Today I had the great honor to join Nebraska’s dairy producers for their annual convention in Norfolk. I’ll admit that we haven’t had a Holstein on our farm since the early 1980s, but our family goes through gallons of milk and dairy products every week. We may not milk cows, but we surely support Nebraska’s dairy farmers.
When I was a kid, we milked around 40 cows. I would often plop down at the top of a big haystack in the early winter evenings with our old farm dog by my side, waiting for Dad to finishing milking. I could hear him talking to the cows as he went about the evening chores. After we sold our dairy herd in the mid-1970s, we kept one milk cow around so we would have fresh milk, cream, butter, cottage cheese, whipped cream and ice cream whenever we wanted.
As a high school student, I began my day by milking that old cow before school, and repeated the job in the evenings after I came home. It was a calming job in those days, squirting milk in the mouths of the barn cats that were impatiently watching me. As soon as I left for college, the milk cow left for market, and our dairying days were done.
Today, dairy farming is much different. Technology, efficiency, facilities and genetics have made it into a modern industry, but the basics are still true. Herd health, pristine premises and facilities and TLC for the cows make all the difference.
We’ve lost our share of dairies in the state in recent years, but there are still 230 dairy farms in Nebraska, and 99% of them are still family owned and operated. A typical Nebraska cow will produce 6.4 gallons of milk daily, or 2325 gallons over the course of a year, according to calculations from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Nebraska dairies produce 135 million gallons of milk annually, generating $173 million for the economy, making dairying the fifth largest ag business in the state.
Most recently, the National Dairy Council has partnered with the NFL, USDA and other government, business and media outlets in the Fuel Up to Play 60 campaign, aimed at getting our nation’s youth to eat well and play hard. This campaign encourages youth, including students at 1073 Nebraska schools enrolled in the program, to eat dairy products and other healthy foods, so they have the energy to live more healthy and active lifestyles. Changing the eating and activity habits of children can help them change the habits of their parents.
Yes, the days when every farm had milk cows are long gone. But the folks in the business today are survivors, dealing with high feed and input costs and unprecedented milk price volatility. They have a healthful product that they are actively promoting to new consumers, winning over young and old.
So, today I tip my hat to the dairy producers and their families. I’m getting thirsty, so time for good glass of cold milk.