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Farm to finish line: Here’s how milk gets to your fridge

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne’s NBC) – It’s an iconic moment after nearly every Indianapolis 500 finish when the winner takes a glass of milk and takes a big swig.

This year, a Fort Wayne dairy farmer will be the one handing over an ice-cold bottle of milk to the lucky driver at Victory Circle in Indianapolis.

But have you ever wondered how that milk gets from the cow and into your fridge?

Andrew Kuehnert, this year’s Indy 500 Milk Man, explains how the process works at Kuenhert Dairy Farm in Fort Wayne.

On average, Kuehnert Dairy Farm cows give about 10 gallons of milk per day, and all of that milk is held in a balk tank.

Then, a Prairie Farms milk truck driver picks up that milk and takes it to a processing plant.

From there, the plant can produce whole or 2% milk.

Within 24 hours, that local milk harvested from area cows can be processed, bottled, and sent to the grocery store ready for your fridge at home.

Here’s how the milking machine works

Since Kuehnert Dairy Farms has so many cows, it wouldn’t be feasible for the farmers to milk each cow several times a day by hand.

Each cow has a collar with an RFID (Radio-frequency identification) chip in them that is scanned by the electronic milker, which lets the machine know which cow is in there to be milked.

Once a cow enters the milking area, a gate will close behind them to keep them in the area.

The electronic milking system will then use lasers to detect each of the cow teats. Once the lasers locate each teat, the machine will clean each teat on the cow’s utter. Once the teats are clean, the machine will latch on to each teat and begin milking the cow.

All of the milk is collected in the bottom of the machine, and filtered into the balk tank.

The electronic milker is able to detect when the cow is done being milked and will unlatch from the teats. Each teat is then cleaned and a gate in front of the cow will then open up allowing the cow to get out of the electronic milking system.

The cows are enticed to be milked by the machine because there is a trough with a sweet treat for each cow to munch on while being milked.

If a cow goes into the electronic milker too often, the machine will kick her out by opening the gate forcing her to leave the milking area.

The farmers have a spreadsheet that documents each cow to know who has and hasn’t been milked. The spreadsheet is monitored daily to make sure each cow is being milked enough.

If a cow doesn’t go into the electronic milker, the farmer will have to get the cow and take her to the electronic milker.

“It’s amazing how quick that process is of milk coming out of our cows to getting into the grocery stores. It’s amazing how that works,” Andrew Kuehnert, this year’s Indy 500 Milk Man said.

Despite the speed, Kuehnert says his farm’s bovines have it pretty easy.

“So at our dairy farm, we truly treat each cow like they’re family members,” Kuehnert said.

The cows get to lay on sand every day, use the back scratching machine, and in the summertime, they are able to walk under the sprinkler system to get cooled down.

The 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 is set for Sunday, May 26, and will air on NBC. Coverage begins at 11 a.m.

Kayla Crandall

Kayla Crandall is an Emmy award-winning journalist. She serves as the Social Media and Digital Content Manager at WPTA. Follow her on Twitter @KaylerJayne.

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