After our dairy ewe lambed, we were slapped in the face with all the things we didn’t know about milk, milking, and milk handling, which was about everything. It took a few weeks, okay it took 8 weeks to feel mostly comfortable with the idea of playing with another creatures, um ….. teats, but we found our stride, and had more milk than we needed. Our routine was simple: get up before the sun – check. Grab sanitized milk pail – check. Make teat sanitizing solution (a tiny bit of bleach plus hot water) – check. Milk very patient sheep – check. Strain milk into sanitized jars, move to ice bath, and place in freezer for 30 minutes before moving to refrigerator – check. All seemed well and fine until I got a text from Farm Mafia Guy (guy who sends his guys to pick up our farm products). He wanted four gallons of our delicious milk per week. Ecstatic me said yes, realizing this might help us pay for the black hole that is sheep farming. Then he texts, “you do get your milk below 36 degrees within 20 minutes of milking right”? I recited our milking routine back at him to prove my acumen as a dairy person. He seemed satisfied, but I felt flustered. Do I get my milk below 36 degrees in 20 minutes? Is that even possible? How long should it take for milk to reach refrigeration temperatures? These questions haunted me! So, I started to research.
I found the Hoegger Supply milk cooling page. This website defines the cooling standards for different grades of milk. While it didn’t go into other aspects of the grading system like somatic cell counts, bacterial counts, the presence of antibiotics, and whether the milk had been pasteurized, it did neatly describe different cooling methods, and their associated efficiency. Grade A is cooled to less than 40 degrees in thirty minutes, grade B means milk gets below 40 degrees in 90 minutes. I was horrified to find I was producing C/D grade milk, yuk! According to Hoegger, my milk was reaching below 40 degrees in 105 minutes. Let me tell you folks, I am always an A student! And, C/D milk production doesn’t cut it. I scoured the internet for ways to rapidly cool milk without the use of super pricey milk coolers. I don’t like using plastic bags filled with ice, and I was leery of using plastic with milk, because it is hard to sanitize. I stumbled across the idea of using a rubbing alcohol/water bath to rapidly chill the milk. Merrill whipped up a 50/50 batch of this concoction. The next morning I got out my digital thermometer (a must have), and started experimenting. I first checked the temperature on the 50/50 bath; it registered 4 degrees fahrenheit! I set the timer for 20 minutes, and placed the 1 quart jars of fresh warm milk in the 50/50 bath then placed it in the freezer. After 20 minutes, I checked the temperature. Eureka!, we had made it to just below 40 degrees in 20 minutes. Now, I could confidently answer Farm Mafia Guy’s question. We get our milk below 40 degrees within 20 minutes by submerging 1 quart bottles in a 50/50 alcohol, water bath. Once again, A all the way baby!