What I learned on a dairy farm

As some of of you have read, I was blessed to have a tour of Hudsonville Creamery. (And if you haven't read it, you should!) They also took us on a tour of Pyle Farm, which supplies their milk and cream. I'll admit that I'm a city girl through and through, and was surprised what I learned about cows, dairy farms, and the farming industry.

10 things I learned on the farm
1. A dairy cow must get pregnant once a year to produce milk and cows are born year round.
- Yeah, I know, this should be obvious. I've been watching way too many movies and stories of sheep being born in the spring.

2. If a cow has twins, and they are one female and one male, the female cow will never produce milk and will therefore be sold. 
- Not only did I have the pleasure of visiting Pyle Farms, I was also able to visit Paulen Farms in Howard City. A member of my husband's extended family is Andy Paulen, whose family farm has been around in one way or another for over 100 years. The day we visited him, we were lucky enough to see twin calves that were born the night before. 

3. Cows are pretty shy animals and don't have top teeth.
- When I first talked to Andy, I asked him if I could pet the cows and if they would try to bite me. He told me that cows are pretty shy creatures, get nervous around large crowds, and generally don't come near enough to let you pet them. But if you are able to touch one, no worries, they can't bite. They have no upper teeth with which to pierce your skin.

4. Cows only sleep 3-4 hours a day
- As a person who easily needs 6-7 hours of sleep, this astounded me. 

5. Above 72 degrees, cows will stop eating and therefore stop producing milk.
- I actually learned this at the Pyle Farm. We were all amazed at how cool it was inside the barn, even on a hot summer day. The fans in there were incredibly large.

6. Michigan dairy farms are part of a larger co-op, because they believe in working together as an industry instead of being in competition with each other all the time. 
- In this dog eat dog world, I'm amazed that Michigan dairy farmers work together as an industry. I don't think I know of ANY other industry that does this. Michigan even has a United Dairy Industry. You can follow them on social media at @milkmeansmore to learn all sorts of facts, recipes, and learn about events.

7. Michigan ranks 7th in the entire nation for milk production and an average Michigan dairy cow produces over 2,000 gallons of milk a year. 
- And we're not just huge in milk production. We're #1 in the nation in the production of lowfat ice cream mix. And since August 19th is National Soft Ice Cream Day, we all have a lot to celebrate in this state!

8. Milk containers with the first two digit code of "26" indicates it is Michigan milk.
 - We often see notifications on Facebook, Twitter, and other places about making sure to check your produce for codes that specify it is organic. Who knew that dairy uses a similar coding system!
Image taken from milkmeansmore.com

9. While it may be controversial, raw milk is delicious
 - I know there are pros and cons to raw milk. When I was offered some raw milk to try, I will admit that I was nervous and skeptical. But in all honesty, it was delicious and full of creamy flavor. And just to state explicitly, I was not sold any raw milk- I was just given a glass to try.

10. Farming can be a very dangerous business.
 - I've known that Andy has worked long hours at his farm for a long time. Because farm work is never "done," he often misses family functions. But there are many times that farmers pay a much larger sacrifice than of just their time and talents.
Andy told me of a local farmer that died within the past few years because he was killed by a bull.
An article in Newsweek in 2014 talked about the high stress and suicide levels in farming.

I say these things not to cause uproar over safety in the farming industry. I say these things because, with the growth of supermarkets, we lose the connection to the people who produce the food we eat. We disconnect from the needs and concerns of those who make it possible for us to take in nourishment every day. It makes it easy for us to lose our sense of gratitude for what they do for us.

So the next time you drink a glass of milk, eat some ice cream, or sprinkle cheese on your pizza or salad, remember that there is someone working, literally, all the time to make it possible. Someone who cares for the animals and for our communities. Someone who deserves our gratitude and respect.