It’s pretty easy to figure out which processor your milk came from. But how did it get there? The Where Is My Milk From? website is pretty cool, but it only tells you about the last step in milk processing. How does this whole milking thing work, anyway?
Cows have to get milked every day. And more than once a day! Dairies will either milk their cows two or three times a day. The cows at New Generation Dairy are milked three times a day, about every eight hours.
How much milk does one cow make? Every cow is a little different, but the ladies here average nine gallons of milk every day! So with around 1200 milking cows, that’s almost 11,000 gallons of milk from the New Generation Dairy every day! (No wonder they go through so much feed and water!)
That’s a lot of milk… it’s a bit too much to milk every cow by hand! So how on earth do these cows get milked three times a day? It’s a combination of elbow grease and milking machines.
Each group of cows comes into the milking parlor together. The herdsmen slowly walk behind the cows to get them into the building where the parlor is. Then the gates take over. This automated gate moves very slowly, but still gently keeps the cows moving towards the parlor. There is a loud buzzer that sounds when the gate moves, so the cows know it is coming.
Very few of the cows need this encouragement, they know when it is time to be milked and head to the parlor, but it helps any stragglers keep up with the group.
This milking parlor is arranged in two rows. The cows can go down either side of the parlor. The workers are on the red area between the rows of milkers, and are actually a few feet below the cows. This makes it a lot easier to get to the udders, which is where all the action is!
Once the cows are in the parlor, they walk in single-file down the row of milkers. Here comes one now!
When they get to the end (or to the next cow), they turn sideways so their heads are facing out, and their behinds (and udders) are facing towards the middle. The workers have a couple of very important jobs here.
First, they take a clean towel for each cow and wipe off the teats. I wouldn’t really call cows dirty animals, but they sure aren’t as big on hygiene as, say, cats are. And they can’t reach behind them to clean their own udders. So we have to do it for them!
After a clean towel is used to wipe off any dirt or manure from each teat, each teat is dipped in an iodine solution. Then the iodine is wiped off with a new towel. (Are you doing your math? That’s 2 towels per cow, 1200 cows, and 3 milkings a day… 7200 towels a day! And you thought you had a lot of laundry!)
Seriously, these guys are fast! I couldn’t get a clear picture for the life of me!
After the teats are clean, they are “stripped.” All this means is that the worker manually gets one squirt of milk out of each teat. This has a couple of purposes. First, it helps get the milk flow started. Second, the worker looks at the milk that was just squirted on the ground. He can tell by the appearance of the milk if the cow has any infection or other problems in her udder. If the milk looks normal, no problem. If the milk doesn’t look normal, the milk from this cow is not added to the milk from the rest of the herd and she gets a vet check. This is one of the first lines of food safety for milk!
After the teats are cleaned and the milk has been visually checked, the milking machine is attached. Each teat gets a separate milking arm. They work by gentle vacuum pressure. They are held on to the teats by a steady vacuum pressure, and the pressure is gently increased and decreased to get milk flow from the udder into the milk collection system.
When the milk flow has stopped, each arm will drop off the teat. When the cow is done milking, she is free to leave the parlor and head back to her pen. From the time the cow comes into the parlor to the time she is done takes less than ten minutes – and she gives us around three gallons of milk in that short time!
Phew! Time for a snack, a drink of water, and a nap!