Technology has been a vital component of dairy production and improving productivity for almost 100 years.
Whether by The Rural Electrification Act in 1936 which brought electricity to farms across the country, the standardization of pasteurizing milk, or the introduction of rbST to improve milk production, technology has made — and will continue to make — a significant impact on our ability to produce safe and nutritious dairy products efficiently and cost-effectively to meet the world’s growing nutritional demands.
See the animation below to learn about the various technological advances that have been vital to making the dairy industry what it is today.
- Pasteurization (1864) — Louis Pasteur developed the pasteurization process to kill harmful bacteria that can lead to diseases such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, and brucellosis.1 This widely accepted food safety practice is regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and helps dairy farmers to provide safe, wholesome dairy products that also have an extended shelf life compared to those made from raw milk.
- In fact, according to the FDA, the following facts are true:
- Pasteurization DOES kill harmful bacteria.
- Pasteurization DOES save lives.
- Pasteurizing milk DOES NOT cause lactose intolerance and allergic reactions. Both raw milk and pasteurized milk can cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to milk proteins.
- Pasteurization DOES NOT reduce milk's nutritional value.
- Pasteurization DOES NOT mean that it is safe to leave milk out of the refrigerator for an extended time, particularly after it has been opened.2
- Milking Machines (1878) — By eliminating the need to hand-milk each and every cow, the introduction of milking machines allowed dairy farmers to more quickly and efficiently milk their cows. Vacuum suction hoses replaced hand-milking in the late 1800s and this technology has been greatly improved since that time, including the introduction of robotic milking machines in Europe and the U.S. in the 1990s.3
- Rural Electrification Act (1936) — When the Rural Electrification Act was passed in 1936, the Secretary of Agriculture was granted permission to offer low-cost loans to groups of farmers (or cooperatives) in rural areas.4 These loans aided rural America in the development of electric and telephone services that helped farmers modernize and improve both their own homes and animal housing and production facilities and provided the opportunity for on-farm refrigeration of milk. Even though they were invented much earlier, milking machines were also more widely adopted when electricity made it to the farm.
- Artificial Insemination (1938) — To protect the health of the cattle used for breeding, the safety of animal handlers, and ensure that all young dairy cattle represent the highest quality genetics and health themselves, the agriculture industry began to utilize the artificial insemination process in the late 1930s.5
- Manufactured Inorganic Fertilizer (1946) — While both organic and inorganic fertilizers help farmers provide nutrients to crops in an efficient way, manufactured or man-made commercial inorganic fertilizers are also made from naturally occurring contents and contribute to at least 30 — 50% of crop yield.6 By increasing food production per unit of land, farmers are able to more easily contribute to the growing need for affordable food.
- Penicillin Use (1955) — Similar to women who are lactating, lactating cows can get infections. To treat one of the most common forms of infection, mastitis, an infection of the udder, dairy farmers were allowed to use penicillin. While this antibiotic is used to restore the health of the cow, it should never appear in the milk that consumers drink at home. All milk is tested as a part of the most dairy milk testing program which is one of the most stringent for any food produced in the U.S. Milk found with violative residues is discarded before it enters the food chain.
- Free Stall Housing (1963) — In the early 1960s, free stall housing (accommodations where each cow has its own stall but is not tied in) became the preferred method for dairy cattle housing, as farmers found that it saved them up to 80% of the bedding materials needed in conventional open or “loose” housing and improved the cleanliness of the stalls as well.7
- Bulk Tanks — To store milk before a hauler arrives to distribute it, large storage tanks or bulk tanks are used. Typically made of stainless steel, these tanks ensure that all milk is kept fresh and cold. To ensure that only the highest-quality milk enters the supply chain, state-by-state laws enforce licensing regulations for all those who transport and receive milk.8
- On-farm computerized records (1981) — Dairy herd management is very important to farmers who make a living from the milk their animals produce and to the global economy, who also benefit from the fruits of their labor. To more accurately monitor the veterinary health and performance of each cow, computerized record-keeping systems were introduced. Production recording systems and various computer systems have played a significant role in progressing dairy farming practices, and as a result, improving the health of herds all over the world.9 The efficiencies computers provide are measurable. For example, a study conducted in 2002 found that dairy farms that used on-farm computer record systems produced an average of 425 gallons more milk per cow annually than those dairies with no computer record keeping system.10
- Methane digesters (1983) — Prior to the introduction of methane digesters, farmers had minimal outlets to dispose of animal waste beyond using it as organic fertilizer. Because odor ordinances and other restrictions limit how manure can be handled, the industry needed another option. In 1983, anaerobic chambers were developed as a technology that farmers could use to convert animal waste to methane used to generate electricity. Typically, a methane digester will provide enough electricity to power the entire farm operation as well as houses in the local community. The remaining organic matter may be used as a fertilizer that contains lower pathogen levels.11
(1994) — While somatotropin has been studied since the 1930s, the U.S. FDA approved it for use in dairy cattle in 1993. What is rbST? Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) is a synthetic version of a naturally occurring protein hormone bovine somatotropin (bST) found in all dairy cows. It works the same way as bST, and supplemented cows produce just over one gallon of additional milk per cow per day.
- Heat abatement (1999) — Because dairy cattle are so much larger than humans and they do not sweat easily, they are very sensitive to high temperatures and humidity. Heat abatement systems were introduced to reduce heat stress when temperatures are higher than optimal for the dairy cow. These systems utilize shades, fans and water cooling systems to reduce exposure to direct sunlight and help the cow dissipate excess heat more easily which helps keep dairy cattle comfortable. By reducing stress due to heat, dairy producers are able to maintain cows’ milk productivity.12
- Monensin for lactating dairy cows (2004) — The FDA approved the feed additive ingredient monensin in October 2004, which dairy farmers use to help increase a cow’s milk production efficiency (marketable solids corrected milk).13 Elanco produces its own brand of monensin that helps increase milk production efficiency throughout the lactation cycle of a cow and also helps prevent and control animal diseases, which ultimately improves the quality and nutrition of the milk they produce.