In our home we use a lot of dairy. Probably one of the things we run to the store the most for is milk and cheese, with butter coming in at a close second. It’s not a shock that we use whole ingredients instead of substitutions with our meals. After my last trip to Reid Dairy Farm with United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) a couple years ago, I know a little bit about how dairy comes from the farm to the store. Last week, UDIM invited me to take another tour with them which not only included a farm tour, but a tour of Prairie Farms processing facility and even a cooking experience with recipes that included dairy.
Our trip included a tour of the Crandall Dairy farm in Battle Creek. A fourth generation family farm, they have hundreds of cows on site and their own milking facility. There are a lot of things we don’t think about when it comes to farms, and one of them is the amount of work involved. Not only does it require 24/7 maintenance and care, but the cows require milking three times a day.
Every day on the farm, the cows need fed, their areas cleaned, they need milked multiple times and there is a new calf being born. This is more than what a family can do on their own, so there are workers that come and go on the farm as they are needed. All of the cows are separated into groups by age and have their own areas that are filled with sand that they can lay down. The sand helps cradle their udders and keep them cool and comfortable. The open air barn provides them the air flow they need, and large fans help keep them cool in the summer. At any given point, the cows can reach through and get their fill of their food that is specially mixed for their nutritional needs on the farm as well.
If at any point a cow becomes sick on the farm, their daily milking is “jugged off”. Or rather, it is milked and dumped. Any animal on antibiotics or any treatment is milked as needed, but their milk is not put in the tank to be sent out. This is the standard practice at Crandall Dairy farm as well as all other dairy farms throughout Michigan. You wont find any growth hormones or antibiotics in your dairy, because if they were to show up in the tank at the farm or the processing plant – the farm is responsible for the cost of all the milk that will be tossed. Long gone are the days that we had to worry about extra chemicals in our dairy – all you’ll find in your milk is just that – milk! The test at the farm is just one of many that happen in your milk’s journey. And each and every cow is milked with an automatic machine and wiped down with a cleaning solution after to prevent the spread of any possible illness.
Next up with a tour of the Prairie Farms processing facility. Inside their Battle Creek facility, they process milk from local farms from the west side of Michigan including the Crandall’s. The milk is tested again in the truck, and processed into milk, chocolate milk or cream before being packaged and sent throughout the state. Ice cream and other products are processed by other facilities for Prairie Farms, but they do have a cold storage distribution on site as well. Inside the temperatures are well below freezing to ensure freshness.
Daily, trucks come to the Prairie Farms facility filled with local milk. The milk is tested to make sure it’s free of hormones and sent into the facility. After each truck is unloaded, it is immediately cleaned and sterilized before it goes out for it’s next pick up. While this doesn’t seem like anything major, this ensures that nothing goes bad, as well as each batch is tested completely for any chemicals or anything that shouldn’t be in your milk.
Milk going through the facility is pasteurized and processed. Anything that comes into the facility is usually bottled and ready to go back out the door within a couple hours. But if for some reason the dairy products don’t make it right out for a new order, they are held in the facility until it is time for them to go out. Any product that doesn’t ship out within a week is donated to local shelters and communities and is not sold. All dairy products have their set sell by dates, and will be sent out with a stamp so many days after they are processed and packaged.
Are you interested to see where your milk comes from? Check out the code on the top and follow the links here to find out how local your milk is!
Our trip concluded with a cooking experience at Zazio’s in Kalamazoo. The Italian restaurant wasn’t open to the public yet, but chef was on hand as we turned the restaurant into a Mexican feast. In teams we set about making grilled Talapia tacos, coleslaw, homemade tortilla chips, guacamole with feta cheese, roasted corn salsa and even cheese dip to enjoy together. It was a great way to end a couple days learning about dairy and brought it full circle from the farm to our table.