Monday, May 21, 2012

What Happens When the "Frig" Goes Out?

What does happen when the 'frig goes out?  At the house, it typically means either the throwing away of a lot of food, or an emergency run to the appliance store, or both, depending on the timing of discovery.  I got a comment on my last post of "Does our milkhouse smell because the milk has gone rotten?", which is a very good question.  And, since we've spent more time & effort on keeping this from happening over the last few weeks than we have in probably the last few years, I thought this an excellent opportunity to explain how we keep milk cold on the farm. 
First & foremost, milk that you buy in the grocery store is NEVER allowed to get above 40 degrees from the time it leaves the cow to when you buy it and put it in your cart (that is when your responsibility to put it away in your frig kicks in).  The milk supply is always kept refrigerated, and if it should get out of temperature range (due to "frig" malfunction or power outage), it is dumped/removed from the food supply, and the tank sanitized before new milk goes in.  In addition, milk comes out of the cow at roughly her body temperature (somewhere near 100 degrees), and it needs to be cooled to below 40 degrees within a certain timeframe.  We have several things that help us do that. 
First, is a plate cooler.  This is process where the warm milk from the cow passes through metal pipes right next to cool water.  If you think back to science class, the heat molecules will pass from the warm milk to the cool water, making cool milk and warm water.  We reuse the water to provide fresh water to the cows, and the milk starts out cooler when it reaches the bulk tank (our massive "frig"), and requires less energy to get cooled down the rest of the way.  The bulk tank has a paddle that swirls the milk to keep cool milk from sitting on the bottom and hot milk on top, so that it cools evenly as it is added to the tank during milk (it also keeps the milk from separating into the cream at the top), and then the compressor (and several other items in relation to that whose names I only know because they have been noted on the numerous bills that have come in recently due to their necessary repair) work to cool the milk in the tank, just like a refrigerator or freezer in your house.  We replaced our bulk tank recently to get one with a better cooling system and it's bigger to keep up with the higher volume of milk are cows are (and will be) producing!

I've gotten into more of a habit as of late when I do the last feed push-up & maternity check to not only see if the "light is on", but also to check the temperature gauge on the bulk tank, just to make sure it is cooling like it should.  And, there are people "on call" 24/7 at our service company to come and help diagnose and fix any problems that we can't handle ourselves.  (which I'm sure they loved the 9 PM trip last Sunday night, but it saved a load of milk!)

The "light is on", which means that the cooler on the bulk tank is on.  I can tell when I push up feed at night, or when we drive home after dark, that at least it's on!

The milkhouse & old bulk tank

The new bulk tank on the trailer

The side cut off the milkhouse, as the new bulk tank is too big to go through the doors

A very strange looking empty milkhouse until the new tank was installed.

When the milk truck picks up each morning, the driver first checks the temperature and for any smells or odors that tell them that something isn't right.  If they suspect issues, they call in the producer and our cooperative before they will load it on the truck (and thus, potentially contaminate any neighbor's milk that might already be loaded).  Any suspect loads are dumped, which as a producer, isn't a whole lot of fun for us (no milk = no paycheck), but it is MUCH more important that safe food arrive at your dinner table (and mine). 

So, no smells of rotten milk on the farm, and you can rest assured of all the work that goes into getting you a COLD glass of milk!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What to Expect....

Ok, this blog has been in "draft" form for almost 4 months, so I apologize now for the rant you are about to receive.
The Pollard Family is expanding.  That's right, Brent & I are expecting in early September.  So, like many other 1st time expectant mothers, I went out, got "What to Expect When You're Expecting" and proceeded to read my way through 200 pages in the 1st weekend.  At about pg. 115, I got a little frustrated.  I already drink plenty of milk, eat meat for iron, and I knew I needed to do a better job of eating more fruits and vegetables (and my friends will be VERY impressed that I am down to one diet pop a day), but I got upset when I read the sidebar on "Think Organic".  There is no nutritional or safety difference between an organic glass of milk and a "conventional" glass of milk (or meat or anything else).

None, zip, zero, nada

The particular statement that frustrated me was that I should be eating organic food because of the "hormones and antibiotics" in non-organic foods. 
#1 - Hormones.  Virtually all products you eat contain hormones.  That includes the steak I had last night, the glass of milk I drank with it, and the lettuce in the side salad I had alongside.  These foods are derived from a living organism.  Organisms produce hormones in their bodies/cells, and so, it would reason that eating foods from them would also have hormones in them.  Now, there are some products that allow us as farmers to give the animals additional hormones that their body already produces.  At this time, these products are available (meaning:  licensed, tested, cleared for use in) for dairy cows (known as rbst) & beef cattle (known as implants).  First, let me be clear, I will NOT give any product to any animal that I don't feel is safe for that animal, and for anyone that eats it.  (Remember, my freezer is full of beef from our farm, and pork from my parent's, and I work to buy "my" milk.)
In dairy cows, this hormone is already naturally produced by cows, and is naturally-occuring at higher levels in cows that have just given birth.  Giving them additional hormone (only after their initial milk production has dropped off, and only if they are in the right condition to do so, so not every cow is treated), simply recreates this early lactation production.  For some cows, I equate it to "turning on the light bulb".  The cows thinks "Oh, I'm supposed to make milk, well ok", and you can turn a fat, lazy cow that can't produce enough to pay her feed bill, into a productive animal.  This is healthier for the cow.  Oh, and the glass of milk from a treated cow has absolutely no more bst in it than a glass of milk from a cow that has not been treated.  (That is why the labels have to say something like "our farmers pledge not to use rbst" or "from cows not treated with rbst", NOT "bst-free" because all milk contains bst.)  And, please don't go running away from all milk as a result of reading this.  Milk from all mammals contains bst (so, if you were breastfed as a child, you've ingested bst).

#2 - Antibiotics:  There are no antibiotics in meat, milk or eggs that you eat.  Period. 
None, zip, zero, nada.....None
So, every piece of meat you buy in the store could be labeled "Antibiotic-free".  Why is that?
Yes, occasionally, my animals become sick, and occasionally, one of the things I use to treat them with is antibiotics.  We'll try other remedies were possible,  (Who knew powdered sugar is a great remedy to treat pinkeye!) but sometimes, I need medicine to do what is right for the animal in my care.  However, I have to remove a cow's milk from the system when I have treated her, and I can't put it back into the milk supply until she has tested free of antibiotics (we have an at-home tester that allows us to test a cow's milk and know before the next milking whether or not she is clean of antibiotics) .  The same process works for meat animals (including the cows I sell for hamburger).  Each antibiotic has undergone thorough testing to see the length of time the product remains in the animal's body.  This length of time is known as the withdrawal, and is the time that an animal may not be sent for processing.  Meat processing plants check this routinely, and they track animals back to their source (after pulling the meat or batch) and address the concern with the producer.  If a producer gets on the repeat violator list, they aren't allowed to sell food products anymore.  Makes sense to me!
So, rest assured; you shouldn't have to worry about antibiotics in your food. 

With hundreds of sources of information on what I should or should not be doing right now, it's nice to know that I can put these things into the "don't have to worry about" column, and be happy that him/her is doing well at the mid-way ultrasound!