Florida Farm Spotlight: Dakin Dairy Farm

Over the course of visiting farms around Florida, a common thread between all types of farming is the reliance on family. Passed through generations, the pride of caring for the land and the product created is undeniable. On a gloomy day, I visited the Dakin Dairy Farm. The sky may have been gray, but the enthusiasm of our tour guild Courtney, a family member of the Dakin family, was beaming with joy as she led us through the milking process. The Dakin Dairy Farm has been in business since 1973 and is still owned and operated by the Dankin Family. 

Family Farming

Dakin Dairy Farm is 40 minutes east of Sarasota in Myakka City, Florida. Unlike the bustling beach town Sarasota, Myakka City is dotted with houses between the broad scopes of land. I knew I was close to the farm when the cows outnumbered the cars. The tour began on the wooden porch of the Dakin Dairy Market & Café, where the most important rule was to watch out for fire ants as we walked through the soggy grass. 

Like a herd of cows walking in unison to the open-air barn, the tour group followed behind our guild, mindful of where we stepped. As we passed the loading docks, it became apparent that dairy farming wasn’t the only family business working simultaneously to deliver milk to grocery stores and factories. The trucking company that picks up and supplies milk to grocery stores around the state is operated by a multigenerational family business. Yoder’s Southern Creamery, arguably the best ice cream you’ll ever taste, uses milk from Dankin Dairy. While we stood on the loading docks, it was clear that bringing food from the farm to the shelves required a network of family-run businesses to work together. 

Dankin Dairy Farm cattle standing along  a fence.

Cow Facts a Figures

Dakin Dairy’s cows are Holstein cows. They are the largest of the dairy breeds and the highest milk-producing dairy animals in the world. The farm has 4,500 heads of cattle; most are the Holstein breed, with a few Jersey cows sprinkled throughout. Each cow is milked three times daily, producing 8 – 10 gallons of milk. One of the things that makes Dakin Dairy stand apart from all the other dairy farms in the state is the year around grass diet. Every cow on the property has access to fresh-cut grass mixed with grains, minerals, and hay, ultimately producing more nutritious milk. 

Hundreds of cows patiently waited for their turn to enter the milking parlor in the open-air barn. The cows were free to move around or stay in one of the stalls. A small group of cows looked at us, frozen as we approached the barn railing. Our tour guild mentioned a cow’s body language for fear and curiosity are the same (to which I could relate). After a few minutes, the group of timid cows must have determined we weren’t a threat and walked over to allow us to pet them. I had forgotten how sandpapery their tongues were as one reached out as if I was there to feed her. Sadly all I could give was a gentle scratch behind the ear and words of affirmation that she was a good girl, doing her very best. 

Green Farming

It was undeniably difficult to miss the river of manure running along the border of the open-air barn. Some may wrinkle their nose in disgust. However, for me, this brought back strong childhood memories of collecting “cow pies” from my grandfather’s pasture to make what we called “cow tea” (a mixture of manure and water in a barrel) to use as fertilizer. Dakin Dairy uses a more industrial method of collecting the manure from the barn. The use of a child with a shovel would simply take too long, and probably be frowned upon by the state labor board. Instead, the barn flooded with water washing away the waste to a collection drain. Along with Florida rain, this organic fertilizer is spread to over 250 acres of pasture to promote the continuation of healthy vegetation to feed the livestock. 


From Cow to Bottle in Under an Hour

After our meet and greet with the cows, it was time to see them in action. As we walked to the milking parlor, my mind created imagery of cows at a beauty salon comfortably sitting as they gossiped about the other cows in the open-air barn. To an extent, that’s what it was (although I can’t speak cow, they could have been talking about our tour group). Seventy cows filled the milking parlor standing side-by-side, their heads stuck through a harness that looked like they were about to ride on a roller coaster. Below, the workers attached the milking devices to the utters of each cow and monitored the machinery. Once the milking process was over, the rollercoaster-like harness released, and just like a synchronized dance, the cows stepped out of the milking parlor at once. 

My two biggest takeaways were the speed the milk goes from the cow to the jug. In just one hour, milk is taken from the cow, pasteurized, and bottled for the grocery store. Secondly, there is a difference between pasteurized milk and ultra-pasteurized milk. The difference is how high of a temperature the milk is heated and for how long. Dankin milk is pasteurized, meaning it is heated to a minimum of 161°F for at least 15 seconds or 145°F for 30 minutes and packaged in clean and sanitary conditions. The shelf life of pasteurized milk is shorter than ultra-pasteurized, which is heated to a minimum of 280°F for a minimum of 2 seconds, but it keeps the rich flavor of milk intact. 

Hands-on Farming

Now it was our turn to get a taste of life on the farm. Dankin farm has over 300 calves on property that must be fed three times a day. We were able to bottle-feed a select group of the Farm’s calves. These little guys needed a little more love and attention for various reasons; some were being treated for common sicknesses or were born underweight. As we took turns feeding the calves, small mason jars filled with heavy whipping cream were passed from person to person to shake. Eventually, a soft ball of butter started to form within the jar. Once the calves were fed, it was time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Our hand-shaken butter was slathered over saltine crackers and paired with cold chocolate milk. A sommelier could not have made for a better pairing. The chocolate milk tasted like melted ice cream, and the saltiness from the cracker and richness of the freshly whipped butter was the perfect way to end our tour.


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