Ask Abe: Babcock Milk and Ice Cream

An Alum

How much milk does the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant use?


The Babcock Hall Dairy Plant, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, takes in about 2.3 million pounds of milk a year, according to manager Bill Klein. A gallon of milk weights about eight pounds and nine ounces, so that would be 4,279,079 half-pint glasses of milk, if you wanted to drink it all, consecutively, at one lunch. (If you’re lactose intolerant, we’re all in for a long afternoon.)

Of course, not all of that milk goes into glasses — or cartons, or jugs. But a lot of it does: about 30 percent is bottled — some 800,000 containers. Much of the rest, 500,000 pounds or so, goes into making cheese. If you’re curious, 500,000 pounds of milk makes 40,000 pounds of cheese, and by far the UW’s most popular flavor is cheddar. “We typically age it for three to four years,” says Klein.

As for the remaining milk, it goes into yogurt and ice cream — about 80,000 gallons of ice cream annually. While Babcock makes more vanilla than everything else — about twice as much as all the other flavors combined — this doesn’t mean that vanilla is the top seller. It is, rather, a base for other favorites, including cookies and cream and cookie dough, the two varieties currently vying for top spot. Orange chocolate-chip custard is third, and chocolate peanut butter is fourth.

Babcock Dairy has been slowly increasing it consumption. “We were probably doing half that volume 15 or 20 years ago,” Klein says. But he adds that the plant’s focus isn’t on quantity but on experience — the dairy plant is, foremost, an educational facility. That facility will soon get an upgrade: by 2020, Klein hopes to see a complete renovation.

“The dairy plant was built in 1957,” he says, “and it has 1957 equipment. We don’t want to do more. We don’t want to be bigger. But we could be more efficient.”