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From Dairy Farm to the Dairy Section – Where Does Milk Come From?

Updated: Nov 18, 2022

For thousands of years, people have drank milk – from the carton, jug, or glass – however you prefer it; milk has always been around. Over the years, processes have changed, and modern dairy farms use technology to achieve in minutes what used to take hours to accomplish.

Most of us don't think about where our milk comes from when we pick up a gallon from the store. Instead, we focus on the price of the milk or the fact that the grocery has run low on our favorite brand. So, let's take a minute and ponder this question – “where does your milk come from?”

The Cow

In elementary school, you learned that Old MacDonald had a farm, and on his farm, there were sheep, chickens, pigs, and cows.

Wool. Eggs. Bacon. Milk.

What about the cow?

The cow's udder consists of four teats. From these teats, the milking process begins. You can't choose just any old cow to get milk from, though. Only female cows produce milk, and some cow breeds produce more milk than others.

Today, there are over 250 recognized breeds of cattle worldwide. The two breeds of cow that you might hear of most often are Holstein and Hereford. Holstein cows produce more milk than other breeds, making them popular amongst dairy farmers. Hereford cows are more prominently known for their meat, not their milk production capabilities.

The Milking Process - Then

The cow milking process has changed a lot since the early 1900s when Shoenberg Farms was established in Westminster, Colorado. Before technology and automated milking systems (AMS) became popular in the late 20th century, dairy farmers manually milked cows. The task was often tedious enough for the entire family to be involved.

Picture this:

A dairy farming family rises early and ventures out to the cattle stalls with a stool and bucket in hand. Each member sits on the stool at the cow's udder, with the bucket positioned underneath. They begin massaging and pulling to make the milk come from the teats.

Once the cows are milked, and the buckets are full, the family will begin the rest of their daily farm chores. The milk from the cows may be split for distribution purposes, but the family also gets their supply from their herd – they will use this for drinking, cooking, and making cheese and butter for the family.

The Milking Process - Now

Today, the process is simpler, and most dairy farms have more cows than Shoenberg Farms would have had. Since implementing robotics and AMS, dairy farms can produce more milk in less time. The process begins by bringing the cow to a specialized stall and washing the teats with warm, soapy water. Suction tubes are placed on each teat, which will do the milking process automatically, without needing a bucket or a stool. When completed, the farmer will unhook the suction tubes (these are harmless to the cow) and let the cow go about its business. You can watch a short video about modern milking practices by watching this video.

Your Milk Comes From History

Even though the milking process has changed over the years, one thing remains the same – where your milk comes from. While many of the traditional barns from the 1900s are no longer standing or have become dilapidated, Shoenberg Farms still has the barn structure where cows were manually milked in 1911.

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