About M&B Products - a brief history and dairy farm lesson 101

While many challenges face the Florida farmer -- weather, development, and the economy, to name a few -- one of the most daunting is the average Floridian's perception of agriculture. For many people, the source of their food is not the farm, but rather the grocery store. Educating them about the importance of rural farm lands and the true nature of agricultural operations is a difficult task. Few know this better than Dale McClellan.

A dairyman all his life, McClellan continually sought new ways to expand the family's Tampa-based business, M&B Products. One of the concepts was to create a modern, environmentally sound dairy farm. After years of costly research, he did just that in Lecanto, a small community outside Homosassa Springs.

Our Mascot, Buffy the Cow, resides at the Lecanto, Fl., farm of M&B Dairy. Buffy helps Farmer Dale to explain that while dairy products may be bought in a grocery store, they all originate on farms such as ours; and they come from cows like Buffy. It's an udderly fascinating story. Come join Buffy for a visit to the M&B Dairy.

M&B Dairy has a lot of contented and happy cows on it's farm, just like Buffy. They are happy to contribute to the production of some marvelous dairy products. To begin the process, milk is removed from the cows automatically by milking machines. They are attached to the cows' udders and, no, they don't hurt them. And they are a lot warmer than cold hands at 5 a.m.

What temperature is the milk when it leaves the cow? It comes out at 101 degrees. And to what temperature is it quickly cooled for storage? The temperature is brought down below 40 degrees and stored in refrigerated stainless steel tanks. It is then taken to a processing plant, in insulated stainless steel tanker trucks, where it is tested, homogenized and pasteurized, vitamins added and butterfat standardized. So how long does it take from the time it leaves the cow until it reaches the grocery store? It takes as little as 2 days!

Would you believe that one cow produces enough milk each day to fill 90 to 120 glasses? Holy cow! A cow drinks 25 to 50 gallons of fresh, clean water daily, enough to fill a bathtub. She must be thirsty all the time. What about her food? How much and what kind of food does she have to eat each day for this kind of production?

Cows eat many times a day; food is available around the clock. One of the things they eat on our farm is something called green chop, -- a form of hay, but which is 82 % moisture. A cow will eat about 80 pounds of green chop daily, equivalent to only 13 pounds of dry matter. It may surprise you to learn that cows also down 4 pounds of molasses daily. But their main treat is a dry feed that is an interesting mixture of things: hominy, citrus pulp, cotton seeds, cotton seed hulls (a byproduct of the seeds), distillers grain (a byproduct from the beer & whiskey industry) and soybean meal, along with trace ingredients.

With all of that eating, do cows have special teeth to be able to eat grass? Well, they are different from ours. On the top front, they have a tough pad of skin instead of teeth. They have 8 incisors on the bottom front and 6 strong molars on the top and bottom of each side to grind their food - for a total of 32 teeth. You may have heard that cows have four stomachs; actually, a cow has one stomach with four compartments. And have you heard the phrase about cows chewing cud? They do because they are ruminants. And all ruminants regurgitate their food and chew cud. It helps them get the most out of difficult-to-digest food, like grass. It means that they spend much of their time eating up to about 8 hours each day.

The modern dairy farm today shares an environment with a lot of creatures -- human and animal varieties -- and has a lot of responsibilities. M&B recognizes and faces up to those responsibilities to be a good neighbor and a responsible user of a piece of the world's environment, beginning with how and where the cows live. Lecanto Dairy is integrated into its environment. Open-air barns are positioned to maximize the flow of the area's breezes for the cows' comfort. Rubber mats in stalls also contribute to their comfort. The farm has seen increased milk production, improved breeding numbers, and a longer lifespan for the cows.

Recycling plays a big role at the dairy. The free-stall barns are flushed three times a day with reuse water. The water washes waste into a collection ditch at the lower end of the barn which, in turn, carries it to a concrete-lined holding tank. From the tank it is sprayed onto a hay field for irrigation. Freshwater or rainwater washes the nutrients from the surface of the grass to clean it and flush nutrients into the root zone. Here the grass absorbs the nutrients from the waste water, preventing them from seeping into the groundwater and minimizing the impact on the surrounding water table. The root zone also maintains an aerobic (dry) state that does not allow bacteria to survive. The green chop which is a form of hay is then fed to the cows. By recycling the waste water, Lecanto draws only a fraction of its allotted amount of fresh water, while maintaining a nutrient-balanced system.

Today, the Lecanto Diary exemplifies M&B's commitment to excellence and serves as a state-of-the-art model for environmentally friendly dairy farms in Florida."We want to have a dairy farm that is a show place," McClellan said. "We want to have a dairy farm that agriculture is proud of. I feel like that if agriculture is going to continue in Florida, we've got to learn to do better, and we have to be very proactive in our industry."

One of the most obvious environmental policy at M&B concerns their packaging. The use of special pouches for water and juice is an important contribution to the environment. The use of these pouches literally saves millions of tons of waste annually.

This environmentally friendly philosophy runs throughout the McClellan family, a family that has been a part of this dairy for several generations. Both of his grandfathers owned dairies in Florida. Dale and his father were raised on the family farm. Dale's mother was the bookkeeper for her family's dairy. He met his wife, Mary, at his grandfather's Sunny Brook Dairy Milk Plant. A short time after their marriage, Dale and Mary started M&B Products as a continuation of Sunny Brook. The dairy has been in operation since the early 1950s and is still a family-run business that now spans four generations. Dale's grandmother helps with approving and writing checks; Dale's cousin, Rocky Lovelace, is part owner and M&B's sales manager.

Among the most popular products that come out of the McClellan family's dairy are milk shakes -- they come in three flavors -- chocolate, vanilla and strawberry -- and the kids love them. You might ask, who should drink milk? Milk is good for everyone. If you're between 1 and 12 years old, you should have 3 servings of milk dairy products every day. An 8 ounce glass or a cup of yogurt is a serving. Teenagers and adults need even more and should have 3 to 4 or more servings of dairy foods each day depending on age. Have you had your milk today?

M&B Dairy is a totally self-sufficient dairy with every piece of modern equipment it needs to develop and maintain a complete environmentally-sensitive circle in the use of its water, its waste and its food. As an example, after mowing its grass, machines bundle the loose grass and deposits the loads into a machine that shrink wraps the bundles. That process turns the grass into a fermented product that can be reused as feed. M&B is a proud example of a dairy that has built in every possible environmental aid to make it not only an efficient, well run organization, but a good neighbor and outstanding citizen with good stewardship practices in a time which the environment has become an extremely critical issue.

"I think the future looks good for our family," McClellan said. "Everybody needs to eat, and I think that there's going to be a demand for agriculture products, including dairy. So I think there is going to be a market there. I think that dairies like ours will be a premium, and we can be proud of what we've built. And that we can stand firm in the way that we sell it."

So the next time you're enjoying one of those delicious 100% juice drinks, milk shakes or cold water that M&B Products offers, think back to your visual tour of this modern dairy farm. Hopefully you have a greater understanding and a better appreciation of the role that such farms play in your everyday life.

Come back and visit us soon.

8601 Harney Road - Tampa, FL 33637

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