Let’s Talk About Raw Milk Safety

dairy-cafo

This is a picture of a dairy concentrated animal feedlot operation (CAFO) in California, US. It was a humongous operation with signs all over the place not to take photos. If you drink milk from the industrial food system your milk comes from a place like this.

This is a letter sent to The Tyee regarding an article about raw milk:

Last year, I was at the Weston A Price Foundation Conference in California state. I had the opportunity to visit two dairies that supply raw milk: Claravale Farms in Panoche, CA and Organic Pastures in Fresno, CA. I also saw, and smelled, many conventional dairies along the way. The contrast between the conventional, raw, and home dairies was profound.

Conventional dairies are where most of us get our milk. Usually, the animals are confined in a building their whole lives. It requires heavy equipment to move around feed which may come from around the country. These cows are sometimes fed really strange feed. They are fairly stressed animals and have a very short drug filled life. The milk is collected from many dairies and bulk loaded into large tanker trunks and shipped to a regional processing plant. The milk is skimmed of cream which is later pasteurized. A set amount of cream is homogenized into the milk and then it is pasteurized. I’m not sure when, but a number of additives are put into the milk at some point. There is a whole range of substances now routinely added to milk.

claravale-raw-dairy

Claravale Farm is one of two raw dairies in California, US. These cows are waiting in the pen to be milked. Normally, the cows would be on pasture. This is the dry season and the cows are fed hay and haylage. By the way, I would have eaten off the floor of the milking parlor.

organic-pastures-raw-dairy

This is Organic Pastures in California, US. The cows are on irrigated pasture. They flood irrigate once a month using a rice padding method. You can see the raised areas that separates flooding fields. Note the poor air quality of the San Joaquin Valley even though I was in the middle of the country. Good air is something we don’t think about in Kamloops, BC.

A raw dairy is based on pasturing cows. The cows are on pasture all their lives. They live a more natural life and thus are less likely to become sick. The cows have over twice the life expectancy of a convention dairy cow. The cows come into the milking room twice a day. The milk is collected and processed on site. Processing involves removing some of the cream to a given percentage and bottling. The milk is not pasteurized or homogenized. There are no additives to the milk. These raw dairies are required by law to test for bacteria in each load of milk. Then the milk is bottled. Claravale Farms uses glass and Organic Pastures uses plastic containers. As the milk sits for awhile the cream comes to the top. How much cream on the top used to be the way our grandmothers assessed the quality of milk.

When I milk Patty, my Jersey cow, I tie her up and feed her some grain. As she is eating, I clean her bag and udders with warm soapy water. I do not use any antiseptic, though some farmers do. I milk her by hand into a pail and carry the pail home. I process the milk by straining the milk into 2L glass containers. I put the raw milk into the fridge and wait for the cream to come to the top. I will skim cream if I am wanting to make butter or need cream for some other reason. Otherwise, I enjoy the milk in its whole form. Very few people of my generation have drunk whole raw milk. It is wonderful.

patty-yarrow

Here is Shaen getting Patty ready for milking. We just wash with fresh water and wipe her down before milking. We use coconut oil as a milking lubricate and for its anti-microbial action. We hand milk and process the milk in our kitchen.

It is up to you to decide which is a more wholesome food. Is it the conventional dairy with its “complex safety procedures”, the raw dairies with their “bacterial testing”, or the milkmaid with her “soapy water”?. We also have to realize life is risky. Things go wrong with any system, but the more complex a system the more likelihood of failure.

This Weston A. Price Foundation essay gives a general overview of pasturing and its benefits to the farm, community and environment. Please enjoy Splendor from the Grass. This is a link to numerous documents on the safety of raw milk: www.realmilk.com.

Updated February 22, 2011: Here is some essays from Kimberly Hartke. She is the Weston A Price Foundation Publicist. She has posted a number of articles called Raw Milk Around the World. I particularly like the article by Sir Julian Rose, a vocal supporter of raw milk, which states: “If you are still in doubt about the benefits of real, fresh milk, you might be reassured to know that the Queen of England drinks nothing less.”

Updated February 11, 2012: As I have studied the milk processing continuum from hand milking one family cow to the CAFO dairy production found in the industry food system, the amount of technology between you and your food increases. The larger the dairy the more tubing the milk travels through to get to your table. All this tubing has to be sanitized and the chemicals somehow disposed of. Of course, the bigger the operation, the greater the complexity of the system. Sometimes the process fails and your milk can get contaminated by these cleaning chemicals. Here is an example of the type of contamination that can happen with the industrial milk system: Health Hazard Alert Certain Neilson Trustaste 2% Microfiltered Partly Skimmed Milk May Contain a Cleaning Solution.

Updated July 17, 2012: Some people have asked me how I home-process milk in my kitchen. For more information please see Morning Chores: Home Processing of Milk and Eggs.

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