Let's Milk

Dairy Farmer
Dairy Farmer, Ron Orsborn
Photo by Amy Diehl

Think about what it would be like to be a dairy farmer. What kind of life do you imagine? Most farmers milk twice a day, 365 days a year. If a farmer were to skip a milking, the cow's udder would be sore and swollen from being full of milk. So you have an idea of what a rigorous and full time job a dairy farmer has. There are no days off or vacations for the dairy farmer.

A cow is ready to be milked when her udder is full. The farmer has some flexibility when making a schedule of cow milking times. Usually, cows are milked in the early morning and again in the late afternoon. It is possible to milk a cow by hand. However, milking a whole herd of cows twice a day in this manner would take a great deal of time and energy

Today, most farmers use milking machines that are faster and cleaner, and the cows are milked in a room called the milking parlor. The farmer brings the first round of cows in to be milked, usually around 5 cows, and first cleans the teats with an iodine and water solution. A milking machine has four rubber lined cups that fit over each of the cow's teats and pump the milk into a milk tank. The action of the cups imitates the sucking of a calf so that it does not hurt the cow. Once the collecting tank is full, the milk travels by a vacuum pipeline to a refrigerated storage tank in another room until it is collected . When milk first comes out of a cow, it is warm and must be cooled and kept at below 40 degrees F in a cooling tank or else it will spoil.

Farmer milking by machine
Dairy Farmer, Ron Orsborn , milking his herd.
Photo by Amy Diehl
Moo Wonder icon Moo Wonders
  • It would take you 1 hour to milk six cows by hand. However, with a milking machine, you could milk 100 cows in the same time.
  • It takes each cow about 4 to 5 minutes to milk.
  • Cows are creatures of habit, meaning that they like going about things in a routine manner. In fact, farmers usually milk their cows in the same order during each milking to save the cows confusion and anxiety.

straw Assignment: If you look at a milk carton, there is a date printed that shows how long the product will be fresh. Some of you have probably come across spoiled milk- maybe you forgot and left it in the refrigerator too long. With the permission of your teacher at school or parent at home, leave a small glass of milk out to spoil. From your observations and research, write a short paper on this natural process. Some questions you may want to answer:
  • What does it mean for milk to spoil?
  • Why does milk spoil?
  • What happens to milk when it spoils?
  • How can you keep milk from spoiling?
Choose your next milk adventure!
    Let's process milk
    Let's package milk

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