We are back to our lovely ladies of East Hill Creamery, and this week we are going to fill you in on everything about the milking process. Since cheese is made from milk (hopefully you knew that...) we want to be sure that you understand how we get the actual milk. That way, when you are enjoying some delicious East Hill cheese, you can think back to the raw ingredients and how they became cheese!
So, first things first, if you recall from our last blog about the cows, they get a 5:00 AM sharp wake up call every morning. From the pasture, they go to the grain barn and eat 10-15 minutes [see blog about cow nutrition if you want to know more about this]. Around 6:00 AM they go to the milking parlor and are put in the holding area where they wait their turn to be milked.
They are filed into the milking parlor in lines of 40. If you have ever gotten a massage, you know that you have to get ‘prepped’ with oil…..well, our cows get prepped too. They get to visit our milking parlor ‘spa’ twice a day, and every time they go, their teats get dipped in an iodine solution that sanitizes and disinfects them. It stays on for 10 seconds and then is wiped off with a towel. This ensures that the undesirable bacteria and dirt from the cow’s udder does not enter the milk supply. After the prepping, the actual milking unit is applied (see photo). It takes 2-3 people in the parlor to do this process. One to dip, one to wipe, and one to put units on in a procession like manner. We can milk about 240 cows an hour.
The reason that I compared our milking parlor to a spa is that it is supposed to be a relaxing experience for the cows to be milked. It is a quiet atmosphere with no shouting, no loud music, no fast motion. The machines massage their teats as they get milked. Cows milk at different speeds. On average, the milking machine (or claw or cluster as some call it) is attached to the teats for 5-8 minutes. Milking machines have been quite an innovative invention to help us milk more efficiently. They have been around since the 1920s and have evolved a great deal since they were first invented. Before milking machines were invented it was common for dairy farmers to have large families so they would have help with the labor intensive job of milking by hand. A milking machine is under 13 inches of vacuum at the teat end which creates a suction combined with a pulsation or massage which is relaxing for the cows. This is designed to simulate the natural sucking of a calf on a momma cow.
Right now, the cows are averaging about 55 pounds of milk a day each. We are at our peak milking production, and this is the best milking week of the year. Why? Because the grass is at it's peak nutritional value. Think about your lawn in the spring: it is green and lush and fresh. That’s the same for the grass our cows are eating. They do not have to eat that long to get their stomachs full. Next week the grass will begin to lignify and go into its reproductive stage and put a seed head out. This is the sustainability or the life cycle of the grass. Due to the magical interaction of the cow being able to convert this grass fiber into milk, we are able to enjoy this luxury of delicious dairy products such as cheese.
Our cows get milked twice a day; once in the morning and once again at 3 or 4 PM. We milk over 700 cows per day, and we average 38,500 pounds of milk/day. That’s enough for 77,000 cups of milk per day from our farm. We are proud of what our cows produce and take pride in doing our part to feed the world. The world population is growing, and only 2% of the US population is involved in agriculture.
After the cow is milked, the milk makes its way from the milking unit through a stainless steel pipe traveling through a heat exchanger and then into a refrigerated storage tank. The milk comes out of the cow at 98 degrees and enters the storage tank at 38 degrees. The milk man, driving a semi truck ,comes to get the milk from the storage tank once a day . From our farm the milk goes to a milk plant in Batavia, New York. When we start making our cheese, some of the milk will go straight to East Hill Creamery in our very own milk truck. Stay tuned, we will keep you posted on how the milk actually becomes cheese in a future blog. Thanks for reading today, and as always, ask us any questions you may have.