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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Got Milk? Part 1 - Lone Oak Farms

Christmas is fast approaching, and thousands of children will likely be leaving a glass of milk and a plate of cookies out to reinvigorate Santa on his long journey on Christmas Eve. That long-held tradition hasn’t changed much over the last century, with one exception: in most cases, that milk will have come from a grocery store rather than the family cow or a neighborhood dairy.

When you pick up that gallon of milk at the store, do you ever think about how it got there? I do, so I asked the kind folks at Turner Dairy Farms to enlighten me. Turner’s supplies Eat’n Park with many of our dairy products, including milk, half & half, egg nog, and more.

So how does milk get from the cow to Eat’n Park or your local grocery store? To answer that question, Chuck Turner and his team gave me a full-fledged tour of their family-owned operation, as well as that of one of the farmers who provides their milk.

Turner’s Dairy adheres to extremely high standards, and part of that includes knowing exactly where all of their milk comes from. Unlike many other dairies, Turner’s doesn’t purchase milk from a co-op. They work exclusively with 50 local farmers within a 70 mile radius of the dairy, and they hold those farmers to the same high standards. All of these farms supply Turner’s with rBGH/rBST-free milk. Turner’s inspectors visit with their farmers multiple times throughout the year to ensure quality and cleanliness standards and to verify that the cows supplying the milk are healthy and comfortable. One of those farmers is Chuck Carr of Lone Oak Farms.

The barn and silos at Lone Oak Farms.

Lone Oak Farms in Westmoreland County, PA has been one of Turner’s milk providers for over 50 years. Owned and operated by 4 generations of the Carr Family, Lone Oak supplies milk from their 180 Holstein cows. Chuck Carr gave me some insight into the milking process.

The cows at Lone Oak are milked twice a day, at 1 AM and again at 1 PM. The farm’s milking parlor is set up to milk 32 cows at a time. Each cow wears a transponder “necklace” that is registers the cow as she comes into the parlor. Once in place, each cow is fitted with the milking machine, and in 5-8 minutes, she’s done! In all, it takes the Carrs about 3 hours to get all of the cows through each milking.

One set of stalls in the milking parlor. Each side holds 16 cows.

Milking machine.

I wanted to know more about the animals, so Chuck explained: The Carrs raise Holsteins because out of all the breeds, they provide the best fluid milk. Some farms raise Jersey cows, which produce a richer milk with higher fat content that is better for cheese production. Holstein cows start producing milk around age 2, after the birth of their first calf. They typically produce milk until about 10 years of age, though most of the cows at Lone Oak are around age 6.

One of Lone Oak's Holstein cows

It’s surprising how regimented dairy farming has to be. The cows need to be milked every twelve hours, regardless of what else is going on at the farm. Turner’s picks up milk from Lone Oak every other day – and the farm can only store a little over 2 days worth of milk. That means that when “Snowmageddon” hit in February 2010, Chuck and his family had to clear not only the lane leading up to the farm, but also all of the local roads in between the farm and the area’s main road so that Turner’s trucks could get in to pick up the milk on time. All the while, the daily milkings and other tasks at the farm had to be carried on as usual. There’s no rest for the weary! But Chuck takes it all in stride, reciting one of his father’s favorite sayings: “Work, give milk, or get out!”

Our tour of Lone Oak gave me insight on how high-quality raw milk is produced. But what happens next? In my next post, read about how the raw milk makes it from the farm to your fridge.



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