Several years back, my husband read the book Fast Food Nation. This was around the same time I did the whole pescatarian thing. Richard started talking about getting to ‘know’ your meat, which most of the people around us completely mocked. “Do you need to know the cow’s name before you eat it?” “Do you have to pet it first?” This sorta became a big joke about Richard and his ‘animal friends’. I didn’t really understand it at the time, which is why I wrote meat off entirely…but once I decided to introduce it back into my diet, I got it. All meat is not the same. The conditions under which the animals live greatly affect what they produce, whether it’s cow’s milk, steak, pork, fish, etc. The best conditions are those which most closely replicate how they would live without human intervention. The best chicken eggs come from chickens that can roam freely (which is entirely different than just ‘cage-free’) and eat a diet of worms, bugs, and whatever else they find on the ground. Cows naturally eat grass. It’s all pretty simple stuff.
A few months ago, I was at Whole Foods searching for milk. A lot of my friends do raw milk, but I am hesitant to purchase raw milk having not seen the conditions in which the cows are living. I love raw cheese, but something about raw milk makes me feel uneasy. Most milk in the grocery store reads ‘ultra pasteurized’, but I recently found milk that just said ‘pasteurized’ AND was from a local farm in Florida. I got it, and even though I am not much of a milk drinker, it was delicious! Cream at the top, just like it should be.
Curious about Dakin Dairy Farm, where this milk was from, I did some research. They are located in Myakka City, about 3 hours away, close to the west coast. They do farm tours, have lots of fun outdoor activities, and serve picnic lunches. I was sold! We planned our trip for Dec. 22nd (yesterday)…and here it is!
We began by letting the children play outside. The weather was absolutely beautiful, so we were able to dress in sweaters and enjoy the outdoors. They had all different types of swings. The tractor swings were so cute!
They also had a fun Hay Maze for the kids. We let Lydia guide us through it. She had so much fun choosing which direction to go each time.
Then we began our tour of the farm. Dakin Dairy Farm has 6 large areas where the cows live. There are individual stalls, but they are free to roam where they want to within the large space. There’s shade but also sunlit areas; fresh water to drink and grass to eat. The cows are divided by colored tags on their ears into the different areas. These are known as free-stall barns. They have a total of 1500 cows, a mix of Holstein, Jersey, and Hojo (the offspring from the two different breeds mating).
I liked these two signs and thought they were worth photographing and sharing. This goes back to the idea of getting to know the animals you consume.
The cows take 3 showers a day in this area. Apparently they loved to be showered, so it’s not always easy to get them out of there each time. They have a farmer and equipment to guide them through so they can return to their designated areas.
The cows are milked 3 times a day. They line up and walk down to get into their individual milking stalls. Each cow produces about 6 gallons of milk a day. They are free to roam around this area as well if they are not being milked.
We learned a little about the pasteurization process and the process of separating the milk to make cream. Dakin Dairy Farms uses a less aggressive process to pasteurize their milk as it is not ultra-pasteurized. Next, as part of the farm tour, we went on a hayride. We stopped at the duck pond first. In the middle is a floating duck house with nests.
Then we watched a pig race. They ran so fast I barely got a picture!
Then Lydia got to feed the calf milk in a bottle. This is the one practice in dairy farms that’s difficult for me as a mother. About 10 – 12 calves are born each day, but they are immediately removed from their mothers. They go to a separate farm to be raised and then the females are returned when they are ready to becoming milking cows. I guess some of the bulls return, too, but I assume most are used for beef?? I understand that this has to be done, but it’s still sad. The babies are then fed pasteurized milk (and ‘calf replacement formula’) in bottles. It’s too bad they miss out on the actual breastfeeding/bonding portion of their lives.
When we finished the hay ride, we got to try their delicious products. The kids started out by making butter by shaking the cream in small jars. We tried it on crackers, and it was so yummy! Can you tell Bryce liked it??
We also got to try their chocolate milk, whole milk, and egg nog. I am usually not a fan of egg nog, but this was so good! Unfortunately, when we went to buy some, it was all sold out (but I made some at home that night, and it was awesome!) I think this was also the first time Lydia drank milk that did not come from my body. She enjoyed the chocolate milk.
Then we purchased a picnic lunch with grilled cheese, pulled pork, and baked beans.
After lunch, Lydia went on a pony ride.
Then it was time to go to the market and make some purchases: buttermilk, heavy cream, whole milk, and chocolate milk. We also got some farm fresh eggs and cheese curds. That heavy cream is the best cream I have ever tasted in my entire life. I think I need to nag my local Whole Foods to carry it!
Just before leaving the farm, we visited some of the other animals, like the pigs and miniature donkeys.
What a fun day together as a family visiting Dakin Dairy Farm!
To learn more about Dakin Dairy Farm, ‘like’ their Facebook page.