The Long Haul: A Day in the Life of a Milk Hauler

Most people are snug and cosy in bed when our milk haulers start their day. Some begin as early as 4 a.m, some around 7 a.m., and some in between.

What people don’t realize is there is more to milk hauling than just picking up a tanker of milk and driving it to the nearest plant. Our milk haulers actually work in teams of pick-up drivers and transporters, and each has specialized and complex duties to perform to add to the safety and value of the milk they move.  

A Milk Hauler’s Duties

A complete vehicle and equipment inspection is the first item on the agenda in a milk hauler’s day. Safety is our top priority. Next, he checks out the trailer’s pumping unit, which is located in the back. It is an electric motor that runs a pump with a hose attached to it. Haulers use the hose to suck the milk out of the farmer’s tanks. Paperwork is then gathered up, dispatches are checked and the drivers are ready to begin their pick-ups.

Once at the farm, their job escalates in complexity.

First, the quality of the milk waiting in the farmer’s tank must be checked. The pick-up driver opens the farm tank cover and smells it to tell if the milk is in good condition. Next, he checks the temperature (milk should be ideally between 34° F and 36° F) and makes sure it looks good before he begins to pump it. This quality check is essential since the milk will combined with the other farms’. If there is a problem, this is the time to forestall it.

Farmers get paid by the quantity and quality of their milk, and it is up to our drivers to agitate the milk to keep it in top form. 

Stirring and Testing

All our pick-up drivers have a Milk Receiver’s License for the state in which they are picking up the milk. It proves they have been trained and tested on the proper procedures for collecting samples and transporting raw milk.  Drivers take a written test and are observed by a state representative before being issued a license. It must be renewed every so many years, depending on the state.

The pick-up process begins when the driver uses the bulk tank’s measuring stick to record the volume of the liquid. Then he starts the tank agitator, which mixes the milk to make sure it’s all agitated. Some people don’t realize that the cream naturally separates after milk has been sitting still and the rises to the top.

After agitating, the driver takes a sample of the milk and puts it in a 2 oz. sterile sample vial, which will be sent to a lab for testing. The integrity of that sample is very important for quality analysis, and we rely on our milk haulers to do this vital part of their job well.

The sample will establish how much butterfat is contained in the milk, how much protein, the somatic cell count, and whether there are any bacteria or antibiotics in the milk. The higher the quality of that milk, the more money and premiums the farmer receives. 

Once the sample is taken, the hose is hooked up to the farm bulk tank and the milk is pumped into the trailer. On completion, the milk hauler rinses any milk residue out of the farmer’s tank before starting the automatic washing and sanitizing system.

If there isn’t a plant close by that the pick-up driver can deliver to that allows him to comply with the hours of service regulations, he’ll bring the load back to the terminal and then finish up his day. 

Enter Earl T. Wadhams Transport Drivers

Our transport driver then takes over. He double-checks everything on the truck for homeland and food security reasons. We do this because, even though we have a airtight process, we want to make sure everything is in order and nothing is tampered with.

Next, the driver heads to the plant. Once there, the tank’s gross weight is noted, and milk samples are sent to the lab along, with one sample composed of milk taken from each compartment on the trailer. This composite sample of all the milk on that trailer is tested immediately for antibiotics, temperature and bacteria before the tank can be pumped.

Once the load passes these tests, high-speed pumps move the milk from the trailer into the milk plant’s storage silos, and then the inside of the bulk tank is washed and sanitized.

While the milk is being pumped out, the driver dissembles all the parts of the milk pump, such as the hose and gaskets. He washes them with hot water and a brush before re-assembling everything for a new start the next day. 

It’s almost time to return to the terminal, but not before everything is re-sealed and the driver has received a tag with a date, location and time that proves the trailer is sanitized. The transport driver documents the seals, does his paperwork, and it’s the end of another day. 

Rick Wadhams

Rick Wadhams

Rick Wadhams joined his father’s company driving the milk runs in the the early 1970s as a teenager. Rick has spent his life and career in the freight business, with experience in everything from maintenance to driving to management. As co-owner with his brother Steve, Rick forges the way forward for this family-run business.