dairy

When it comes to the current controversy over antibiotic use on farm animals, milk is in a special category.

Lactating cows, unlike hogs, cattle or chickens that are raised for their meat, don't receive antibiotics unless they are actually sick. That's because drug residues immediately appear in the cow's milk — a violation of food safety rules.

Milk shipments are tested for six of the most widely used antibiotics, and any truckload that tests positive is rejected. So when cows are treated, farmers discard their milk for several days until the residues disappear.

Cows to be milked
Luke Runyon / Harvest Public Media

When Jon Slutsky’s dairy farm in Wellington, Colo. is fully staffed, it’s a moment to celebrate. A full roster of employees at Slutsky’s La Luna Dairy is rare these days.

“We’re doing really well with our employee base,” Slutsky said. “A year ago, we couldn’t say that. We were short.”

With the farm’s 1,500 cows waiting to be milked, Slutsky and his wife Susan Moore felt panicked, worried they didn’t have enough hands on deck to milk about 200 cows per hour.

“That’s what pays the bills for a place like this is milk sales,” Slutsky said. “We were short 5 milkers out of 11.”


Milk that Central Dairy delivers is kept behind doors secured with three-inch long padlocks.
Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes, in which we talk about important issues related to food production. 

Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Food terrorism, part two: New rules would require the nation’s largest food manufacturing plants to tighten up security. How would that impact the dairy industry, which is considered the most vulnerable to attack?

Many of the food terrorism scenarios outlined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration involve liquid.

And there’s good reason for that.

Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes, in which we talk about important issues related to food production.

Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Donnie Davidson’s family has been producing bottled milk in Holden, Mo., since the 1930s. But the 63-year-old farmer decided to sell his herd of 50 milking cows in November after the roof on one of his barns collapsed from last winter’s snow.

Rebuilding the barn would have cost about $20,000. Then there were the costs of renovating a silo and paying for hired help since Davidson’s children won’t be taking over the business. It made financial sense to close the dairy, and grow crops and build a herd of beef cattle instead.

Courtesy of Trufflepig Films

This story is part of True/False Conversations, a series of in-depth interviews with the filmmakers of this year’s True/False Festival.  Find the rest of them here or download the podcast on iTunes.

SerialK/Flickr

This is the latest installment of Harvest Public Media’s Field Notes, in which reporters talk to newsmakers and experts about important issues related to food production.

For this week’s Field Notes, reporter Justine Greve spoke with Dr. Stephanie Clark, an associate professor of Food Science at Iowa State University about a segment of the dairy industry we’re all familiar with but probably don’t know much about.

You may not know what a “fractionated dairy ingredient” is, but I can almost guarantee you've eaten one.

Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

To dock or not to dock? That is the question.

Well, that’s the question some Midwest dairy farmers are debating now that the National Milk Producers Federation has taken a stand against the widespread practice of cutting off cow tails -- or tail docking. It started decades ago as a method to stop the spread of disease because the tails often becomes slimed with manure. Recent studies suggest the practice isn't necessarily effective, but many dairy farmers still employ the technique to avoid a face full of slimy cow tail.

Abbie Fentress Swanson/Harvest Public Media

Many people who haven’t stepped foot on a dairy might think milking a cow is a sort of Emersonian back-to-the land moment, where a milker bonds with his or her cow while communing with nature. Just milk her for a while and voilà: fresh, creamy milk. But the truth is, milking can be a very dirty job.