Milk, more than just food

Gloria Hafemeister

BEAVER DAM - Milk, a common and important product, is not just found in gallon jugs in our refrigerators. Milk is in many products including cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese and sport drinks.

Milk is a key ingredient in baked goods. Desserts such as cakes, pies, brownies and cupcakes are rarely prepared without the use of milk. In the United States, cow’s milk is mostly used in sweet items. Chocolates, instant potatoes, certain soups and certain salad dressings are made from milk. 

Milk Paint, used for centuries to paint a variety of wood products, is still around.  It comes in a powder and, once mixed, must be used within a few days and requires refrigeration.

Milk is not only found in food products, though.

Milk has been used in skin care products for centuries. Today, there are cosmetic products made from milk to aid in the beautification of the skin.

Milk paint

Milk is also the main ingredient in an ancient paint, dating back to a time when people made their own paint at home.

Milk paint is an ancient form of paint made up of curdled milk or cheese combined with lime and natural pigments for color.

Many colonial-era furniture pieces were painted using milk paint and still show their vibrant colors today.

 As consumers have grown more wary of chemicals and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) found in household latex and oil-based paints, they are looking for no VOC paints like Real Milk Paint.  

With that in mind, Jonas and Julie Zahn, owners of Northwoods Casket Company, decided to market the paint along with their other “green” products.

Zahn tried making his own milk paint, but then decided it was more work than he realized. He also learned there is a special art to getting the formula just right.

1870 milk paint formula       

  • 1 quart skim milk (room temperature)
  • 1 ounce of hydrated lime by weight (Available at building centers. Do not use quick lime, as it will react with the water and heat up. Hydrated lime has been soaked in water then dried.)
  • 1 to 2 1/2 pounds of chalk may also be added as a filler.
  • Stir in enough skim milk to hydrated lime to make a cream. Add balance of skim milk. Now add sufficient amount of powder pigment to desired color and consistency (Pigment powder must be limeproof).
  • Stir in well for a few minutes before using.

Harder than it looks

When Zahn mixed the concoction he ended up with a rubbery soft-ball.

 Zahn says, “I was able to get enough to paint one item, but I found out it isn’t as easy as I thought so I found a place I could buy the product.”

Now he markets a powder that can be mixed with water just before use.

 Zahn suggests, “For best results continue to stir throughout use.”

He has experimented with various techniques, application tools such as a brush or cloth. He has also tried various ways of blending colors by rubbing some off or applying a second coat with another color. 

What is unique about milk paint is that it soaks into the wood. It will last indefinitely because it is not just on the surface but it is embedded into the wood. To soak in, the milk paint must be applied to raw wood. 

If wood has been previously painted or varnished he suggests sanding it down so it will absorb the paint or cover it with a coat of shellac. 

Allow project to dry sufficiently before applying next coat. 

Zahn also demonstrates that milk paint will rub off if it is not sealed after application. In the interest of using natural products he uses tung oil but he says any oil finish or varnish can be used to seal the finished product. 

Jonas Zahn, owner of Northwoods Casket Company in Beaver Dam, also uses and sells Milk Paint, a unique product that was once an important natural product used to paint furniture, cabinets, and any wood items such as this antique wooden milk-delivery cart. Here a group of 4-H members are looking at an old milk wagon painted with milk paint.

Once milk paint has been mixed, it must be used within a day, or a little longer if refrigerated. Like milk, it will sour with age. 

Real Milk Paint can be disposed of into the garden, aside your home, or into the compost pile. Of course, it can also be put out with your regular trash. There is nothing to worry about with earth friendly products. 

Milk paint keeps as a powder for six months or more, if sealed very tightly against moisture. Once it has "gone off," however, it will dry as a loose powder, and loses its functionality as paint. 

Other products

Of course milk isn’t the only product cows provide. 

The American Farm Bureau has provided information about many products derived from cows. 

Leather is used to make a variety of sports equipment.

It’s estimated that 20 footballs can be made out of one cowhide; every year the National Football League manufactures around 700,000 footballs. That means around 35,000 cowhides are used annually just for this single sport. 

Leather is also used to make baseballs, baseball gloves and basketballs. Cow intestines are utilized for “natural gut strings” in tennis racquets. 

Keratin, a protein extracted from cow hooves, is used to create a specialized fire extinguishing foam. This extra strong protein helps bind foam together to put out hotter, higher intensity fires and is widely used at airports for fires caused by jet fuel. 

Processed white sugar is decolorized using a filter that is often created using bone char from cows. Bone char strips away any “impurities” from sugar and leaves pure white crystals behind.

Even gelatin salads and finger jello, gummy candies and marshmallows would not be possible without cow bones and skin.

Many industrial products rely on ingredients derived from cows. Dynamite and  hydraulic fluid both require cow fat. Car tires are made using stearic acid, a cow by-product, and the leather seats are derived from cow’s hide.  

More than 100 individual drugs rely on cows for ingredients. Insulin, for instance, is produced using cow pancreas, and gelatin capsules are commonly used for a variety of medications.

Fats, fatty acids and protein meals from cows are used in a wide variety of everyday items like candles, cosmetics, crayons, perfume, mouthwash, toothpaste, shaving cream, soap and deodorants.

Paint brushes that are labeled as “camel hair” brushes are not really made from camel at all. These brushes are made from the fine hairs from cow’s ears and tails.