Behind The Scenes At Dairy Farms: What Every Milk Hauler Should Know
Between the twice-daily milking and the many tasks and responsibilities required to maintain herds of cattle, a lot is required of dairy farmers to keep their operations running smoothly. If you’re thinking about taking on the new challenge of hauling milk, here’s what you need to know about what goes on behind the scenes of dairy farming.
Dairy cows are typically milked twice or three times per day, depending on the type of cow (some breeds, like Holsteins, produce more milk than others). To prevent imparting a grassy or feed-like taste to milk (which can happen if cows are milked too recently after they’ve been fed), cows are usually milked first thing in the morning (around 6 a.m.) and again in the evening (around 5 p.m.), and provided with a fresh pasture of grass and/or hay and silage after each milking. A typical cow spends about eight hours per day eating, eight hours ruminating or chewing their cud, and eight hours sleeping.
The Milking Process
Modern milking equipment has drastically reduced the length of time it takes to milk each cow—from 15 to 20 minutes per cow (by hand) to less than five minutes (by machine), depending on the type of equipment and the cow. Farmers begin by sanitizing the cow’s teats (usually by dipping them in a predip solution for 20-30 seconds), to prevent contamination and infection, before attaching the milking apparatus. Milking equipment works by mimicking a young calf’s suckling though a pulsating vacuum around the teat that causes the milk to be released from the udder. After a few minutes, when milking is complete, the farmer removes the milking equipment and re-sanitizes the cow’s teats. Most dairy farms have enough equipment to milk 20-40 cows at a time, which makes the whole process much more efficient, especially given that the average herd size for U.S. dairy farms is 115 mature cows.
At the farm, refrigerated vats or silos are used to store the milk in optimal conditions until the next scheduled pickup. There, the milk is kept cold (about 36 degrees F) and continuously agitated so that the milk fat does not separate out from the milk. Milking equipment, storage containers and the stainless steel pipes that connect them are all cleaned thoroughly between uses. This cleaning often involves teamwork between the milk hauler (who rinses the tank as part of his inspection) and the farmer (who is responsible for thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing the tank between milkings).
Milk Pickups and Transportation
Milk is collected from each farm every 12 to 48 hours, depending on the volume of milk produced and the milk hauler’s route. Milk tank trucks are heavily insulated to keep milk cold and shielded from light while it travels from the farm to the processing facility where it will be tested, treated, pasteurized, homogenized, and prepared for sale.
Since less than 2 percent of the U.S. population is involved in farming, it’s fair to say that milk haulers get a privileged perspective on the challenges and requirements of dairy farming, and that experienced haulers know more about the industry than most other people they meet. This insight and appreciation for the hard work of dairy farming is one of the most oft-cited reasons why milk haulers love their jobs; when you work alongside people as devoted to their work as dairy farmers, it’s impossible not to feel the same drive to be invested in your work—and to want to support them in theirs.