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About Milk

| April 21, 2021 12:25 PM

A classic G. George Ostrom column from 2003. Milk was invented so we could have strong bones as well as Tom and Jerries, but too many of us take milk for granted.

Do we still have cows? How much milk is processed in this valley each month? How many dairy farms do we have? This is a milk column.

Got to wondering about this matter last Sunday while reading an AP story out of Yakima, Wash. Headline said, “Low Milk prices drive dairies out of business.” Said 28 big dairies shut down last year in Washington. Also reported the federal government sets producer prices and they are not high enough for the farmers to make a living with increasing costs of productions.

If the price hits the federal floor of $10.10 per hundred pounds, the feds start manipulating by buying surpluses. Right now, the U.S. government has unknown jillion tons of dairy products, as well as a year’s supply for the nation of powdered milk. The only bright spot in the story said consumption is increasing, thanks to new demands for cheese. That is a development that could put us all in a bind.

I recall in the ‘80s there was so much milk the government brought the cows from any dairy farmer who wanted to get out of the business. The feds then dumped hundreds of thousands on the meat market, which almost ruined the beef cattle ranchers.

If that wasn’t enough, the Montana Legislature deregulated the dairy industry in about 1996 and there was new chaos in Big Sky barns.

Let me digress. After the Big War, when regular life got rolling again, there were probably 75 dairy farms here in Flathead County, and we had all kinds of creameries, such as Greg’s, Skyline, Glacier, Equity and others. The average dairy farmer might run from 20 to 30 cows, with a few milking more than that.

Today there are four dairies – Fritz, Grosswiler, Hedstrom and Brennaman – milking from a hundred cows up to 350 each. There is one processor I know of and that is an expanded plant at the old Skyline Dairy site on Two Mile Drive. It is owned by Meadow Gold where over half a million gallons flow through each month. They make about 450,000 pounds of cottage cheese every month and 380,000 pounds of sour cream. Each 30 days there are 4.5 million pounds of milk processed. (A gallon of milk weighs 8.6 pounds.)

With all the problems in the dairy industry, at least some things have gotten better. From my own boyhood down on the farm, I can tell you that nobody every made it in the dairy business without having a lot of pull. And many the time I was smacked in the head with bossy’s tail…freshly coated in green cow plop. With the new milking machinery, guess that doesn’t happen any more.

Could go on to explain marketing systems for dairy products and how the government has got things messed up, but that would be an udder waste of time.

Years ago, when scientists first discovered how to preserve milk in a can, Carnation sponsored a poetry contest for its new customers. I faintly recall the winner:

“Carnation milk is best of all. No teats to pull, no poop to haul. Got no nasty tail to switch. Just poke a hole in the son-of-a-b.”

It’s been a long time…maybe that was the loser.