Dale Drendel (left) describes the procedures for milking cows in the parlor to the Illinois Farm Families field moms during a tour of his northern Illinois dairy farm. The 150 Holstein cows are milked twice a day at 4 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. In addition to the farm, field moms toured the Dean Foods Co. plant located in Huntley earlier in the day. They saw the lab were all milk is tested at the plant as well as the process for bottling milk into jugs at the facility.
Dale Drendel (left) describes the procedures for milking cows in the parlor to the Illinois Farm Families field moms during a tour of his northern Illinois dairy farm. The 150 Holstein cows are milked twice a day at 4 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. In addition to the farm, field moms toured the Dean Foods Co. plant located in Huntley earlier in the day. They saw the lab were all milk is tested at the plant as well as the process for bottling milk into jugs at the facility.

HAMPSHIRE, Ill. — A daylong event provided Chicago-area moms an opportunity to tour a Holstein dairy operation and watch as milk was bottled at a Dean Foods Co. facility.

A group of Illinois Farm Families field moms visited a dairy farm near Hampshire owned and operated by Dale and Linda Drendel.

“I’m a seventh-generation farmer, and I grew up on a dairy farm,” Linda Drendel told the group.

“I’m a fifth-generation farmer, and my dad milked cows,” Dale Drendel added. “So we’ve sent milk to market every day since Jan. 19, 1959.”

The Drendels were married in 1974, and at that time, Dale’s dad was milking around 50 cows.

“In 1978, we went to milking in a parlor and increased the herd to 80 cows,” the dairyman explained. “We continued to grow to 100 cows, 120 cows and now we’re stable at 150 cows.”

In the calf barn, Linda Drendel explained to the field moms about the individual pens for the dairy calves. These newborn calves are fed individually with milk until they are weaned and moved into a group pen.

Dr. Zach Janssen, the veterinarian for the Drendels’ herd, demonstrated how he uses an ultrasound machine during the farm tour.

“This cow was bred on May 28, and cows have a similar pregnancy period to humans, so her due date is March 5,” he said. “With this internal probe, I can see the image of the calf on my goggles, and you will see the same image on the screen.”

With the cow a little over eight weeks pregnant, Janssen determined she 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 explained. “I’ll do about 750 of these pregnancy exams each week.”

Janssen completed his animal science degree and veterinary degree both at the University of Illinois.

“After graduating, I took a job in Wisconsin, so about 60 percent of my work is with Wisconsin cows and 40 percent with Illinois cows,” he noted.

The veterinarian added that when cows are sick, they receive medicine on a per 100-pound basis.

“Because we’re producing a food product, there can’t be any antibiotics in it,” he stressed. “We must be very selective about when we give antibiotics, what type of antibiotics and once we give an antibiotic that cow’s milk can’t be sold for a certain number of days.”

All of Janssen’s clients receive a book that includes all the medicines that he potentially could use on the farm.

“I probably use less than 25 percent of what is listed in this book,” he said. “The book includes the labels for every medicine and how each medicine has to be given.”

A treatment log documents which cow receives a medicine to prevent any antibiotics from getting into the milk stream.

“Animals get diseases, so we need antibiotics to treat cows when they are sick,” the veterinarian said. “All milk is antibiotic free — that’s the law, and meat is the same way.”

The heifer barn on the Drendel farm was built in 2007.

“The calves come to this barn from the calf barn,” the dairyman said. “The heifers are fed twice a day, and this barn works great — the heifers really grow well.”

Cows are milked twice a day at 4 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

“Our milk is picked up every day, and it goes to the Dean’s plant in Rockford,” Drendel said. “We are a Grade A farm, so we are inspected at least twice a year.”

Sharon Blau is a field mom from Des Plaines, and she is a mother of three kids.

“This farm is eye-opening to me,” she said. “I have been on farms before, but I decided to apply to this program because I don’t know the difference between soybeans and corn.”

Blau noted that the cows on the farm are not afraid of Dale or Linda.

“If they weren’t taking care of them, the animals would be running away,” she added. “But, instead, the cows are excited to see their caretakers.”

Tanja Saarinen grew up in Finland and now lives in Oak Park.

“This is my second visit to a farm as a field mom,” said the mom of three kids who also visited a swine farm. “I was concerned about antibiotics and hormones in food, and I didn’t know that it is illegal to have antibiotics in milk.”

Saarinen added that she was happy to see how the animals are kept on the farm.

“I’m not upset about anything I see,” she said. “And I didn’t know that Illinois has so many family farms.”

At the Dean Foods Co. facility in Huntley, white milk is bottled into half-gallon and one-gallon containers.

“This plant was built in the early ‘50s, and we bottle, whole milk, 2 percent milk, 1 percent milk and fat-free milk here,” said Dick Crone, Dean Foods Co. north region director of operations. “The milk primarily comes from farms in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.”

Crone explained that all milk goes through a battery of strenuous tests before it is ever accepted off the truck.

“We focus on quality first because there is nothing we can do here that will make the quality any better,” he stressed. “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.

Most of farms sending milk to the Dean plant are set up for every day delivery.

“Within one to two hours, the milk will be at this plant and we bottle milk six days a week and we receive milk seven days a week,” the Dean Foods director said.

For the pasteurization process, Crone explained milk enters the process at 36 to 37 degrees, and it goes through a plate heat exchanger to heat the milk to 175 to 177 degrees for 20 seconds.

“The milk goes to the separator to take the cream out, it goes to the homogenizer so the fat is homogenized through the entire product and then it is cooled back done to 36 degrees,” he said. “The whole process takes less than two minutes.”

Illinois Farm Families is supported by 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. For more information, visit www.watchusgrow.org.