Girls learn about milk the old-fashioned way

We were eight gals touring in Belgium on bicycles, carrying loaded saddlebags. The cyclists up front pulled off the road when one said, "I think that sign said ‘farmer’s cheese.’ "

Several of us had been able to read signs in the French-speaking part of Belgium, but we were in the area where only Flemish was spoken.

We turned back and knocked on the farmer’s door. We were not getting along well communicating with the woman who greeted us until her daughter arrived. The young woman had been an exchange student in Florida for a year and was delighted to give us a tour of the farm.

It was muddy but we played with the kittens, watched the hay-making, visited the little calves and went to the cattle barns. At one stall, the girl said, "And this is where the bull stays."

I peeked into a dark room and saw a beautiful Holstein. The girls were looking in over my head and Doty, from Pennsylvania, said, "The bull? What does he do?"

I laughed and said, "What bulls are supposed to do — make babies."

But Doty was not satisfied with that answer so I began to spell it out for her.

"The cows produce milk for their calves and if there’s to be milk on your table there have to be babies in the herd. This bull is the father of all of those calves."

The girl was truly surprised. And I was surprised at her next question, "Does milk come only from the mother cows?" This city girl had no concept where milk came from!

Then Liz from Florida admitted that she thought all cows gave milk. Janet, a sixth-grade teacher from Kansas said, "I hate to admit it but I had never given that any thought. I supposed cows gave milk and it never occurred to me that it was only the female cows."

In last week’s Granny’s Notes, I mentioned that Dad had to manage his herd to produce lots of milk in the fall and less in summer because the supply and demand for milk is difficult to regulate. He controlled that by keeping the bull penned up at certain times and letting him run with the herd at other times, as on the Belgium farm.

There’s probably no milk in Columbia’s stores today that is all produced on one farm as Dad’s was. All milk was "raw" milk until the 1930s when big dairies began to buy milk from a lot of different farms.

It was impossible for farms to mix all of that milk together and get pure milk to customers while it was still fresh because milk was considered old after a couple of days.

Pasteurization solved the problems. Now there’s a date on each container and its shelf life is almost unbelievable!

Some family dairies survived, and Dad’s was one of them. He sold milk to the Boone County Hospital from its opening day in 1924. Dad’s farm was chosen after the hospital’s superintendent, Eleanor Keeley, visited several well-known private dairies.

Pasteurization did not please Keeley and many others because the process of heating milk to kill germs changed its taste. The taste has improved through the years, and it would be difficult to distinguish between raw and pasteurized milk now.

The big dairies promoted: "Green grass makes white milk that’s pink on the cheeks." Dad’s motto was: "Clean milk, fresh from my own cows." He began pasteurizing that Grade A raw milk in the 1930s.

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