The Many Faces of Dairying
While using a tin pail and three-legged stool used to be a common milking practice, modern dairy farms range from large to small, ration-fed to grazing, conventional to organic, mechanized to robotic.
Indiana’s milk production contributes more than $743 million to the state’s economy, according to Jenni Purcell, communications director for the American Dairy Association of Indiana.
“Our Indiana dairy farm families work hard,” she says. “Our 174,000 dairy cows produce 3.8 billion pounds of milk per year.”
From Cow to Consumer
Most of the state’s 1,300 dairy farms use a traditional mechanized system. Purcell says the actual milking process only takes 15 minutes for the cow. Typically twice a day, the cows file in to the farm’s milking parlor. A farm worker sanitizes the cow’s udder and attaches the milking machine, which drops off once all the milk has been collected in the farm’s refrigerated bulk tank. There, it’s tested to meet state and federal standards.
Every day or every other day, a tanker from the milk processing plant collects the milk from every dairy farm in a designated region. When the tanker arrives at the plant, the milk gets tested again. Next, it’s pasteurized to remove bacteria and increase shelf life and homogenized to make the milk uniform. The milk is then packaged, loaded onto trucks and delivered to local grocery stores.
To make 2 percent or skim milk, Purcell explains, some of the fat is strained out. Flavoring may be added to produce chocolate, vanilla or strawberry milk. Other milk is made into cheese, yogurt, ice cream and other dairy products.
Milking Technology for All It’s Worth
One northwestern Indiana farm has set the stage for innovation. Its owners enthusiastically educate the public about dairy life, and all of its 300 Holstein cattle are born and raised on the farm. However, that’s not all that makes it unique.
In 2003, Jones’ Robotic Dairy in Star City became the first in Indiana, and only the 10th in the nation, to move from conventional milking to a robotic milking system.
“The decision to convert was a family decision,” says Sammy Jones, a third-generation farmer. Sammy is a full-time employee of the farm, along with his wife, Pam, and their oldest son, Joshua. “After much discussion and research, we took a leap of faith with the innovative technology.”
By the Numbers
average number of cows on Indiana dairy farms
approximate number of dairy farms in the state
hours it takes to for milk to go from cow to grocery store
Robotic milking differs from conventional milking in that the cow is milked on her own schedule. Whenever the cow feels the need to milk or eat, she heads for one of two robots in the milking parlor. The Jones herd averages three milkings per day. No human contact is required, and the cows can eat a high-energy feed while milking. Their food includes some of the corn and soybeans raised on the farm’s 550 tillable acres. (The family also grows alfalfa, rye and wheat.)
The farm’s milk production has increased by 10 to 14 percent since installing the system.
“Most conventional dairy farms milk on the farmer’s schedule,” Sammy says. “With robotics, the stress of finding dedicated employees was eliminated. We’re no longer standing on concrete for four hours a day, and the cattle are not forced to, either.”
The other Jones children all play integral roles on the farm. Daughter Christy does some veterinary work, son Ryan creates the farm’s art and graphics, and daughter Amy helps with the farm’s popular tours, which bring approximately 500 visitors to the farm each year. Other family members also help as needed.
“We want people to know our main goals are to care for our animals, the soil and water,” says Pam. “Farmers are consumers, too, and want the same quality of products on their grocers’ shelves. We want consumers to understand how milk is an essential healthy product needed for daily diets and helps us live a longer life.”
About 20 miles south, third-generation dairyman Dave Forgey owns River-View Farm near Logansport, with his wife, Helen, and another couple. The farm focuses on intensive rotational grazing for its 300 head of cattle.
Forgey’s grandfather Hugh founded the farm with a few dozen Holsteins, but today it encompasses approximately 500 acres. A longtime conventional dairy farm where the herd was managed and fed in barns, Forgey and his wife, Helen, weathered drought, financial stress and farm expansion, like many others. But a trip to hear an Ohio State University forage specialist in 1991 led the family to convert its operation to a managed grazing system.
“While we had lower-quality soils, I knew forages grew well on our land,” says Forgey. Over the years, they have tested with a number of forages, including several varieties of clover.
During the 1992 conversion to a pasture-fed operation, the Forgeys reduced their labor force to one employee, Scott Foerg. He and his wife, Darla, eventually became full partners in the operation in 2005.
“They are now the operators,” explains Forgey, “and we work part-time in addition to his two full-time employees.”
The farm’s pasture-fed dairy cattle are milked in a new, more efficient facility built in 2008, which milks 200 cows in one hour twice a day. This enables the cows to spend more time consuming pasture instead of more expensive grain. The operation also uses feeder wagons to carry hay bales or silage to the cows in pasture, and River-View also developed its own software for tracking and analyzing the farm’s forage and consumption.
Regardless of their type of operation, these Indiana dairy farmers take great care to provide the freshest and healthiest dairy products available. As Purcell points out, milk is truly fresh and local.
“When milk is delivered to the grocery store it left the farm 48 hours ago,” she explains. “The average distance milk travels from farm to grocery store is only 100 miles.”
SEE ALSO: Indiana Milk and Dairy Fun Facts