Dairy West and the Idaho Wine Commission go together like cheese and wine, so it was a natural pairing when these two Idaho commodity organizations got together to put on a day of education and fun.

The day started with breakfast on the big grassy lawn in front of the Nederend Dairy in Marsing, Idaho. As a farm girl, frankly, I’m a little surprised it has taken me this long in life to tour a dairy.

On the bus ride out Melinda Petersen Wolfe of Dairy West provides some impressive stats.

Things to Know About the Idaho Dairy Industry

• There are 450 dairies in Idaho

• All are family-owned except for the dairy farm at the University of Idaho

• Average dairy size is 1200 cows

Eat local! Milk in Idaho travels 200 miles or less to get processed

Idaho is #3 in the nation in milk production – can you guess the top 5? You work on that and stay tuned for the answers at the end

• In Idaho, 20% of milk production comes from the Treasure Valley, 60% the Magic Valley and 20% from Eastern Idaho

15 billion (with a B) pounds of milk is produced in Idaho each year. To put it in perspective, a gallon of milk weighs 8.6 pounds

• 60% of that gets made into cheese

The Nederend’s couldn’t be a more hospitable, or photogenic, family. Hans Senior came from the Netherlands with nothing in his pockets – only a passion to be a dairy farmer and secure a great life for his future family. He bought his first cow in 1956.

Today his oldest son, Hans Jr., has 7000 cows producing 600,000 pounds (75,000 gallons) of milk each day. Hans Jr. and two of his sons, Hans IV and John, run the dairy and farm with the next generation in training.

John, takes time out of his day to give us the low down on what it takes to run a dairy.

Love the plaid and check out those belt buckles!

Even the newest Nederend is in on the plaid trend.

A nice welcome from Dairy West to Nederend Dairy. 

Idaho Dairy Tour

I’m sure experience has taught John to start the tour with the baby calves so that we can get that heavy dose of cuteness out of our system right off the bat. These calves, less than 2 days old, are walking (although a bit wobbly) and alert, curious and all in for a good petting.

In the past, dairy farms in Idaho have come under scrutiny for the way they treat their cattle but here the cows lay on sand so soft it would make most beaches jealous. Fans in the barns kick on when the temperature reaches 73° and there are misters to fight the heat above 90°. In the winter the walls close down to create a cozy environment.

They work with a nutritionist to create different food blends based on the stage of life of the cow – pregnant, new mom, or as a milk cow. The mixes may include canola for protein, soy, millrun which is a byproduct of bread making, and cottonseed which is a high source of fat. When I asked one of the young, future dairymen if the cows like the cottonseed, they said, “Oh yes! It’s like cow candy!”

Just like humans, sometimes cows get a stomach ache (with four stomachs I would imagine the odds goes up!) and John shows up the industrial-sized capsules of what equates to cow aspirin and cow Pepto Bismol. If more treatment than that is needed, the cow is moved to the infirmary and any milk collected from her during her stay is disposed of. They never release any milk that contains antibiotics. 

Is all this pampering the usual or are we touring the exception? Greg Kreller, Integrated Communications Manager at Dairy West, assures me that this is pretty much the norm for Idaho dairies.

We round out our tour with a lesson in milking on specially rigged 5-gallon buckets and then walk through the barn where the real milking is taking place.

5-gallon buckets to hone our milk techniques on

Fun Cow Trivia

• A cow eats 100 pounds of food a day

• And drinks a bathtub of water

• It takes 12 minutes to milk a cow

• When milking, 350 squirts equal one gallon

• A cow gives 10 gallons of milk a day

• Holsteins and Jerseys are two of the main breeds of dairy cattle. Holsteins give more volume while Jerseys’ milk contains higher butterfat, perfect for cheese!

Cow photobomb

The milk gets chilled down to 34°, loaded in a milk tanker which then makes the 25 mile journey to Lactalis American Group in Nampa to be made into cheese.

And speaking of cheese, no dairy tour would be complete without tasting some of the final product, right? Watch for my next post all about cheese and wine pairings with the Idaho Wine Commission!

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Dairy West but the opinions and text are all mine.

Top 5 Milk Producing States

And no… I didn’t forget. Back to the question of the top milk-producing states in the US:

#5 Texas

#4 New York

#3 Idaho

#2 Wisconsin

#1 California