farm facts

Dairy Foods from Farm to Fridge

Check out some of the most common questions about cows, farms and dairy foods.

Find out more fun facts and how milk is local, going from the farm to your fridge in 8 steps!

environmental care

How do dairy farmers care for the land and other natural resources?
Most dairy farmers live and work on their farms every day, so it’s important for them to protect the land, water and air for their families, their surrounding communities and future generations. All dairy farms must meet standards for manure storage, handling and recycling per guidelines from their state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Caring for the environment is a smart business practice, and helps to ensure healthy cows, happy neighbors and a safe home.

Why do some dairies produce odor?
While there are natural odors associated with animal agriculture, dairy farmers work hard to minimize these odors by maintaining clean facilities and managing manure, which is an important nutrient for cropland. Research and development has inspired new practices and innovative technologies to help farmers maintain clean air for everyone.

What do farms do with the manure?
Dairy cow manure is always put to good use. Some of it is spread on the fields as a natural source of fertilizer. Or it can be composted and sold to local garden stores. Some farmers dry it and use it as a bedding source similar to sawdust. There are even farmers in the U.S. that are able to turn their manure into power through methane digesters, a process that converts manure to energy.

What about manure getting into the groundwater?
Quality groundwater is essential to dairy farms. Cows need to drink clean water so that they will produce quality milk. Government agencies have rigorous processes for granting permits for dairy farms, for inspecting and testing the water and for recycling manure. In addition, each farm maintains a Nutrient Management Plan which helps ensure that the nutrients go into the crops, not the groundwater.

How do modern dairy farmers serve as good stewards of the environment for future generations?
Modern technology helps farmers boost efficiency and care for their animals and surroundings. Technologies like methane digesters, composting and conservation buffers actively work to conserve energy and water and reduce odor and waste, while creating organic fertilizer for local nurseries, neighbors and croplands. It’s all part of making farms sustainable for the future.

Milk Safety and quality

How and why is milk pasteurized?
All milk intended for direct consumption should be pasteurized — it’s a matter of food safety. Pasteurization is a simple, effective method to kill potentially harmful bacteria without affecting the taste or nutritional value of milk. With standard pasteurization, milk is heated to a temperature of at least 161 degrees Fahrenheit for not less than 15 seconds, followed by rapid cooling.

Are there antibiotics in milk?
No. All milk – both regular and organic – is tested for antibiotics. Any tanker that tests positive is disposed of immediately.

Are there pesticides in milk?
No. Stringent government standards ensure that all milk is safe, pure and  nutritious. The most recent government testing found that all of the milk samples tested were found to be completely free from pesticide residue.

What is rbST or BGH?
Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a hormone that occurs naturally in all cows, and its physiological function is to help direct milk production. Through biotechnology, scientists have created a synthesized copy of bST  — which some dairy farmers choose to use as a milk production management tool on some cows.

Are there hormones added to milk?
No.  Hormones are naturally present in many foods of plant and animal origin including milk.  Some farmers choose to supplement some of their cows with additional bST, to increase milk production, but science shows that there is no effect on hormone levels in the milk itself.

Is rbST safe for my family?
Since rbST was approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration in the early 1990s, its safety has been affirmed and reaffirmed by the scientific community. Scientists tell us that rbST is species-specific, meaning that it is biologically inactive in humans. Also, pasteurization destroys 90 percent of rbST in milk. Numerous scientific studies have shown there is no significant difference between milk from rbST supplemented and non-rbST-supplemented cows. That’s why the FDA has established that dairy products from cows treated with rbST do not need to be labeled.

Is organic milk better for me and my family than “regular” milk?
Organic milk is just one of many options in the dairy case to fit different lifestyles and personal preferences. Organic and regular milk are equally as good for you. Check the nutrition label, and you’ll see that every 8-ounce serving offers the same amount of essential nutrients.

For information on the nutritional value of dairy products, visit the National Dairy Council.

On-Farm Practices

What are dairy farmers doing about animal welfare?
Dairy farmers strive to deliver high-quality animal care every day and they take tremendous pride in doing so. Healthy cows produce high-quality products, so it doesn’t make sense for a farmer to give his or her cows anything less than the best treatment. Nutritious diets, comfortable living conditions and good medical care are among the many practices routinely used by dairy farmers to ensure a healthy herd.

How are newborn calves cared for?
Dairy farmers provide comfortable, safe and hygienic conditions for both mother and calf during the birthing process and afterward.  Because dairy farmers care about the health of their calves, the calves are placed into separate living quarters shortly after birth to control their environment and protect their health. Since newborn calves need time to build up their immune systems, it’s better that they aren’t around older animals — and the possible germs those animals could pass along. Also, it’s very important that the calves get colostrum — the mother’s first milk after giving birth — when they are newborns. Colostrum is high in fat and protein and has lots of antibodies in it that help strengthen the immune system. When calves are left to nurse their mothers, they might not receive enough. That’s why dairy farmers often step in and feed them colostrum from a bottle.

Why do farmers treat cows with antibiotics?
Sometimes, cows get sick, just as some humans do. Without proper medical care, the cows would become seriously ill or die. So, it is simply humane to treat them– and make them well again with medications prescribed by veterinarians. If a cow is treated with antibiotics, she is kept in a separate pen or milking group. The milk from that cow is disposed of and does not reach the food supply.

What’s different about organic farms?
A specific set of farming practices makes milk and other foods eligible for “certified organic” status. On organic dairies, cows must receive feed that is certified organic and without genetically-modified ingredients.  They are not treated with supplemental hormones and are not given certain medications to treat illness. If they are given medication, then they must permanently leave the milking herd. They also must have access to the pasture. Many of the same practices are utilized by conventional dairy farmers as all farmers make the welfare of their animals and environmental stewardship top priorities.

Have large, corporate-owned “factory farms” driven America’s family farms out of business?
No. Of the almost 20,000 dairy farms in America today most are smaller farms with less than 200 cows. In fact, 95% of American dairy farms, including larger farms, are family-owned and operated.  Like other business owners, many dairy farmers are modernizing, expanding and improving overall efficiency in order to continue to support their families and provide consumers with high-quality, affordable milk and dairy products. Dairy farming is a very diverse industry, and there is room for all sizes of dairy farms.