Did you know that June is National Dairy Month?  (A great excuse to enjoy ice cream during these hot days!)  Recently I had the opportunity to tour one of the largest dairy forms in Nebraska, and I learned that what I grew up hearing/reading about dairy farms is sometimes different than reality.

Myth # 1: Cows are happier roaming free about the countryside pastures rather than in confining barns.

Fact: If operated correctly, larger barns can actually be better for dairy cows  for several reasons.

  • Temperature consistency
  • Protection from bugs.  Especially flies.
  • Cows like routine – bigger set-ups allow for that.
Myth # 2: Pastures are cleaner than barns.
Fact: Maybe that is the case sometimes.  But not at the barn that we visited.
  • Black floors with contrasting white walls encourage cleanliness.
  • The food production environment requires sanitation
  • Milk is tested.  A dirty facility would not pass inspection.
  • While straw is used for forage, most of the cows actually bed on sand which is more sanitary and actually assists with the cleaning process.
Butler Dairy Cow Collage12 steps in machine milking a cow
  1. Wipe off cow.
  2. Use iodine to disinfect.
  3. Hand milking to start
  4. Visually check the milk quality.
  5. Simulate cow to start production.
  6. Wipe off iodine.
  7. Attach machine.
  8. Watch machine – once flow rate is below 2 pounds, stop milking.
  9. Retract machine.
  10. Post dip in iodine.
  11. Add glycerine protectant which helps avoid scabs and infection.
  12. Make sure skin is dry to avoid infection.
By the Numbers …
  • Each cow produces about 10 gallons per day.
  • This dairy had 2 double 45 parlor areas – 180 cows can be milked at once.
  • Each cow is milked three times in 24 hours.
  • 9 tankers leave the dairy with milk each day.
  • Utilizing ground water and vacuum pumps, the milk is cooled from 101 to 60 degrees within seconds.
  • In several more seconds, the temperature is cooled to 36 using refrigerated water.
  • 1 cup – the amount that is set aside from every tanker to be tested for antibiotics and other contaminants.  If this does not pass inspection, all of the milk has to go.
  • 24-48 hours – the amount of time that passes between when milk leaves the dairy and reaches the store for you to purchase.

Can you tell this was a fascinating trip for me?  I took a whole page of notes!  Not all dairies are open to the public, but some will give group tours.  Learning more about dairies reminded me of how grateful I am to the men and women who invest their time in agriculture and farming/dairy industries.  By the way, just by visiting the dairy, I learned not to trust the media hype that we must buy organic milk from grass fed cattle.  What I discovered is that dairy farmers are diligent in their efforts to protect our food supply.  Dairy is an important part of a nutritional diet.  If you are also tired of the conflicting reports, learn who to listen to for advice.  One person who I feel does a fabulous job of presenting a balanced approach to nutrition is my RD friend, Amber.  For some great advice and recipes (including some that feature dairy), please check out her Stirlist blog.  The link is below. 🙂



Author: neodyssey

My name is Gretchen Garrison. I started this blog about Nebraska in 2013. So far, I have written three books about Nebraska and Lincoln.