I have been taking a lot of classes about dairy medicine and dairy production during my time here at Cornell. I also took a lot of dairy-centered classes during my undergraduate years in Vermont. While I had some farming background from my childhood, my understanding of dairy production medicine did start on quite the incline. I had to work hard to get my footing, and Vermont was the perfect place for it. What better place to learn dairy medicine than one filled with people who have dairy farming ingrained in their families and in the livelihood?
Now that I am in my 2nd year here at Cornell, things have changed a lot for me. I am one of the few large animal-focused students in our class. Most of my classmates lean toward a career in small animal medicine. The idea of farming and farm animal medicine has greatly changed from what it used to mean to me. Most of this is due to the resources and faculty available to us here in Ithaca. Many of the people who teach us are experts in various aspects dairy production. I have had my mind blown by some of these people, as they bring heaps of knowledge to the lecture that I don’t know.
Because we usually focus a lot on large-scale dairy production, I figured I needed some balance. After all, looking at huge profit margins and enormous numbers of cows can become overwhelming at times, and the focus on the individual animal definitely gets lost in the numbers. I read a book about keeping small herds, sometimes even one cow for an individual family’s milk needs. The different viewpoints presented were interesting and important. It included a lot of aspects of dairy farming that I actually had begun to overlook in the haze that had risen from our production medicine classes. Things like cow comfort, ideal footing for milking parlors, ideal storage techniques for fresh milk, and how to make different products such as cheese and kefir from milk.
The idea that has stuck with me the most is the concept of actually fresh milk. Most people don’t realize how far and how long conventional milk travels, and it is quite a ways! From the farm to the processor, maybe another intermediary, maybe a distributing center, to the grocery store, to you. With time, nutrients break down and they take flavor with them. Some local milk producers may have milk products that take less of a journey thanks to co-ops. Some farms may even sell their products right at their own farm thanks to on-site processing facilities. Next time you purchase a dairy product, it might be worth your time to think about how far and how long it traveled to get to you.