BOISE -- Idaho is the third largest milk producing state in the nation.
"A lot of people think of Idaho as the potato state, and it's surprising to know that milk is actually our #1 agricultural commodity. More milk is sold in this state dollars-wise than even potatoes," said Rudi De Winkle from Moo-riah Dairy in Melba.
Sales indicate we love our milk but still there are questions.
Like are there antibiotics in the milk we serve our children? The answer is no. Milk cannot be sold in Idaho if it contains even a trace of antibiotic.
Continuing with the Farm to Fork series, KTVB's Dee Sarton explains how milk gets from the cow to your table fresh, safe and antibiotic-free.
"I think a lot of people don't understand just how fresh the milk in the store is," said De Winkle. "For me I know where the milk comes from, and I'm still surprised how fast it all happens, how fresh it is."
De Winkle should know. His family dairy, Moo-riah, milks 1,200 jersey cows three times a day. His top priority is to make sure the girls are happy. "Because clean happy healthy cows give the most amount of good quality milk," De Winkle adds.
But, how do you really know if a cow is happy, or healthy? Well, Rudi's cows wear pedometers.
"The pedometer is measuring how many steps she takes all day every day. Some cows take 200 steps per hour, other cows take 300 steps per hour. It doesn't matter except on an individual cow basis we want to get her 10-day average. Because then we can see if she's sick or something's not good that average will drop when she's in heat and ready to get bred by a bull the opposite will happen and she will run around a lot and her activity level will go up by 2 to 300 percent, " De Winkle said.
Staying on top of each cow's health is critical to the safety and nutritional value of the milk you drink.
"Milk is the most heavily regulated food item that people can buy," De Winkle said.
In addition, every drop of his cow's milk will be tested and retested at the dairy. It will be tested again, when it arrives at the Meadow Gold plant, where it is processed and packaged.
Steven Overton with Meadow Gold said, "All of our milk is brought in from the Boise Valley 15 to 75 miles away."
When Moo-riah milk or any milk arrives at Meadow Gold, it starts a new testing process. Fifteen tests in all.
"We check for everything... There's a gamut of tests that we run," Overton says.
"Is it overkill? Or are the regulations reasonable?" Dee asked Overton.
"I think they're good. It helps the manufacturer produce a safe product," responded Overton.
And keeping it safe, means keeping it cold, except for one brief stop.
"The milk comes in and is heated up to a minimum of 161 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 15 seconds. Then it is cooled back down to 35-36 degrees up in our tanks where we package it," Overton explained.
Packaging milk is a story in itself. The milk bottle starts out as resin beads. The result is that up to 75,000 pumped out a day, bottles in all shapes and sizes.
Overton said, "Each bottles checked to make sure there are no leaks. Every single bottle runs through a leak detect system."
Leak free, cold, and still fresh - Moo-riah's milk heads to the grocery store.
Milk is a $2.4 billion industry in Idaho accounting for nearly 23,000 jobs.
Facts not lost on the Paul's store manager, Greg Coy. "I think it's important to shop as much Idaho and stay as local as you can because your dollars stay in the state. And I think that's important to a lot of people and it's obviously important for us."
Customers that KTVB talked to agreed.
"To me the more money you can keep in Idaho rather than shipping it out of state the better," One customer said, and another customer agreed. "We know where our food comes from when it is local. It benefits everybody when we buy local."
While Dee was spending some time with dairyman De Winkle, she took the opportunity to ask for his thoughts on the industry's diligence when it comes to animal care in light of the recent dairy cow abuse case. Hear what he had to say by clicking on the video clip below.