Photo by Michael Conti/Farm Flavor Media

Delicious dairy products like the fresh milk and yogurt available in Michigan grocery stores often originate close to home, thanks to nearly 1,800 dairy farms found across the state.

“The great thing about our farms here in Michigan and across the country is that they are all unique,” says Jolene Griffin, director of industry relations, United Dairy Industry of Michigan. “They are run by families. Many of them have been in the family for generations. It’s something that is born in you. It gets in your blood.”

Michigan dairies range from smaller farms with 20 cows to larger operations with thousands of animals. But regardless of size, Griffin says farmers continue to focus on the core values of caring for their cows and for the environment.

Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

Fresh From the Farm

The descendants of Fredrick Oesch were born to farm. Oesch, who came to America from Switzerland in the early 1900s, established what is now known as Swiss Lane Farms in Alto. Today, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren are producing some of the highest-quality milk in the state. With more than 2,000 cows, a robotic milking facility and a double-16 milking parlor, almost 50 employees, and 3,500 acres of land, Swiss Lane Farms is a big operation. But while the farm has grown over the past century, the core values have remained the same: focus on the cows, make hay while the sun shines, God-honoring conduct.

The journey of milk from Swiss Lane Farms to a family’s refrigerator requires multiple components working together, including the use of technology on the farm, the drivers transporting the product and the cooperative marketing of it to various customers. But, that cycle begins with the cows, says Annie Link, a junior partner at Swiss Lane.

“First, we need a healthy calf. We invest in that calf for two years before we get any milk,” she says. “We focus on providing the best possible nutrition and have a consultant who helps us figure out how best to feed these cows. We make sure they are comfortable and that all their needs are being met. They want to rest in a clean, comfy bed and have access to food six or seven hours a day. Cows need a system and consistency, and we have a great team in place to keep that system running.”

Photo by Jeff Adkins/Farm Flavor Media

Quality Is Key

Milk and dairy products are among the most highly regulated foods available, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Milk and dairy foods are subject to up to 17 government-required or voluntary industry safety checks from the farm to the table. Federal regulations classify milk based on quality, perishability of the final product, and manufacturing processes. Class I milk is used for beverage products ranging from whole milk to buttermilk to eggnog. Class II milk is used for manufactured products like yogurt and cottage cheese. Class III milk is used in cheeses and butter. Class IV milk is used to make dry milk products.

Milk produced at Swiss Lane Farms earns the highest classification.

“When you produce really high- quality milk, that means it can go into anything,” Link says. “Ours is sold in grocery stores under various labels, including some local stores near Grand Rapids just 20 miles west of here. Some goes to Cass City and is used in yogurt and some goes to Allendale to be used to make cheese at the Leprino Foods facility.”

Producing a high-quality, iconic product that nourishes the families of Michigan is a responsibility the Oesch family takes seriously.

“We feel grateful to be able to carry out the legacy of this family and farm,” Link says. “It’s our family and our history and we also appreciate the people who have joined our team and work with us. We are surrounded by a diverse team of talented people who make our business successful. I often say that cows are my favorite animals, but we love our people, too, and value their hard work.”

As for the cows, Link says she’s still in awe of the miracle that happens in their bodies every day. “They take in hay and turn it into milk, something that can nourish us – whether it’s the milk we drink or the yogurt and cheese we enjoy. It’s so cool that they can do that. As we take care of our cows, we’re mindful every day that we are helping put food on people’s tables.”

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