I love giving people tours of our farm! But since you can’t all come to Michigan, here’s how the milk, ice cream and cheese makes it from our farm to you.
This is the way it works on our farm (and most modern farms): The cows enter the milk parlor. The people milking the cows clean their udders, dry them and put milking units on them. The vacuum pumps milk out of the cow's udder.
At this point in the tour, I encourage people to gently touch a cow’s udder or even try to milk her the old-fashioned way. It’s not as easy as it looks!
In about six minutes, the cows are done milking. Through sensors, the milking unit can tell when it's not receiving any more milk, automatically detaching from the cow and lifting up out of the way.
On our farm, we milk twice a day. The rest of the day the cows spend their time eating, resting and chewing their cuds.
Where does the milk go? Right through stainless steel pipes into the next room! It travels through a filter and goes into a giant cooler called a milk tank. Once a day, the milk truck comes and pumps the milk from the tank into the truck.
Milk is transferred from the farm’s bulk tank to the milk truck before being sent to the milk processing plant.
Fun fact: Every tank of our milk is tested before it goes in the truck – every single day, every single time.
The tanks are delivered to the milk processing plant, where the milk is pasteurized - which means it's heated up to 160 degrees for 15 seconds to kill organisms that grow rapidly in milk, also increasing the milk's shelf life.
Fun fact: Our milk goes from cow to the grocery shelf in 48 hours.
It's also homogenized. Since the cream rises to the top, they separate the milk into the different percentages of fat content – skim, 2%, or whole milk, which is 3.25% butterfat.
From here, the milk can be sold as liquid milk, or made into any of the dairy products we know and love.
From the cows to milking to the machines, pumps and sanitization systems before the processing plant, all of these elements must function perfectly together.
Kris Wardin, Carla’s husband, prepares a cow for milking inside the milk parlor of the Wardin family’s Michigan farm.
In the parlor, you only see a tiny, 6-minute slice of what actually goes into milk. Before that, you have the planting, growing and harvesting of the crops we grow for our cattle. Then you have the calving and care we take to raise our calves so they’re healthy. Next you have the care for the cows – making sure they’re comfortable whether they’re out on the pasture or in the barn, and providing the appropriate nutrition. We constantly test our feed and consult with our nutritionist to ensure their bodies are cared for, including bringing out the hoof trimmer.
There are so many aspects that go into the actual product. It’s a lifelong process that ensures that we’re growing the best crops, to raise the healthiest cattle and providing the best quality milk.
So, a tour of the milk parlor gives you a little glimpse of the big picture.
Fun fact: Ice cream is the best food for a party. (Okay, that’s actually just a fun opinion.)
Carla Wardin, a member of the second class of Faces of Farming & Ranching, is a dairy farmer from Michigan.
Carla and her husband, Kris, are the sole owners of Evergreen Dairy in St. Johns, Michigan. She is the sixth generation to be farming on her family's farm where they milk 400 cows, and grow crops to feed their cattle on 850 acres of corn, alfalfa and pasture.