National Milk Day is January 11th, so in honor, I thought I would post this piece. What’s your favorite way to enjoy milk? (Mine is with warm cookies, or a crunchy bowl of cereal, or with a warm quiche…)
It was a special day last fall for M’s 6th birthday and a tour on a local dairy farm with a friend from school (no school that day too!) Barb Liebenstein took us on a tour of her family’s dairy, less than an hour out from the Twin Cities. The afternoon included petting a 12 hour-old calf, checking out the shy goats, and watching 400 dairy cows get down to business. (Oh, and Barb served her daughter’s home-made cookies, with milk of course after the tour!)
Their day starts at 3:30 am, the roughly 400 cows are milked three times a day. I jumped at the chance to take a tour of a real farm, and to meet the dedicated family that runs it. (At the time of writing this, I am a member of the Midwest Dairy Association.)
I suppose I wanted to see the farm for myself. I wanted to educate myself about dairy production. I get a lot of questions about dairy, about soy, about organic, about hormones, so I want to know more…
What impressed me most about the tour:
- How content and calm the cows were. I think we have all seen some footage from extreme cases of neglect or abuse, and so I wanted to see for myself how the cows were treated. They looked pretty content (as far as I could tell…) They were calm, walked slowly, rested on fresh hay and sand… There was even an automatic massage station that the cows could stand under for a gentle rub and scratch. There was a line for the back scratcher…
- They had free access to food and water and bedding. They could wander around. They were sheltered from the elements, got specially mixed food with locally grown silage, a mix of soy protein and vitamins and minerals. They did not seem crowded.
- One sick cow was free to wander, away from the herd. Any cow that is sick or is being treated for mastitis (any of you moms had that out there???) is not milked with the herd. The milk is not put into what is sold for human consumption.
- All the milk is tested for antibiotics– twice. Once on-site and again off-site at the creamery. If any are found, they dump that milk, and the next day’s (4,000 gallons a day) and the farmer has to pay, so there is a high motivation to not have any antibiotics in the milk.
- The cows like routine. We were all amazed at how they wandered in single file, stood to have the milkers attached, and when they were done, they wandered out again. No one was prodding or pushing, they just went… Healthy and non-stressed cows are this family’s livelihood.
I also learned more about lactose intolerance, and that hard cheeses are often well tolerated, and that most folks can work up to enjoying and tolerating even milk if they want to. LI is passed down with one gene, so even if one parent is LI, chances are the child may not be, so I don’t recommend starting on a soy formula or soy milk if a parent is LI. (All humans are able to digest milk so they can drink mother’s milk until around weaning age, so babies are not strictly speaking “lactose intolerant” though they can have sensitivities and allergies, these are different things…) The history of LI is fascinating too, but that’s another post! Let’s just say that when some lucky soul had a genetic mutation to continue to derive nutritional benefits form milk some 90,000 years ago, it provided such a huge survival advantage that 90% of Northern Europeans now carry that gene… Oh, and cows are from the time of the saber tooth tiger and mastadon, the only surviving large mammal from that era…)
Boils down to, if you like the taste of milk, enjoy it. If you like the taste of chocolate milk, enjoy it. If you like cheese, yes, even full-fat glorious cheese, enjoy it. Your whole family can enjoy it, your kids can love it, within the framework of reliable meals and snacks and no pressure. If you don’t enjoy the taste of it, or chose not to consume dairy for other reasons, allergies etc, that’s OK too.
BTW, I found out it was national milk day from the fun feature on the back of Ingredient Magazine for kids. Lots of food related days every month!
*Disclosure: I was invited and accepted a position on the Midwest Dairy Association health and wellness committee. I feel comfortable with this role because I love the taste and nutritional benefits of dairy products from milk to cheese, and so does my family, and I feel that as a physician working with children with feeding and weight concerns from a behavioral approach, I can contribute to the committee that is working to help children grow up healthy and happy. I do get a stipend to cover some of my time and travel expenses.