The idea of milking a cow as one of my “52 To Do” came as a suggestion after my first blog post. My friend Donna Hurm suggested it and I loved the idea. As I child I was obsessed with the Little House on the Prairie books. I fantasized about being Laura Ingalls Wilder, growing up on the prairie and drinking fresh milk from our family cow. There are several flaws in this logic. Number 1, I am lactose intolerant. Number 2, I am not really that fond of physical labor or early mornings… but I digress.
Donna not only offered up the idea, but suggested the farm of her cousins, the Rexings, as a place we could do the milking. A few weeks before the visit, someone asked me about upcoming activities on the list. My nephew Colin and niece Emery immediately chimed in that he wanted to milk a cow. A few days after that, my niece Megan shared that this was on her bucket list. So, with 8 of us in a caravan, we headed to the northwest side of Evansville to milk a cow.
The Rexing dairy farm milks 70 cows, twice daily. Thanks to automation, the process takes about 90 minutes each time. If done by hand, it would take hours. The process was amazing to me. The doors to the milking area open and a group of cows slowly ambles to the next available milking station. I am guessing there are about 8 cows at a time. Udders (most cows have 4) are cleaned by hand twice before milking begins. The automatic milking machine is attached to the udders and the milking process begins. The machine self-releases when the milk flow drops below a certain level. Workers then apply a liquid to the udders to prevent infection. When the last cow in the group finishes, the doors to the outside open, and the cows calmly walk back out to the field. The milk is piped from the milking station to a holding tank where it is stored and cooled. I think it takes about 7 minutes for each cow to finish.
I was able to assist with each of the steps I just described AND to milk a cow by hand. Gary and Don Rexing estimate it would take at least 20 minutes to milk a cow by hand. I probably tried hand-milking for a minute. I didn’t want to waste the milk and I also didn’t want the cow to have to wait for the milking. (Moms who have nursed their babies, I think you get what I am saying!) I suspect trying to get 5 gallons by hand would have left me with screaming forearms. When the cows arrive at the milking station, their udders are sort of solid. I would equate it to a sand bag?? When they are finished, their udders are soft and droopy? I know these are terrible descriptions. I wish I had better words but let me tell you, it was SUPER interesting.
I learned so many interesting facts:
- Milk comes out of the cow at just over 100 degrees. They want it cooled to the mid 30’s in under two hours.
- Each cow produces between 9-10 gallons of milk per day.
- Cows eat about 90 pounds of food/day. Most of the food the Rexing cows eat was grown on their grain farm.
- The Rexings operate the dairy operation almost exclusively using solar power.
- Cows are bred to compensate for any weaknesses in the parents and take full advantage of their strengths. A breeder evaluates each animal (cows and bulls) on about 70 qualities. He then looks for traits that match the qualities that help produce the best offspring. All “mating” is insemination. There is no cow hanky panky going on. (Note from the editor/Paul. I think she means Cow/Bull hanky panky. Kerrie must have been sick the day they covered this in health class.)
I can’t begin to tell you how much I LOVED this “to do” and how much I appreciate the idea from Donna and the time and friendliness of Gary Rexing and Don Rexing. They were so patient with our many questions. I believe it is important to understand where our food comes from. Milk doesn’t grow in gallon containers, it comes from a living animal and from hard working farmers. It was so interesting and eye opening to better understand the process. And, it was udderly fun!!
While I don’t think my words can adequately describe the excitement I experienced, I hope the photos and videos give you better view into the joy.