Milk is food. I repeat; milk is food, an incredibly delicate food with a flavor as complex as wine. If you decide to sell milk from your farm directly to consumers as a standalone beverage and you want to command a premium price, your milk must stand out. It must taste better and have a longer and more dependable shelf life than its competition, including commodity milk. Flavor and shelf life are directly impacted by how the milk is produced and handled on the dairy farm. The good thing is that you will know good milk as soon as you taste it. Here are my best practices for handling and producing the highest-quality, most delicious milk.
Keep your cows and their housing clean. No excuses. This is not a matter of working harder, it is a matter of working smarter. Sure, there will be occasional manure on the cows’ tails, flanks and feet. But, if your cows have manure built up on their bodies, something is wrong with their housing. You need to take care of it quickly. Manure can get into the milk and negatively impact flavor, making it taste metallic or like cardboard. Obviously, bacteria from unclean equipment or conditions can reduce milk’s shelf life. My advice: Take the time at the outset to set up your cows’ housing properly and they will keep themselves clean. And, don’t use too much chlorine when you clean. It is bad for milk flavor.
Think About the Feed. What you feed your cows can have a huge influence on the flavor of their milk. Let me break it down for you: Fresh pasture or fresh-smelling dry hay are the best feed for milk flavor. I’ve found that pastures in different regions present flavor surprises like mint and onion. Dry hay has its own unique taste and is good reliable sources of forage. Be careful of corn or grass silage, which, if it is put up too wet or dry, can have a huge, negative impact on milk flavor. Personally, I believe that properly put up baleage can be fed to cows with little or no negative impact on milk flavor. My rule is that if the silage, especially grass silage, smells good, it is probably okay for milk flavor as long as your cows also have access to dry hay. The key is a balanced ration of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals and lots of good dry hay.
Watch for Weight Loss. Cows that lose weight too quickly or become too thin over time can produce ketones that gives milk an unpleasant flavor.
Handling Matters. If your milk is over pumped or handled roughly, the fat globules can be damaged, which can cause distasteful enzymes to be released that give the milk a soapy, slightly bitter taste known as “rancidity.” Rancidity is almost a universal problem with commercially processed milk. It is so common that most consumers don’t even notice it these days.
Avoid exposing your milk to off or unpleasant odors. Milk is very absorbent and will pick up off odors from the environment. This is even more reason to keep your milking barn and milk room clean and fresh smelling.
Finally, don’t store your milk in walk-in cooler with apples. Apples offgas and will ruin the flavor of milk.
Marketing your milk directly to consumers necessitates producing the best milk that you can. Even today, when many more people than not drink commodity milk, you will know when you’ve got a high-quality milk product. It will just taste better. How do you get there? Just follow these simple rules.