You may not realize how many dairy products go into prepping your holiday meals — before milk even gets made.
"In the milk business, we also have to be in the birth business. And we have, on average, about three baby calves born here each and every day," said Jeff King, co-owner of King Brothers Dairy in Schuylerville.
Taking care of the approximately 1,000 calves on the farm, especially in the winter months, is a round-the-clock job, and the calves won't make milk for about two years. Once they're old enough, they move from what's affectionately known as "the nursery" to the barn, where about 500 cows spend the majority of their days.
"This is where the production starts," King said. "We feed our cows three times a day, and they're milked three times a day, as well. Every cow in this barn averages about 10 gallons of production per cow, per day."
Feeding, watering, and keeping the cows healthy is a science too. Their care directly impacts the quality of the milk they produce.
"Our cows have their daily diets balanced by a professional nutritionist, so we know exactly how many calories, how many grams of protein, how many grams of carbohydrate each cow eats on a daily basis," King said. "A lot of detail goes into the feeding of our animals. We keep extremely detailed health records. We have a veterinarian on site who comes to visit us once a week."
After they're fed, the cows head to the milking parlor. From there, the milk is cooled to preserve freshness, then processed in-house.
"Whether it goes into a bottle or it goes into a package of yogurt, it comes right into our processing plant," King said. "In the case of yogurt, we would take the raw milk, we'd combine that with cream, sugar, and cultures, along with flavor, heat that up for a specific amount of time so that the cultures actually turn that blend into yogurt, and then it's cooled right back down."
On this day, King Brothers is producing a private label French-style yogurt. After the pots are disinfected, filled, and sealed by a machine, workers hand-pack and label them before placing them in the coolers.
"And the final destination would be from our cooler, off to the distributor, then on to supermarkets in the area, and then on to your table," King said.
You can also skip a few of those steps with King Brothers' home delivery, or by visiting the farm in Schuylerville to pick up some products with a following, such as a holiday favorite, eggnog. Despite below freezing temperatures, people still stop in for a scoop of another King favorite: Homemade ice cream, including special flavors for the season.
"We are a fourth-generation business. Our family's been farming for over 100 years right here on this site, and I think...I know that my father, but I hope that my grandfather and great-grandfather, would be really pleased to know that products are coming right from this farm straight to people's tables, and they're really enjoying them," King said.
"That smile on someone's face, an email from a customer who says, 'My kids won't drink anything else,' or the young kid who has an ice cream cone and walks out skipping and dancing because they like it so much. It makes everything worth it."
Buying your dairy products from a local farm is just one way to shop small this holiday season.