Where does milk come from?

Caps for glass milk bottles from Lincoln Parish dairies

By Wesley Harris

A father asked his son, “Where does milk come from?”

“The grocery store,” the son replied.

Technically, a correct answer but of the origin of the milk is a cow on a dairy farm. But where are the dairy farms?

Lee Faulk, a regional livestock agent for the LSU AgCenter’s Hill Farm Experiment Station in Homer, says the milk sold in north Louisiana grocery stores comes from west Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Why? “No dairies remain in north Louisiana,” Faulk said. “There’s a small family operation in Sabine Parish in central Louisiana, but all the ones that existed in northern end of the state are gone.”

Claiborne Parish, for example, once had over 110 dairies, composing a significant part of its agricultural economy. Those dairies and others in nearby parishes collectively processed their milk at a creamery in Homer. The Claiborne Creamery bottled milk and manufactured ice cream.

“Dairy farmers had a choice,” Faulk said, as agriculture and economics changed. “They could either become much larger operations or go out of business. They chose to go out of business.”

Lincoln Parish dairies of bygone times include the Pine Ridge Jersey Farm on Tarbutton Road, the Henderson Jersey Farm on the north edge of Ruston, Richardson’s Dairy, and others. Many farms had their milk processed in Ruston at the Ruston Creamery, later bought out by Midwest Dairies. The smokestack for the creamery still stands on North Monroe Street.

Louisiana Tech operated a dairy and processing plant and sold milk and ice cream before closing the operation in 2011. 

Louisiana dairies do exist, 106 to be exact, but all are rather small operations located in the Florida parishes. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, for the first three months of 2022, Louisiana dairies produced 33 million pounds of milk. While that may sound like a great deal, Arizona produced 1.2 billion pounds, New Mexico 1.8 billion, and Texas 4 billion. Even those states’ production pales in comparison to California with 10.5 billion pounds in the first quarter followed by Wisconsin at 7.8 billion.

Flowing Hills Creamery is the Sabine Parish dairy that advertises itself as a family-owned farm that produces whole milk, chocolate milk, buttermilk, heavy cream, and butter. The farm processes and bottles its own cream-line milk, a pasteurized but not homogenized milk.

 In homogenization, the milk is mixed under high pressure to break up the fat content into tiny particles. Some believe many of the health benefits of milk, as well as flavor, are lost during homogenization. Most all milk in local grocery stores is homogenized, even buttermilk.

Grocery store milk is not like the milk in your great grandmother’s churn.

While our north Louisiana milk is purchased at grocery stores, most of it ultimately comes from a cow in a state hundreds of miles away. 

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