Forget the political showdown to determine if Ohio is a red state or a blue state. If you want to start a real debate, drive through dairy country and consider if we’re brown or black and white.
Advocates of the former boast of milk with higher protein and butterfat, while advocates of the latter say they are models of efficiency and production.
Truth be told, the only real division in Ohio’s dairyland is some good-natured ribbing between farmers who are passionate about their animals. Consider that dairy farming is a seven-day-a-week, year-round and often lifelong commitment, and you’ll see why it attracts people with certain gusto for the work.
But the breed of cow does indeed result in differences in the milk and how it’s used. So here’s how to make the connection between the cow you pass on a country drive, and the milk, cheese, butter and cream in your dairy case.
According to Kristin Taylor, whose family milks cows in Wayne County, Jersey milk is unique because it contains the most solids, such as protein and minerals, and milkfat when compared to milks produced by other dairy breeds.
Jersey milk yields 20 percent to 25 percent more cheese and produces 30 percent more butter than average milk, she said.
The milk from her family’s farm can be used to produce 28,500 pounds of Swiss cheese each month, helping to make Ohio the No. 1 Swiss cheese producer in the nation.
Kristin’s grandfather, Neal Schirm purchased his first registered Jersey, “Rebecca’s Poppy,” in 1937 as a 4-H project, and the family has been committed to improving the breed ever since.
“Growing up, my favorite event of the year was always spending a dark and snowy Christmas morning in the milking parlor, doing chores and listening to carols on the radio while Santa was still making his rounds,” she said. “It’s also great to know that each and every day, our family and our cows are working together to produce a wholesome product to nourish the bodies of others.”
About 40 miles south in Knox County, Ken Ruprecht milks a herd of Holsteins, a lifestyle he committed to in 1975.
“I think a lot of it has to do with what you grew up with,” Ruprecht said, describing why farmers choose certain breeds. “We like the Holsteins; we’re familiar with them.”
Instead of cheese, Ruprecht’s milk is destined primarily for bottling, where higher production is desirable.
“We’re milking three times a day, we’ve got good production and on average we’re making 85 to 90 pounds of milk today per cow, which translates to about 10 gallons of milk,” he said.
Regardless of whether it’s Jerseys or Holsteins, farmers say breeding cows to convert feed into milk more efficiently helps lower their overall environmental footprint.
“Outside of the milk production, with calves that we want to sell, we do tend to get a little more money for calves that are Holsteins,” Ruprecht said. “The meat is more sought after than the Jersey meat.”
Ruprecht and Taylor are both focused on breeding animals that are healthy, have long productive lives and also have a good temperament. That’s important when working with animals on a daily basis that can reach 1,000 pounds in the case of Jerseys or 1,800 pounds for Holsteins.
“Working with our animals every day leads us to especially enjoy the docile and friendly nature of the many Jersey cows and heifers in our barns,” Taylor said. “One shouldn’t let the small size of a Jersey bull fool them, however, as it’s important to note that Jersey bulls are not as friendly as their female counterparts. They are known to be the most aggressive and dangerous of all breeds.”
Ruprecht says one of the reasons he enjoys his job is the people he gets to work with. Asked what he thinks drives people to go into dairy farming, he replied, “They just love cows.”
In addition to Jerseys and Holsteins, Ohio farmers also milk other breeds including Guernseys, Brown Swiss, Milking Shorthorns, Ayrshires and crossbred dairy cattle. Learn more about these cows and their milk at www.ohiodairyfarmers.com.