I’m a dairy farmer who loves to tell the story behind a glass of milk! Every story about the food we eat is important, but I think it has become even more important for those of us raising cattle.
For example: Have you ever heard that humans are the only species to drink milk after infancy?
Actually, there are a lot of things only humans do. That’s not necessarily the point this question is often intended to raise. People who say this usually aren’t trying to engage in thought-provoking small talk. Instead, they often have an agenda to shut the dairy industry down.
Earlier this year, I became so frustrated by these dumb claims that I promised myself not to engage in debates about them.
Don’t these milk-hating folks know about cats?
I’ve dedicated my life to the dairy industry. As a 5th generation dairy farmer, I’ve been at it full-time for a decade, working alongside my father (a veterinarian) and my brother (an agronomist) on the farm that was built by my great-grandfather in central Mexico. Each day we produce more than 14,000 liters of milk—and I love to tell the story behind every glass that our customers sip.
That’s one of the reasons why I’m so grateful to receive the Global Farmer Network’s Kleckner Award this year at the events surrounding the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa. It will give me another opportunity and another platform with a global audience to tell our dairy story.
The first thing to know about milk is that it’s more than just a drink. It’s a food designed by nature to come loaded with nutrition. It combines high-quality protein, fat, and carbohydrates, plus nutrients such as calcium, potassium, and vitamins.
Milk is quite simply one of the healthiest foods you can consume. Children may benefit the most because milk aids in human growth and development. I am a firm believer that a glass of milk a day has the potential to change a person’s life. A well-nurtured childhood is a game changer, so access to safe, affordable food is key to a better future.
Unfortunately, people hear a lot of myths about dairy farming. Those who want to stop the dairy industry spin a false tale about how we treat our animals.
It takes healthy cows to produce good milk, and so we take great care of the animals on our farm. We give them plenty of food to eat and lots of water to drink. We make sure they receive enough rest. We protect them from predators. We give them the best medicine when they’re ailing—and only when the cow needs it. We use technology to track every cow’s health and performance, identify individual problems and treat them accordingly.
We take special care of them as they prepare to calve, putting them on a diet that makes them strong. When they’re pregnant, we perform ultrasounds to make sure everything is ok. You might say that our cows have their own gynecologists.
The calves also receive their own regimen. Pediatricians like to say that the first 1,000 days of life for human children are critical, and the same is true for baby cows. We want them to become healthy and strong. One of my main jobs on our farm, in fact, is to make sure that our inventories are well stocked and up to date so that we can follow a nutritional plan designed by my father and use the feed crops grown by my brother.
I don’t believe in reincarnation, but if I did, I’d possibly want to come back as a dairy cow on my family’s farm. That’s how well we treat them.
We have economic incentives to do these things, but for us it’s much more than a mere matter of money: We really do love our cows, the dairy industry and our communities. Dairy farmers have worked for many generations to improve local livelihoods and contribute to economic prosperity because we create jobs inside and outside our farms. For many years, towns were settled around farms. A lot of infrastructure was built in communities by and for the local farmers. My great-grandfather built a school for his employees’ kids because we lived in the middle of nowhere! That school is still there and has grown quite a bit.
We can’t do this alone. We depend on innovative technologies in all areas of our operation. On my farm, we chose solar panels (access to electricity is key for milking and cooling the milk) and compost (for soil improvement and bedding material) to recycle and turn waste into worth. We rely on trade to access many of our supplies – from buying corn, soy and canola to purchasing machinery, farm management software and so much more. Finally, we count on our customers, whose support makes our business possible and whose trust and confidence in our food is essential to our success.
As you can see, the impact of the dairy sector is huge because it is present all over the world and through many layers of society. I hope the Kleckner Award helps me reach those layers so we can all work together to improve nutrition and have a better quality of life.
That’s the story behind your glass of milk. I hope you enjoy drinking it as much as I enjoy producing it.
This first appeared at the Des Moines Register.