Happy Dairy Month All Year ‘Round


A self-described city slicker from the St. Croix Valley by way of southern Minnesota knows enough about dairies and dairy cows to be considered dangerous. Most of that danger is self-imposed. To this day, the city slicker walks gingerly though the dairy barn at county and state fairs, avoiding raised tails, hind legs, and even eye contact.

“Slick’s” enjoyment of dairy products has never wavered. Daily intake of milk is a given. Cheese is enjoyed atop burgers, crackers, or sliced between pieces of bread in a grilling pan. Ice cream is a weakness. Enough said.

The media blitz of stats and figures behind June’s designation as Dairy Month has been successful. Some of them sunk in. While the dairy industry could be considered a big business, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) proclaimed 96 percent of Wisconsin dairy farms as being family-owned. Wisconsin is also home to more dairy farms than any state in the country, according to DATCP.

Along with 88,000 residents, St. Croix County hosts another 18,400 dairy cows. Clark, just a couple counties away, boasts around 68,000 milk cows and Marathon has 61,000. In the case of Clark, there are nearly two milk cows for every resident. Even rapidly-growing Dane County, with its own gravitational field around Madison, has 55,000 milk cows.

There’s an estimated 1.28 million dairy cows in Wisconsin, producing 30.1 billion (with a ‘b’) pounds of milk. Milk production per cow is estimated at 23,550 pounds or 2,739 gallons. For cows to produce at those levels, they have to be content and well cared for. Wisconsin’s milk production is second nationally to the groovin’ cows of California. Wisconsin trumps all states in cheese, making just over 26 percent of what’s produced in the U.S.

Dairy farms continue to decline. The sharpest decline in dairy farms in St. Croix occurred in the 1980s, which coincided with tough economic times all over. Today, there may be 160 dairies, and that estimate continues to shrink. The American Ag Alliance wrote that producing a gallon of milk today uses 90 percent less land and 65 percent less water, along with a 63 percent smaller carbon footprint than in 1944.

As counties like St. Croix continue to grow, land conflicts are inevitable. The city slicker believes farmers to be good stewards. Bigger herds means issues of storing and spreading waste. Innovation and new technologies can result in greater stewardship and efficiencies. Dairy farmers appear ready to embrace new changes. Watch as St. Croix County assumes a leadership role.

The recognition of a single month as Dairy Month is a misperception. Dairies are 24/7 and 365. If urban folks like the city slicker from the St. Croix Valley wish to enjoy those dairy delights, then the milking parlors, cheese plants, and ice cream makers may wish to up their games in the future.