When a cup of creamy chocolate milk spills, is it OK to cry? During a tour of Dakin Dairy Farms in Myakka City, it’s just what I wanted to do after knocking over my complimentary cup of chocolate milk while trying to snap the perfect photo for Instagram. Granted, it was only about an ounce — but it was mighty delicious.
On a summer Saturday, I met up with friends at Dakin Dairy Farms to take the public farm tour. Their daughters are pre-school age and seeing the farm through their eyes was a joy.
The Dakin Family has been milking cows in Manatee County since 1973, and they built the 1,200-acre farm in Myakka City in 2002. Sustainable practices were incorporated such as applying composted manure over hundreds of acres of grasses. This reduces water usage and fertilizer needs.
The dairy boasts sweet, high-quality milk,purportedly from the cows’ diet of farm-raised, fresh-cut grass mixed with grains, hay and minerals. Today, fewer than 150 dairy farms exist in Florida. Dakin Dairy Farms is the only one in Florida that produces and bottles milk on the farm and is open to the public.
During guided tours, visitors can see some of the approximately 2,300 resident Holstein and Jersey cows milked. Children seemed interested in seeing where their milk comes from. I admit, it was fascinating seeing cows walking into the milking parlor and taking their positions to be milked.
Each cow is milked three times a day and 70 cows are processed at once. What’s amazing is it takes about 12 to 15 minutes to milk those 70 cows, with each yielding about a half-gallon per session. Depending on the time of year, between 70,000 and 90,000 gallons of milk is produced a week (more is produced during the winter and spring seasons).
The tour followed the milk from the milking parlor to pasteurization and homogenization to bottling and labeling. Some of the milk is processed into cheese, including flavors of yellow cheddar, extra sharp cheddar and mozzarella. About 2 tons of cheese a week is made at the farm and is also available for sale in the Farm Market.
During the summer, the tour is different than “in season,” which began the first Saturday this month and ends the first day of June. Those tours include a hay ride and tour through the farm. The summer tour I enjoyed was a leisurely walk to view and interact with some of the calves and goats in the Courtyard. Who doesn’t love getting licked by a cow or nibbled by a goat? Feed is available for sale, and my friends’ daughters enjoyed hand-feeding and nuzzling up to the goats.
The tour concluded in a pavilion where we sat at picnic tables. Each table received a mason jar filled with cream. Everyone took turns shaking then passing the jar until butter was made, which took about 15 minutes. The creamy butter was spread on soda crackers and served with a side of chocolate milk, which is when I spilled mine.
After the tour, my friends and their daughters played on the swings and other playground equipment. We all took turns feeding the goats and watching them run up a tree to their treehouse, where treats waited for them.
Before heading home, I shopped the Dakin Farm Market and picked up a variety of cheeses and a 16-ounce bottle of the delicious chocolate milk. Of course, this meant no tears were shed over my spilt milk.