Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Correcting dairy misconceptions at 30,000 feet

I usually sleep on planes, but I had a little too much caffeine on last night’s connecting flight from Dallas to Knoxville. It was, however, one of the most interesting flights I’ve been on in a while.

 I was sitting next to a Knoxville native named Brad who works in the entertainment industry. After I mentioned I work in the dairy industry, he started asking me several questions about dairy farming and dairy foods. After attending the Holstein Foundation’s Young Dairy Leaders Institute last week, I knew I could definitely handle this.

Here’s a brief overview of how the conversation went:
Brad: “So I heard the other day that organic milk is better than milk from regular farms because cows on regular farms are given a lot of antibiotics.” (Brad seemed a bit uneasy when he was talking about this)

Kimmi: “Just like people go to the doctor and sometimes take antibiotics when they are sick, cows see a veterinarian. Treating cows that are not feeling well is not only humane, but also the right thing to do. However, we have several procedures in place to ensure that milk from sick cows does not go into the food supply. For example, we use red leg bands on cows that have been treated with antibiotics to easily spot them in the milk parlor, keep them in a separate pen on the farm and test the milk from each cow before it is ever allowed back in the bulk tank—the large refrigeration tank on the farm. Milk from cows treated with antibiotics is dumped and never reaches the food supply. We also take good records so we can track the health of each cow.”

Brad: “It seems like the large corporate farms are driving the small family farmers out of business.”

Kimmi: “Actually, about 98% of dairies are family owned. The larger ones just have more family members involved in the operation. In fact, all of the dairies I know of are family owned and operated, regardless of what state they are in.”
Brad: “My niece likes almond milk because she says the almonds are better cared for than cows.”

Kimmi: “Dairy cows actually see a nutritionist and veterinarian more often than many humans see a dietitian or doctor. Many barns also have fans, sprinklers and some even have water beds to keep the cows comfortable.”

After chatting for a while about these and other topics (and learning a lot about creating sets for the entertainment industry), Brad thanked me for correcting some of these misconceptions. He also said that most people he knows don’t know anything about how milk is produced and about the dairy industry in general and that farmers need to do a better job of telling their stories.

It was actually reassuring to hear him say we should tell our stories more often. That is exactly what YDLI was emphasizing. The dairy checkoff also has several programs geared to help dairy farmers feel more comfortable reaching out to their local communities and the media to inform them about on-farm practices and the dairy industry. is a great resource to learn more about modern dairy farming, watch videos and read factsheets about how dairy farmers take care of their cows, environment and contribute to the community.


  1. I love talking ag on planes! Perfect opportunity to be an Agvocate for our industry! Rock on girl!