The Everyday Miracle of Milk


Milk is the only food product that people can consume from the day we are born to the day we die.

It’s an amazing drink, but it’s also such a fixture in our lives that sometimes we risk taking it for granted.

That’s the value of World Milk Day, which falls on June 1—a date set by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations to honor the importance of this essential global food and nutritious staple.

For dairy farmers, of course, every day is milk day.

Here on our farm in Ireland, we milk 65 cows, mostly Holsteins, in County Westmeath, which is near the middle of our island. For approximately 300 days of the year, our cows graze on the grass in our fields. During the winter, when this isn’t possible, we give them a grass silage diet that keeps them happy and healthy.

Our major product is fresh milk—the cold drink that people gulp from glasses and pour over breakfast cereal. Our milk is delivered to a coop where most of our milk is sold as fresh milk or cream and some of it even goes into bottles of Baileys Irish Cream. If you’ve ever sipped a tumbler of this delicious liqueur, it’s very possible you’ve enjoyed milk from our dairy farm.

I never expected to become a dairy farmer. But that’s what can happen when you marry a man from a dairy-farming family. My husband’s family have farmed this land for at least eight generations. His grandfather started up the milk production in the 1960s.

I grew up in Ontario, Canada, on a farm that produced beef and grain. I also milked cows in college. So when I married Kenneth and committed myself to dairy farming, I had a sense of what our life would be like—but it took doing the job to appreciate all of its joys.

One of the things I’ve come to enjoy the most about dairy farming is its cyclical nature. I love watching the cows graze on the grass outside, and then bringing them into the parlor twice a day for milking. This has become a favorite chore. I hesitate even to call it a chore because it’s more of a pleasing routine—a lovely walk that we now do as a family, with our new daughter joining us in a carrier when the weather is good.

Keelin was born in March, and she’s our first child. For her, milk isn’t an option but a necessity. Like all babies, she depends on it, whether it’s mother’s milk from a breast or infant formula from a bottle.

Supplies of baby formula recently plunged in the United States, for a series of complicated reasons involving safety regulations and trade protectionism.

I can’t imagine what mothers who can’t find formula are going through. I hope the United States wipes out this crisis by World Milk Day—if not sooner.

Right now, America imports only 2 percent of its formula. Political leaders should consider easing restrictions on formula from other countries.  With news that the first shipment of baby formula from Europe arrived in the U.S. via military cargo plane, we are reminded that

sometimes the answer to our problems means letting goods and services cross borders without the artificial interference of quotas and tariffs.

clear plastic feeding bottle on red tableIreland is a small country, but we account for about 12 percent of the world’s baby formula—a great example of how international trade allows people from different countries to work together as producers and consumers to meet nutritional needs.

We should see trade as a solution, rather than a threat.

The demand for milk is great, but producers still face challenges. Our input costs—fertilizer, fuel, electricity, and so on—have spiked this year. The price of milk also has gone up, which means that we can still pay our bills. That may not always be the case. If the price of milk falls but our input costs remain high, I’ll worry about the future of our farm.

What gives me solace, though, is the wonder of what happens here. Cows have an incredible ability to eat grass grown on land not suitable for much else and to transform it into a nutritious drink that feeds us all, in collaboration with dairy farmers like me.

This is the everyday miracle of milk—365 days a year, including World Milk Day.

Cheryl Hazenberg

Cheryl Hazenberg

Farms with husband Kenneth Bray, who is the 8th generation of his family to farm this land. They milk primarily purebred Holsteins on 96 acres in the center of Ireland. They employ a primarily pasture-based system. Cheryl remains active in her family's Canadian beef farm and in the industry.

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