From Farm to Market
Where Milk Comes From
Milk goes straight from the cow's udder through a system of hoses or pipes into an enclosed stainless steel milk tank (also called a bulk tank) where it is immediately cooled. When all the cows are done milking, it's time to clean up. The hose leading into the milk tank is detached and the milking system is flushed with hot water, followed by a cleaning with detergent, followed by a disinfectant rinse. The milking parlor and the room housing the bulk tank must also be cleaned. There are lots of rules and regulations to follow in a dairy. Barns and milking parlors must be designed and maintained a certain way and are inspected regularly. When a cow first begins a production cycle, her milk is kept separate from that of the herd. It is three to four days before the cow has "come into her milk" (stopped producing colostrum). Then a sample of the cow's milk is taken and sent to the milk lab for testing. When it has been cleared by the lab, it is allowed to join that of the rest of the herd. When cows get sick and need to be treated with antibiotics, that milk must also be kept out of production. It is again tested before it is allowed to go into the bulk tank with the rest of the milk. Most farmers sell their milk wholesale to someone else for processing. It is picked up at the farm at least every other day by a big tanker truck that also picks up milk from other farmers. The tanker truck driver checks the temperature of the milk and takes a sample of milk from the bulk tank before the milk is transferred through a large hose attached to the tanker truck. If a farmer allows tainted milk to be transferred to the tanker truck to mix with the other milk, that entire truckload of milk will need to be dumped and the buyer may charge the farmer for it. At the very least, the farmer will not get paid for his load of milk. No farmer can afford to make that kind of mistake. So, before milk is ever processed, it has been tested several times. You might be interested to know that some farmers, and those who work for them, tap milk from their bulk tanks for their own families. That's raw, unprocessed milk, straight from the cow, and it's the best milk I ever tasted. That's one of the benefits of being a dairy farmer!

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Copyright 1997 Kathleen A. O'Connell and Sean P. O'Connell