Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Where does milk come from?

No, it is not a silly question.
While we did not have a working fridge I had to buy milk in small cardboard cartons. (We don't have glass milk bottles in this state any more.) It was an inefficient and expensive way to buy it because we get through rather a lot of milk in this house.
It made me think again about where the milk was actually coming from.
I suspect that this is something most people rarely think about. They simply take the milk off the shelf in the supermarket. In some parts of the world I know it still magically appears on the doorstep each morning. 
One of my memories as a kitten is of sitting on the cross bar of the Senior Cat's bicycle and going to get the milk from the dairy. Milk was not delivered but every morning there would be a little queue of people lined up waiting for the farmer to finish milking the cows. When he was ready people would hand over their "billy cans" and get their milk - straight from the cow.
Today's health inspectors would be horrified.  Nevertheless I grew up on genuinely full cream milk. Nothing was added to it and nothing was taken away. I simply drank milk when it was put in front of me.
Just before I started secondary school we moved to an area which was mostly dairy farms. By then I was quite old enough to be very conscious of what people did for a living - and how they did it. I hope I have been conscious of dairy farming ever since then.
All over the valley in the mornings and the evenings you would hear the soft putt-putt noise of the milking machines at work. You would hear the cows calling to one another, the occasional shout or a farmer or the bark of a dog. If the wind was blowing in the right direction you could hear the radio playing classical music as the cows were milked. (Cows much prefer classical music - and no, I am not being funny.)
 And that happened every single day. There was no let up. Cows have to be milked whatever the weather, however the farmer feels, whether it is Christmas, Easter, your birthday or any other day. It requires discipline and commitment. Life in the valley revolved around the cows and their timetable. School, church, football, meetings, social occasions and more all had to fit in with the timetable the cows set. If a farmer was late for any reason you could hear his cows - and that would set other cows off too.
I know it has changed a little now in that the farms have been consolidated. The herds are much bigger. It has all become much more "scientific" and "computerised". But, one thing  has not changed. The cows still have to be milked.
It is hard physical work every day. There may be milking machines but there is still plenty to do.
I try to remember that when my paw reaches out for a container of milk in the supermarket. I thought of it again this morning when there was a story of a family who has had to cease dairy farming because they were no longer getting an income from it.  And I know that milk is a ridiculously low price for the work involved. 
I won't mind if the price of milk goes up - but only if the dairy farmers get the money. 

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