy Month started and automatically I was reminded of how awesome the world is with things like cheese and yogurt and ice cream and chocolate milk in it. I think my appreciation is even MORE profound now, because I can now say I’ve done real-life milking on a real-life dairy. My friend Dairy Carrie hosted me in Wisconsin and put up with me before dawn while she gave me the “real dairy” experience.

Kelly Rivard helping with milking

Just call me Kelly the Milkmaid! I’m smiling before 6 a.m. — this is unusual and mildly terrifying.

She taught me the entire milking process:

  • We did some set-up work prior to milking, to make sure all the equipment and the parlor were ready for the cows.
  • We brought in cows, which involves walking into a barn full of animals that are bigger divas than you are and pleading them to do what you ask. (Carrie also observed that I don’t carry the “afraid of large animals” gene at this point.)
  • Teat dip. It sterilizes the surface of the teat so that there’s no bacteria or other ickies there when you attach the milker. You apply, let it sit a minute, then wipe it off.
  • I learned how to check each “quarter” or “teat” (which are the four things that milk comes out of) to make sure there’s no blockage or build-up which can indicate illness or bad milk, and also get the milk flowing.
  • You attach the milker, and you have to make sure to do so in a way that is both comfortable to the cow and can get the best suction.
  • In this particular parlor, when the cow stops giving milk, the milker automatically drops off and is pulled back to its “resting” place by a retracting cord.
  • After the cow is done milking, you apply teat dip again, and this time you leave it.
  • Once all the cows on a side are done, you lower the guard rail and they walk out. Sometimes they’s stubborn so you have to encourage them to get out of the alley so that the next group of cows will come in.
  • Repeat.
  • At the end of milking, we had to wash the parlor, flush out all the milking equipment, and clean up after ourselves.

As complicated as that may sound, that’s the simple version. Carrie also introduced me to “dumping.” Dumping is when a cow’s milk is unfit for human consumption. It’s illegal to sell milk that contains antibiotics in it, so if there is a cow that has been treated with antibiotics, that milk gets pumped into an individual canister, rather than the bulk take where the healthy milk goes. This is also the case if there’s a cow whose milk might contain blood because of a health issue. You can’t not milk the cow, for several reasons, but you also can’t introduce that milk into the food supply.

You can read about my full experience with Dairy Carrie in Wisconsin at this link. Disclaimer: it involves me getting VERY up close and personal with a cow.

So, experiencing that made me appreciate dairy even MORE. And then, I think about all of the people who work and the things that happen OFF the farm to make wonderful, delicious dairy products.

cheese with Dairy Carrie

When I was in Wisconsin, Dairy Carrie also treated me to a cheese-sampling lunch. Carrie and I had a great time eating cheese together. She exposed me to lots of new and wonderful types and subtypes of cheese.

Cheese. A lot of things happen between milk and cheese. A lot of hours go into making delicious cheese. And chocolate milk? Someone had to add that chocolate. And not just chocolate milk (which I LOVE), but all milk — that milk was also pasteurized and homogenized somewhere, and drivers were involved in picking it up from the farm and then taking it to the stores after bottling. Yogurt had to be fermented, fruits and flavors had to be added! Don’t forget about ice cream. Beautiful, glorious, cold, refreshing, delicious ice cream.

So, dairy is awesome, you guys. A lot of things happen to make sure that product not only gets to you, but does so in a fast and safe manner! Next time you bit into a piece of cheese, take a sip of milk, pour creamer into your coffee, or enjoy nutritious yogurt as a snack, remember how many people along the way pitched in to bring that product to you. Organic, conventional, large, or small, dairy is a diverse trade that I’m blessed to have had an inside view to.

Happy June Dairy Month!

Later this month I hope to have a blog post featuring questions. I have a group of dairy farmers ready and willing to answer your questions — if you are someone who isn’t involved in the dairy industry and you have questions about it, please comment with them and I’ll use them in my dairy farmer panel. Or, if you prefer to remain anonymous, feel free to email me at kelly.m.rivard@gmail.com


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