Students learn health, safety of dairy product production at ‘A Day of Dairy’

Jeff Stevenson, professor of animal sciences and industry, explains the process of how calves are raised until they are old enough to milk at the K-State Dairy unit on Oct. 5, 2016. (Kelly Pham | The Collegian)

Future dietitians and agriculturalists alike came together to better understand the science and nutrition of how dairy products get from the dairy to their plate at the Kansas State and Midwest Dairy Association’s “A Day of Dairy” event. About 50 K-State students heard from experts in the dairy and nutrition fields to learn how the dairy industry is meeting consumer needs and consumer choice through the production of safe, nutritious and fresh foods.

“You know, it’s an interesting fact that four out of four people eat,” Lucas Lentsch, CEO of Midwest Dairy, said. “So it’s a good thing to be in agriculture.”

The dairy industry, Lentsch said, is now more than ever concerned with educating consumers about the nutrition gained from dairy products, as well as the safety of what they produce, due to a growing demand from consumers for safe and healthy products in the store.

“Whether the products are good, bad or indifferent to us, the demand is there, and the consumers have a choice,” Lentsch said. “People have a passion about their food choices; it’s all about consumer choice.”

To understand how the many choices of dairy products get to the store, the Midwest Dairy Association took students through the process of running a dairy to processing milk and understanding the nutrition of all the different choices.

It starts at the dairy

Starting at the K-State dairy, Jeff Stevenson, professor of animal sciences and industry, educated the attendees about the different life phases of a dairy cow.

“Our calves are fed three times a day, which really accelerates their growth,” Stevenson said. “They will get up to gaining a couple of pounds a day.”

The calves are fed real, pasteurized milk, water and a concentrate mix to help stimulate their rumen and give them a healthy start.

“Our calves, and all our cows, are well-fed and well cared for,” Stevensen said. “With good genetics, feeding and care, you can get a good amount of milk out if you do it right and (with) care.”

Stevenson said because they check on their calves three times a day, the amount of calves they lose to death is minimal.

“We’ve only lost one calf in four to five months,” Stevenson said. “We do a really good job at taking care of them. (Good health) starts here.”

Vaccination of the cows starts early, Stevenson said, as it helps them develop a stronger immunity while they are young.

Justin Ohlde, dairy farmer of Ohlde Dairy, said his family farm uses antibiotics minimally, and only when necessary.

“But you just want to help your cows the way you would want to help your kids when they are sick,” Ohlde said.

After treated with antibiotics, Ohlde said the cows are placed in a “hospital pen,” and their milk is tested before going to processing.

“Ever single load of milk is tested before it goes out,” Ohlde said. “It never gets into the supply if there is antibiotics in it. That is something we will always want to avoid.”

It is not until the cows are healthy and antibiotic-free that their milk will be shipped out to a processing plant.

The cows on a dairy are milked two to three times per day and go through a thorough process to reduce chances for disease and bacterial infections.

For anyone who visits the milking parlor or dairy, Stevenson said each person wears a pair of blue booties.

“Cows are immune to a lot, but we want to make sure what’s on your feet don’t get to our cows,” Stevenson said. “You might smell like a cow, but your feet will feel fine.”

Before the cows are milked, their teats are wiped clean and treated with a pre-dip to kill bacteria.

“Each cow’s teats are cleaned with two towels, and each cow gets their own set of towels,” Stevenson said. “We do everything we can to reduce infection.”

After a four to five minute milking, a post-dip disinfectant is placed on the teats to disinfect and protect the cow of any bacteria moving through the teat canal and causing infection, Stevenson said.

“Obviously we love what we do,” Lentsch said. “We truly know without the dairy cows we would not be providing what is really important. It is what it is and it’s nature’s wonderfulness.”

From the dairy to a plant

Continuing with biosecurity safety, Jared Parsons, dairy plant manager, said anyone who enters the processing plant is required to wear a hairnet and sanitize their shoes.

“We want to kill all the bad stuff that we don’t want in the plant and getting into our foods,” Parsons said.

Parsons said the plant at K-State is a “pilot plant,” and makes all the same products that a typical plant can make, only on a smaller basis.

“About 15 percent of the milk our cows produce goes to the Call Hall Dairy Bar and the dining centers in the dorms,” Stevenson said.

From there, Parsons said the dairy plant pasteurizes the milk and produces four flavors of fluid milk, 46 flavors of ice cream and three types of cheese.

“Without getting too technical and scientific, it is a really, really thorough process,” Parsons said.

The plant is required to maintain proper temperatures, regulations and requirements to ensure it is safe for consumers when it leaves the plant.

“It is one thick book that regulates the dairy industry,” Lentsch said. “You have to trust that each gallon of milk will be just like the next one. We need safe, predictable and high-quality products.”

Andy Mink, a freshman in milling science and management, said he came on the three-hour tour because the concept of seeing the whole process sounded interesting.

“We drink the milk that is produced here at the scholarship house I live in,” Mink said. “It makes it really neat to be able to see where it comes from.”

Educating consumers on local, nutritious dairy products

Marley Sugar, health and wellness team nutritionist of Midwest Dairy Association, finished the tour with a nutritional taste-testing session.

“My job is to share dairy nutrition information with health professionals who then talk to consumers,” Sugar said. “Essentially it’s a train the trainer program.”

Sugar said one of the most important parts of a dietitian’s job within the dairy industry is informing the public that all milk contains the same nine essential nutrients.

“The only thing manipulated between something like white and chocolate milk is the fat and the calories,” Sugar said. “The carbs don’t change.”

Milk is the number one source of three different nutrients of concern, which are the three nutrients that Americans do not get nearly enough of.

“This is why adding a small amount of sugar in a nutrient-dense food is OK,” Sugar said. “It is so worth it if it gets someone who typically does not like milk to get a little bit of extra sugar if they’re getting those nine essential nutrients.”

Sugar said while consumers think they are getting more calcium from dairy alternatives such as in soy or almond milk, it is actually not the case.

“The calcium in milk is much more absorbed by our bodies because it is natural,” Sugar said. “The added calcium in alternatives are not absorbed by our body nearly as well.”

Jen Thompson, senior in dietetics, said before this event she only knew the nutrition side of food products.

“I had never been on a dairy or processing facility,” Thompson said. “I learned so much for what is takes to get a nutritious product from farm to finish.”

Kaitlyn Alanis
Hi, I'm Kaitlyn Alanis, former news editor for the Collegian and a May 2017 graduate in agricultural communications and journalism. I have never tried a hamburger and I hate the taste of coffee, but I love writing stories and sharing what I learn with our readers. By writing for the Collegian, I can now not only sing along when the K-State Band plays "The Band is Hot," but I also know that most agriculture students did not grow up on a farm, how to use an AED to save someone's life and why there is a bust of MLK Jr. outside of Ahearn Field House. Thanks for reading!