Middle Tennessee State University Dairy Farm Virtual Tour Recap

Recently, I helped host a virtual tour of Middle Tennessee State University Dairy Farm with farmer Matthew Wade. The tour provided an inside look into modern dairy farming including how cows are cared for, fed, and milked along with the day-to-day decisions that are made to produce sustainable and nutritious milk. Even though this was my second time on a dairy farm, I learned a lot from Matthew, who is a wealth of knowledge and so passionate about what he does. Here are some of the takeaways from the tour:

Should I be concerned about antibiotics in milk?

Food labels can be misleading and milk is no exception. FDA law is that no milk can contain antibiotics – whether it’s labeled that or not. While some cows may be administered antibiotics with guidance from a veterinarian when they are truly sick, that milk never reaches the consumer due to strict protocols, testing of the milk, and steep penalties.

Do happy cows produce better milk?

Yes! In fact, catering to cows’ health, comfort, and wellbeing makes for better milk production and less environmental impact. Surprisingly, this is largely technology-driven on the farm. Matthew’s cows wear neck bracelets, similar to a Fitbit, that track parameters such as milk output and activity that help determine things like whether a cow may be sick or in heat – important for breeding purposes.

What do cows eat?

Just like humans, what cows eat largely impacts their health as well as milk production and is formulated by a nutritionist. Cows are able to take foods that humans can’t eat like by-products of other industries – think cottonseed hulls and leftover brewers’ grain from making beer – and turn them into nutrient-rich milk.

Is dairy good for our health?

The Dietary Guidelines recommend low-fat and fat-free dairy foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese as part of a healthy diet. Milk provides 13 essential nutrients in every glass, including high-quality protein and three of the four nutrients of public health concern that research shows Americans aren’t getting enough of – calcium, vitamin D, and potassium.

How does cow’s milk differ from milk alternatives?

While cow’s milk is made with 3 ingredients – milk, vitamin A, and vitamin D, milk alternatives can contain upwards of 10 ingredients depending on the product you are purchasing including sugar, thickeners, and synthetic vitamins and minerals. Cup for cup, real cow’s milk contains more naturally occurring nutrients.

How can we incorporate dairy milk if we don’t choose to drink it by the glass?

Besides drinking it by the glass, milk can be incorporated into other meals and snacks you consume regularly like oatmeal, cereal, smoothies, and soups.

Learn more about dairy farming here.

Mia Syn, MS, RDN is a nationally recognized nutrition expert based out of Charleston, South Carolina, a health Advisory Board Member at Forbes and Verywell, and founder of Nutrition By Mia. She holds a Master of Science in Human Nutrition from Columbia University and has been featured by dozens of major media outlets including Cosmopolitan, SHAPE, The Doctor’s, EXTRA, and was named one of the top registered dietitians to follow on Instagram by Women’s Health Magazine.