Week 5: The Milking Parlor

This week was the fifth week of our annual Bucket Calf Project, where kids in our local community head to our farm at the beginning of the summer to choose a calf that they will take care of and call their "own" for the next seven weeks. This week, the kids learned about our milking parlor, where our cows give us the delicious A2/A2 organic milk that we bottle and sell.

For the first half hour of each meeting, the kids practice leading their calves on a halter in Blake and Stephanie’s yard across from the dairy. Everyone groups together by the breed of the calves. At week five out of seven, the kids are getting pretty great at working with their calves!

They have also developed confidence in themselves while working with their calves, and have a respect for and a relationship with the animal. You can see the confidence growing in the calves as well. This kind of human interaction at a young age greatly benefits the calves when they mature into adulthood and become a dairy cow, working directly with humans every day.

After practicing leading their calves around the perimeter of the yard, the kids re-grouped outside of the milking parlor to hear about the milking process. Last week, they learned that when a herd of cows finishes grazing in a field, they head to the freestall barns where they relax and are given the opportunity to enjoy a supplemental feed ration that, in addition to the endless pasture, rounds out their diet and helps them produce nutrient-dense milk. After about two hours, the cows line up to head into the milking parlor.

Each of our dairy cows are milked twice per day, approximately every 12 hours, and at the same times each day. Herd animals prefer to operate on a regular schedule, and the cows know when it is time to leave pasture to be milked.

The cows line up 32 cows at a time at the milking machines. First, their teats are sanitized and wiped clean. Then, the milking attendant briefly milks each cow by hand to check on the consistency of the milk to ensure it is up to par for bottling.

Next, it's time to be milked! The milker connects the machine suction cups to each of the cows four teats and for 5-6 minutes – to empty the udder - the milk is pumped out with gentle squeezes (similar to the pressure of hand-milking).

The kids loved watching the process of the cows being milked. After the milking parlor, the kids head to the room with the holding tanks for the milk, and along the way, learn about how the milk flows from the parlor to the tanks through metal pipes that run along the ceiling.

Multiple times a day, milk tanker trucks pull up outside of the tank room and hook up to the tanks to receive the milk. These trucks are temperature controlled and deliver the fresh milk to our creamery in San Leandro, CA, where it is processed and bottled before being shipped out to distributors and then retailers.

And that leads us to the next step: getting our milk from the store to your refrigerator. Next week, the kids will learn about the business of selling milk and eggs, and how branding and sales come into play.