Dairy farmers just outside Chicago are producing the dairy foods we serve our families daily, and through the Illinois Farm Families City Moms (formerly Field Moms) program, are sharing unrestricted access to their farms.
Four years ago, I had the opportunity to be part of the year-long flagship program that was just planting seeds in the social media space in an effort to answer the questions parents-as-consumers have about the processes that take their food from farm to table. (Better yet, the learnathon continues for alumni, resulting in an ongoing dialogue between farmer and consumer.)
And when it comes to milk production – organic vs. non-organic, pasteurized vs. raw, health benefits and risks – it turns out there’s more to milk than something to wear as a mustache.
20 things you didn’t know you wanted to know about milk:
- Thanks to 19th century French biologist, Louis Pasteur, the milk we drink today contains little or no harmful bacteria. Pasteur initially applied his bacteria-killing technique, known as pasteurization, to beer.
- Milk comes from seven main breeds of dairy cows: Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Holstein, Jersey and Milking Shorthorn. (A seventh, Red and White, is a variation of the Holstein breed.)
- Milk has 9 essential nutrients for human health: calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, niacin, vitamin A, vitamin B 12, riboflavin and vitamin D.
- Dairy farmers and workers follow several steps to assure the sanitary collection of milk from dairy cows. Human hands never touch the milk as it travels from cow to consumer.
- Veterinarians help dairy farmers administer antibiotics effectively when they are needed to treat and cure an illness. When antibiotics are used, the treated cow’s milk is discarded and does not enter the human food system. Antibiotics are not used routinely for dairy cows or added to their feed or water, and strict protocols are followed. Every tanker load of milk is tested for commonly used antibiotics at the processing facility, and, in the rare event that a tanker tests positive, the entire tanker load of milk is destroyed and never reaches the consumer.
- Despite its creamy texture, milk is actually 85-95% water. The rest of its volume comes from a vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates and fat.
- The average cow produces 90 glasses of milk each day, or about 200,000 glasses of milk during its lifetime.
- There are approximately 340-350 udder squirts in a gallon of milk.
- To absorb the same amount of calcium as you get from one cup of milk, you would have to eat either 10 cups of raw spinach, six servings of pinto beans or three cups of cooked broccoli in one sitting.
- In terms of quality and nutrition, there is no real difference between organic and regular milk. (Skim, 1%, 2% and whole milk all have the same calcium and nutrient content.)
- Milk can only be labeled organic if it meets the requirements of the USDA’s National Organic Program, is from cows that are exclusively fed organically grown feeds, whose housing meets specifications, are allowed periodic access to the outdoors and direct sunlight, and are not treated with hormones or antibiotics. Here’s the thing. Every dairy farm uses antibiotics when necessary for a prescribed time to treat specific illnesses. If cows on an organic farm are treated with antibiotics, the milk from those cows never reaches the food supply, and the treated animal must then be removed from the herd.
- Reduced Fat and Low Fat Milk (also know as 2% or 1% milk) have the same amount of calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals as whole milk, just less fat and fewer calories.
- Fat-free milk (also called non-fat and skim milk) has no fat, but it provides the same powerful nutrient package of calcium plus eight other essential nutrients.
- Lactose-free milk is regular milk with the same nine essential nutrients, just no lactose, a sugar naturally present in milk.
- Raw milk (not pasteurized or homogenized) has become a trendy alternative to regular milk. And while there are supposed nutritional benefits to drinking “unaltered milk,” raw milk may carry dangerous bacteria like Salmonella, E. Coli, Campylobactor, Listeria and Norovirus, making the sale of it illegal in many states.
- Drinking milk can protect your smile since it reduces the level of acidity in the mouth, combats plaque formation and reduces the risk of cavities.
- Adding a pinch of salt to your quart or gallon of milk keeps it fresh longer.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics show that U.S. dairy farmers are producing almost three times more milk with about half the number of cows compared to 1960, thereby reducing the total amount of feed, water and space needed, resulting in less manure.
- Dairy farmers have a long history of commitment to sustainability. They use a variety of recycling practices and on-farm efficiencies to reduce their environmental impact. Compared to 1944, producing a gallon of milk today requires 90% less cropland, 65% less water and has a 63% lower carbon footprint.
- Dollar for dollar, dairy is one of the most economical sources of nutrition in the grocery store. At around $0.25 cents for a glass, milk is America’s No. 1 food source of calcium, potassium and vitamin D – three nutrients that people fall short on the most.
Consider learning more about farms by applying to the 2016 City Moms program, and be sure to check out farm tour recaps from current and alumni moms at watchusgrow.org.
Disclosure: I’m proud to partner with IL Farm Families, and am being sponsored for my posts. All opinions expressed are my own. Check out DGOE’s full disclosure policy here.