Lessons From a Dairy
by Danielle Conlon – BYU Dietetic Intern
I am a dietetic intern from BYU currently working with the Dairy Council of Utah/Nevada. I recently visited two local dairy farms in Utah—one with a herd of around 7,000 cows, and one with a herd of about 300 cows.
After learning that I would visit these farms, I was excited to learn more about how milk gets from the cow to the store..mostly because I am truly a city girl, and while I know that milk comes from a cow, I did not know much about how it gets to the store once the milk is harvested. While I learned about dairy processing on these field trips, I also learned about how dairy farms make a difference in people’s lives by using sustainable resources and technology to provide local foods to the community. Here are my key lessons from the dairy:
Lesson #1: Sustainability
Farming is a volatile career, where natural disasters from around the world can the price of different parts of the cattle’s feed and directly affect the cows’ nutrition and milk. Dairy farmers also do not know how much they money they will get paid for their milk until after it is produced. For those reasons, it is important to the farmers that they are using sustainable farming practices so that if there is a month, or several, with low sales, their farms will continue to run. They use sustainable practices in many different ways:
• Cows eat sustainable feed. A large part of the cattle’s diet is the byproducts of plants that humans can’t eat, such as cotton seed, beet pulp, or almond hulls. Through giving the cattle these byproducts, it cuts down on food waste for the entire country.
• Farmers use technology to stay sustainable. One farm that I visited uses solar panels to power their entire milking barn in order to cut down on electricity being used during the day. This farm also has a machine that cleans and recycles the cattle’s bedding, which cuts down on literal tons of waste every day.
• Farmers use technology to make sure their cows are healthy. Cows have “FitBits” that they wear around their necks or their ankles. These FitBits tell the farmers how much the cow is moving, how much she is eating, and how much milk she is giving. This information can tell the farmer if the cow is healthy or if she needs additional attention.
Lesson #2: Milk is Local
After learning these facts about farming, I learned that milk is actually a local food. It only takes around 48 hours to get milk from the cow to the store, where it is ready to be bought. The milk we find in Utah grocery stores is most likely coming from a Utah dairy farm, so even if your milk carton doesn’t brag that it is a local food, it is one!
I learned a lot about milk while I visited the farms, but I learned other lessons, too. The biggest lesson that I learned was that Utah’s local farms support our communities by giving us healthy, affordable, and sustainable foods. This lesson made me rethink the way that I view hunger in America and my ideas on how to end hunger. After visiting the farms and learning about milk production and sustainability, I truly believe that to end hunger in America, we need to support our local farms. Visit National Dairy Council for a 6-part series on Food Waste.