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Back When Grandpa Milked Cows……
By Sine Kerr
It has now been 86 years since Grandpa Kerr started his dairy farm in Romeo, Michigan. As I take a look back at where the dairy industry was in Grandpa Kerr's day, it is fascinating to see the journey the Kerr family has been on these past eight decades.
In 1927, there were approximately 22 million dairy cows in the US producing about 117 billion pounds of milk. Today there are about 9.2 million dairy cows in the US producing 200 billion pounds of milk annually. Talk about efficiency! The American dairy farmer certainly knows how to do much more with far fewer resources. That's great news for our environment. In the past 60 years, US dairy farmers have reduced their carbon footprint by 63%. And we're not stopping there. We have voluntarily committed to reducing our carbon footprint an additional 24% by 2020. I'm not sure "carbon footprint" was even in Grandpa's vocabulary back then!
As we have improved in efficiency, it translates into improved cow care and comfort. We know now, through the science of nutrition, how to better feed our cows. She is then able to maintain greater health and produce all of that nutritious and delicious milk that she provides to our state, country, and world.
When Grandpa Kerr finished his daily milking, he would then bottle his own milk. Pouring that freshly pasteurized and cooled milk into his own milk bottles that had his name printed boldly on one side and one of his favorite Bible verses on the other. Then off he would go on his milk route. Sometimes Grandma and some of the kids would do that part so Grandpa could stay at the farm and finish up other chores. Grandpa's milk stayed close to home. His customers were made up of neighbors. Today, our milk heads to Tempe from our farm in Buckeye where it is pasteurized and readied for our many customers. Some of our milk stays in Arizona, finding its way onto local grocery store shelves in many forms. Whether it's milk in a carton, sour cream, butter, yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream, an assortment of cheeses, etc. you can find our locally produced milk under store brand names such as Fry's, Safeway, Basha's, Food City and all
Shamrock brand dairy products. By the way, did you know it only takes about a day and a half for milk from our farm to reach the grocery story? That's fast food right there! Not only do Arizona dairies supply 80% of Arizona's dairy needs, we supply dairy products to other states around the country and to about 25 different countries around the world. I think it's pretty safe to say, our milk route is vastly different and larger than Grandpa's!
We are members of the largest farmer-owned cooperative in Arizona, called United Dairymen of Arizona (UDA). There are approximately 80 member family farms that belong to UDA. The average herd size in Arizona is 1,800 milking cows, while the national average is 179. In Grandpa's day, the average herd size was more like 20 milking cows per farm. Because of our beautiful, cattle-friendly climate, we are able to have larger, open pens to keep our cows happy, healthy, and comfortable. When the summer heat keeps most of us inside with our air conditioners cranked down, we keep our cows under shades equipped with fans and misters which reduce the temperature by 20 degrees. They love that!
While Grandpa milked one cow at a time, we milk 24 at a time. We milk 1,000 cows three times a day. It takes about 12 minutes to milk each cow. We're thankful for today's modern technology that provides us with efficient milking equipment. Every cow is carefully handled by two employees who have been specially trained to ensure each cow is properly prepared before, during, and after she is milked. Cows love getting milked! It feels good to them. We know this, because if for some reason we're a little late getting them into the barn, they line themselves up by the gate and raise such a raucous, letting us know that we're late and they are ready to be milked!
Like Grandpa's farm, our farm today involves the family. Our son, Wes, his wife Lauren, and even our sweet 19 month old granddaughter Madelyn are involved in keeping our farm running smoothly and efficiently. Well, maybe not so much Madelyn just yet, but she loves riding along with daddy when he's checking on the cows. I think it's my favorite part of having a family farm. It brings us together for a common purpose on a daily basis. For some families it might sound like a nightmare, but for our family having a dairy farm is what we've been doing for generations. We don't see it as a business as much as we see it as our way of life. Even our two grandsons who don't live on the farm are regular helpers at least once a week. Two year old Anderson, is practicing his management skills by telling his "Pop pop" which tractor he wants to see that day. One year old Mason knows if he gets Papa's