It Takes More Milk Than You Might Think To Make A Pound Of Butter

America is packed with cows. In fact, nine states currently have more cows than people, reports Beef 2 Live. In South Dakota, it says, 844,877 humans are dwarfed by an armada of 3,650,000 cows. 

Alternative plant-based milks like almond, oat, and potato milk may have gained popularity in the past few years, but as of 2021 they still only make up 16% of all US milk sales, via Food Business News. It might not just be a matter of preference; a glass of dairy milk is like a nutrient bomb. Just one cup of whole milk packs an impressive array of health benefits, including 8 grams of protein and 28% of the daily value for calcium, via Nutrition Data.

Considering that milk is the main ingredient in butter, it may be odd that butter is condemned for its high fat and calorie content. However, milk's health benefits are not entirely lost in translation. One tablespoon of butter contains 11% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A, which according to Healthline promotes good vision, strengthened immune system, and healthy skin.

To make butter, reports Dairy Council, milk is heated and spun in a centrifuge until the cream content separates. Then, the cream is extracted and churned, where it turns into solid butter and a liquid called butterfat. But, what are the ratios? Exactly how much milk does it take to make one pound of butter? Spoiler alert: according to Baby Center, it's the same weight as an average toddler.

Udderly unbelievable

A single pound of butter takes 21.2 pounds of whole milk to make, according to Umpqua Dairy. If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is. Most cows produce only six or seven gallon of milk daily, per Midwest Dairy. Cowabunga!

A standard gallon of milk weighs roughly 8.6 pounds, per the dairy experts at DaireXNet. A 2022 report by the USDA found that the average retail price for a gallon of whole milk is somewhere between $3.50 and $4.50, varying by state. If a gallon of milk weighs 8.6 pounds, that's a net price of roughly $0.47 per pound.

Interestingly, according to Global Trade, one pound of US grade AA stick butter in 2021 had an average retail price of around $2.02 per pound — a 40% increase from the previous year. If milk costs about $0.47 per pound, and it takes 21.2 pounds of milk to make one pound of butter, then a pound of butter would cost $9.96 to make at retail price. Obviously, that isn't what grocery shoppers are paying. At roughly $2 per pound, butter manufacturers must have access to milk at $0.09 per gallon — and that would be to just break even. But, either way, next time you take the paper wrapping off a stick of butter from the grocery store, spare a thought for the several pounds of milk stuffed into such a small package and the cows that got it there.