During a recent tour of a Holstein dairy farm, seven Chicago-area moms learned about all aspects of the operation from the owners Dale and Linda Drendel. Dale, a fifth-generation farmer, and Linda, a seventh-generation farmer, both had experience with dairy cattle from their parents’ farms.

The tour was part of the Illinois Farm Families program that is supported by several Illinois agricultural organizations — Illinois Farm Bureau, the Illinois Pork Producers Association, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, the Illinois Soybean Association, the Illinois Beef Association and the Midwest Dairy Association.

It is just one of many tours the groups have planned for the field moms in 2013. These moms already have visited a swine, corn and soybean farm, and there are a couple more farm tours planned for later this year.

At the Drendel farm, some of the highlights were a visit to the calf barn, as well as watching the cows during their afternoon milking. But probably the most fascinating part of the day was when Dr. Zach Janssen, the veterinarian for the Drendel herd, geared up to do an ultrasound of a cow.

Janssen could see the image of the calf from the internal probe on his goggles as the same image was shown on a screen that he uses to train students. He told the moms that pregnancy diagnosing has been done with cows for a long time by manual palpation, and he has been using the ultrasound technology for the past 10 years.

With the cow a little over eight weeks pregnant, Janssen determined it is carrying a bull calf.

“I specialize in this, so this is the vast majority of what I do on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “I’ll do about 750 of these pregnancy exams each week.”

The veterinarian explained to the moms that the cows on the Drendel farm are bred by artificial insemination.

“We don’t manufacture semen,” he stressed. “But instead of a bull breeding a cow, it’s real bull semen that is artificially put into a cow.”

The day’s events also included a visit to the Dean Foods Co. facility in Huntley. White milk is bottled into half- and one-gallon containers at this plant that was built in the early ‘50s. Products bottled at the plant include whole milk, 2-percent milk, 1-percent milk and fat-free milk.

The milk primarily comes from farms in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Most of the farms sending milk to the Dean plant are set up for everyday delivery, and the facility bottles milk six days a week and receives milk seven days a week.

Field moms learned that all milk goes through a battery of strenuous tests before it ever is accepted off the truck at the Dean facility.

“We focus on quality first because there is nothing we can do here that will make the quality any better,” said Dick Crone, north region director of operations for Dean Foods. “All we can do is maintain the quality of the milk.”

Milk is pasteurized to allow the quality of the milk to last on the store shelf.

“But pasteurization doesn’t improve the taste of the milk,” Crone noted.

This tour was a great opportunity for the field moms to learn about the dairy industry from the cow to the milk jug. I bet they had lots to tell their families when they returned to their homes that night, and they also share their insights through blogs on the watchusgrow.org website.