A Publication of WTVP

With the start of a new year, there are sure to be many New Year’s resolutions. I wonder how many of them are: “I’m going to drink more milk.” How often do you, your children or your grandchildren drink milk? Three times a day, once a day, once a week? It’s probably safe to say that today’s children are drinking much less milk than their parents, as there are so many more options, with soft drinks, fruit drinks, high-energy drinks and more.

There are several dairy farmers in the Peoria area, as well as a Prairie Farms Dairy processing plant. Each day, refrigerated tanker trucks make the trip to dairy farms to pick up fresh milk and haul it to a processing facility. Milk is packaged as, well, “milk,” and can also be processed into cheese, butter, ice cream and yogurt. Our local Prairie Farms plant packages fresh, local milk and employs over 100 people.

The process begins on the farm. Cows are milked two to three times a day, and the average daily production from a dairy cow is seven to eight gallons. If you viewed a dairy cow as a processing plant, she would consume 40 gallons of water and approximately 90 pounds of feed on a daily basis in order to produce milk. Most of the dairy cows familiar to the public are black and white, the breed called Holstein. There are other breeds as well, including Brown Swiss, Jersey, Guernsey and Ayrshire.

The milk is stored in a large cooler on the farm until the truck can haul it to the processing plant. At the plant, it is homogenized and pasteurized. If those two words confuse you, it is okay—I grew up between two dairy farms and never did take the time to understand the meanings behind them.

Pasteurization is fairly simple. The milk is quickly heated and then cooled, which kills bacteria and protects its purity and flavor. Homogenization is slightly more difficult. Milk directly from the cow contains around four-percent fat, or cream. Cream will rise to the top once it’s milked from the cow. To keep the cream mixed in with the milk, it is homogenized. This is a process in which the cream is broken into tiny fat particles and spread evenly throughout the milk. If not for this process, whole milk would have to be stirred or shaken; otherwise, the cream would remain at the top.

The Peoria County Farm Bureau’s Ag Literacy program features an agricultural topic each month in area grade schools. In February, volunteer farmers will head to the classroom to talk to students about dairy farming and the healthy aspects of milk and other dairy products. Milk is packed with quite a nutrient punch: it has calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, riboflavin and magnesium. These nutrients are called “essential” for a reason—human bodies need them to stay healthy, and a child’s growing body needs them to develop strong bones, teeth and muscles. Check the label on a soft drink, and it’s obvious this nutrient package is missing. In fact, of the nine essential nutrients, many soft drinks only contain phosphorus—and it’s a small percentage.

I will admit that I am partial to Prairie Farms milk. I believe the cooperative produces a product superior to other milk. Prairie Farms milk comes from family farms scattered throughout Illinois. Milk from all of these different operations is brought to the processing plant and mixed together, and I believe that this mixture is the key. The feed and water consumed by cows varies at each farm. They may be eating alfalfa hay, corn silage or a mixture of other protein nutrients. That hay and corn is going to have slightly different mineral and nutrient content depending on the soil, rainfall and growing conditions of the area where it was grown. The nutrient content of the feed and water consumed by a cow will, to a certain extent, determine the nutrients of the milk. Milk mixed from a variety of farms should have a better balance of nutrients.

In my own comparisons of Prairie Farms and other milk, Prairie Farms milk lasts longer and tastes better. It’s fresh, it’s local, and it’s produced from a mixture of family farms. I hope you, your children and your grandchildren return to the wholesome freshness of nutrient rich “milk.” iBi