Makayla Toste is proud and passionate about her family’s dairy heritage.

June is National Dairy Month, a time to pay tribute to all our dairy farmers. The dairy industry has been traveling on a tumultuous road these past few years and the forecast for these farmers continues to look bleak. Volatile milk pricing, labor shortages, negative publicity from animal rights activists and the economic impact from Covid-19 all play a part in this. 

According to Real California Milk, there are more than 1200 dairy farms in California and 99% of these are family owned. Statista reported that California and Wisconsin combined produce over 70 billion lbs. of milk which accounts for most of the milk sold within the United States. In fact, the United States is the third largest consumer of fluid milk in the world. According to Statista.com in 2019, Americans consumed 21,781 metric tons (equal to approximately 6,345,000 pounds) of milk. These numbers will no doubt be less in 2020 due to Covid-19 virus.

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Dairies throughout the United States have been severely impacted due to schools and restaurants closing. Due to the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, U.S. dairy exports were also affected as many countries stopped importing. Many creameries are telling farmers to reduce their production of milk because they cannot find a buyer. Unfortunately, cows just cannot stop producing milk and without any demand, many dairy farmers are left with no other alternative than to dump this excess milk.

Dairy farming is generational business and despite these hardships, families are continuing to do what they can to persevere. These farmers are proud people and they clearly love their cows and what they do.  Evidence of this lies in the job of a dairy farmer itself.  Dairy farming is 365 days a year 24 hours a day profession. Dairy cows cannot shut off milk production.

Makayla Toste is a 2nd generation dairy farmer from Newman California. Her father immigrated from Azores Portugal and began working as a dairy farmer when he was younger. In 1994 he started his own dairy which now is at full capacity of cows for their facility. The Toste dairy has nine full time employees.

Work on the Toste dairy farm starts at 3:30 am and begins with feeding the cows. Their cows are fed a nutritious food mix consisting of grasses, grains and other ingredients which are recommended by a dairy nutritionist. Cows also need to drink a lot of water and they can drink up to 50 gallons of water a day.

Work on a dairy begins very early in the morning.  Photo by Cary Edmondson, Fresno State UniversityWork on a dairy begins very early in the morning. Photo by Cary Edmondson, Fresno State University

The cows are milked twice a day once at 9:00 am and again at 5:30 pm.  Then the milk is then taken to the processing plant. The Toste dairy has contracted with Nestle and most of their family milk is used for evaporated and condensed milk.  There are different creameries for different dairy products.

All milk is antibiotic free, and Makayla said this is often a misconception people have about milk. Milk from cows taking any kind of antibiotics is not allowed for human consumption. In fact, there is precise testing done at the dairy before the milk is put into the bulk tank that is destined for the creamery. Once the milk is sent to the creamery, it is tested again when it is delivered. If any trace of antibiotics is found, the creamery by law is required to dump the entire tank of milk. The milk from cows that have received antibiotics within a certain time frame will travel to a separate tank at the dairy which is then used to feed the baby calves.

Dairymen must work every day as cows have to be fed and milked regularly. In fact, most dairies keep rigid schedules as cows prefer routines and are content doing the same thing every day. This has been substantiated by the negative effects that happen when a cow is not kept on a schedule. Many times, dairies do not change their feeding and milking schedule when daylight savings time occurs as it is too disruptive for the cows. Makayla also indicated while her family was able to take the occasional vacation, it was difficult for her father to be away from the dairy for extended periods.