let's talk farm animals

The milk machine

Luisa D’Amato, Waterloo Region Record, 02 Aug 2021

It’s Sandi’s turn to be milked.

She stands patiently in the barn, her pale-pink udder bulging between her long legs, as dairy farmer Terry Lebold wipes her teats with antibacterial solution and attaches four suction cups to them.

Within five minutes, about 20 litres of milk has been vacuumed out of her, the white liquid whirling through transparent plastic tubes. Lebold touches her hind flank lightly, disconnects the machine and quickly dips her teats in a reddish iodine solution to prevent infection.

Sandi looks over her shoulder with mild dark eyes. Then she turns away to munch her dinner: sweet-smelling, slightly fermented alfalfa.

Each of the 80 cows on the Lebold farm has a name: Marylou. Ivy. Valerie. Giselle.

Each will produce an average of 35 litres of milk in a day. On this farm, they’re milked twice a day: once at 6 a.m. and again at 5:30 p.m. It takes about an hour and 15 minutes each time.

Every day.

“Christmas and New Year’s,” Lebold says dryly as he moves nimbly around the cows: wiping, connecting, disconnecting, dipping.

Cows don’t like their routine to be upset, he says. “If you’re three hours late, they’ll be bawling.”

This 116-hectare dairy farm, on Deborah Glaister Line near the border of Perth County, is one of 4,400 across Ontario.

It has been in the Lebold family for three generations, and it’s run by
Terry, 37, and his father, Ron.

The farm is in Ontario’s best dairy country. Because dairy farmers grow the crops that feed their cows, farms flourish where the land is right for corn, alfalfa, wheat and soybeans. This includes Waterloo Region and Wellington, Oxford and Perth counties, Terry says.

In addition to their farm, the Lebolds rent another 40 hectares nearby for growing crops.

Inside the barn, the cows are loosely tied by their necks to keep them lined up.

As he moves between the animals, Terry wears steel-toed boots in case one of them steps on his foot. Each weighs between 1,700 and 1,800 pounds.

Sometimes a cow will step on the unprotected side of his foot. “Does that ever hurt!” he says.

He laughs when he’s asked if he has ever milked a cow by hand. Certainly not. “That’d take forever!”

The milk is filtered to remove any bits of straw and debris. It’s pumped into a 9,080-litre cylinder-shaped stainless-steel tank, where it’s rapidly cooled to 4 C.

Meanwhile, the equipment is cleaned automatically by being flushed with water, an acid solution, then a detergent solution.

Every other day, a milk truck comes to take the milk away for processing. The Lebolds are paid between 70 and 74 cents a litre, depending in part on how much butterfat and protein is in the milk.

A sample is taken to make sure it’s not contaminated with antibiotics.

The cows are fed a “total mixed ration,” which is a mix of corn, roasted soybeans, and chopped-up corn and hay, called “corn silage” and “haylage,” respectively.

A vitamin and mineral mix is added to the feed, too, but no growth hormones or antibiotics. If a cow gets an infection, she’s treated with antibiotics, but then her milk is not added to the tank.

Ron Lebold, 63, says cows are better fed now than when he was a boy and they only got hay to eat. Now, they give two or three times as much milk as before.

Dairy farms are big business, managed so that only a limited amount of milk is produced. This protects farmers from steep changes in prices, offering them economic stability.

Farmers buy the right to produce milk, known as “quota.” In order to produce the milk from one cow, a farmer pays about $33,000.

So to start an average-sized dairy farm of 50 cows, a farmer would need about $1.6 million just to buy the quota.

There are other costs.

The Lebold dairy farm supports not only the 80 cows who produce the milk but also more than 100 calves, heifers, and “dry” cows resting before delivering calves. These animals are in another barn.

None of the animals is put out to pasture; it’s too hard to control their environment and keep track of them that way, Terry says.

Every 13 months, each cow is made pregnant by artificial insemination. The hormones of pregnancy stimulate milk production.

Pregnancy lasts nine months, and for the last couple of months, the cow isn’t milked. She’s kept in a barn where she’s free to roam and rest.

When the calf is born, it’s taken away from its mother the same day, fed milk for two months and then weaned.

The mother cow goes back to making milk. If the calf is male, he’s raised for six months, then sent out for slaughter as veal. If female, she’s kept and raised to produce milk. She’ll have her first calf at about two years old.

Cows can go through up to seven cycles of birth and lactation. Some will be 10 years old when they’re slaughtered.

When the Lebolds’ milk is trucked away, about a third of it goes to the Neilson plant in Georgetown and is packaged for drinking.

Most of the milk we buy in southern Ontario grocery stores is produced within 100 kilometres, says Bill Mitchell, assistant director of
communications and planning for Dairy Farmers of Ontario.

“It really is very local.”

Nearly half the Lebold milk is sent to the Gay Lea Foods plant in Guelph.

There, 700,000 litres of milk a day is turned into skim-milk powder, butter, aerosol whipped cream, and cream that’s sold as “bulk” and could end up in Campbell’s soup or Baskin-Robbins ice cream.

The Gay Lea plant, part of a co-operative owned by 1,200 farmers, can hold a million litres of milk in the five gleaming stainless-steel silos at its plant on Speedvale Road.

“All the milk we receive today, we process today,” says plant manager Mario Di Cunto.

First, Gay Lea separates the milk into skim milk and cream.

Both are pasteurized by being held at 73 C for 16 seconds. (It’s illegal in Canada to sell “raw” or unpasteurized milk, because of the risk of harmful bacteria.)

Some of the cream is churned into 45,000 kilograms of butter a day.

Gay Lea turns some of the cream into aerosol whipped cream. Nitrous oxide is used as a propellant. The plant also manufactures whipped toppings that have an oil base.

“We’re the only aerosol whipped topping producer in Canada,” Di Cunto says. The plant produces 150,000 cans a day.

As for the skim milk, it goes through a 90-foot-high series of heated steel tubes and chambers, which boil off much of the water. Once thick and creamy, it’s sprayed into a chamber where the air is 214 C.

At that temperature, all the remaining water instantly evaporates, leaving only powder.

That powder is bagged in 25-kilogram brown paper bags. It’s bought by bakeries, meat processors and confectioners.

And it’s also sent all over the world, where it’s reconstituted and drunk in places like Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

FACTS

1938 year pasteurization of milk was required in Canada

4,400 dairy farms in Ontario

259 dairy farms in Waterloo Region

3.95% butterfat in milk of average Holstein

$1.37 Amount consumer pays, per litre

70 to 74ó Amount dairy farmers are paid per litre

50 to 55 cows on average Ontario dairy farm

**BASED ON FOUR-LITRE BAG OF HOMO MILK PRICED AT SOBEY’S

MILK DRINKERS AROUND THE WORLD

Litres of milk consumed, per person, in a year:

FINLAND 184

NETHERLANDS 184

SWEDEN 145

IRELAND 130

SPAIN 119

NORWAY 117

SWITZERLAND 112

UNITED KINGDOM 111

AUSTRALIA 106

CANADA 95

GERMANY 92

FRANCE 92

UNITED STATES 84

MEXICO 41

CHINA 9

SOURCE: INTERNATIONAL DAIRY FEDERATION

TOP 3 CHEESE-EATING COUNTRIES:

GREECE

FRANCE

ITALY

TOP 3 BUTTER-EATING COUNTRIES:

FRANCE

GERMANY

NEW ZEALAND

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Posted by FFC on July 22nd, 2009 :: Filed under Canada,Dairy cattle,Farm life,Veal
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