Keeping Raw Milk Safe - A Dairyman's Charge
Many people across the world are learning about raw milk and its powerful health properties! This is exciting! As more people gain interest in the product, the demand for its production also increases.
Growing up on our dairy just meant we drank and consumed our own raw milk. However, what's really funny is that my family and I never really knew that our milk was so amazing and healthy for us! It just didn't feel right being a dairy farmer and not consume your own staple product! Plus, it helped with the grocery bill!
However, about four years ago, we began to have many local folks approach us about buying our raw milk. Prior to that, we occasionally had people come out and ask if they could buy milk from our cooling tank, but we never really thought much of it. But when we began to see an increase in interest, it caused us to do a little homework and really look into this seemingly-odd movement in the market.
Sure enough, we found a nationwide movement in people seeking raw milk! This excited us because we saw a new opportunity for our farm. But as we learned more and more about raw milk in general, we became amazed at all of the amazing health benefits that the product can bring! How did we not know this!? Discussing the health benefits of raw milk is better discussed in a previous post, but suffice it to say, we realized there was so much more to this wonderful product than we previously supposed!
Another thing we learned about raw milk, however, was that there was a right and wrong way to produce it. Not all raw milk is created equal! As I see it, there are two kinds of raw milk:
Raw milk produced for human consumption.
Raw milk produced for pasteurization.
This is REALLY important! As more consumers seek raw milk, it's important for both consumers and producers to know that one cannot simply squirt milk in a bucket, throw it in a bottle and label it For Sale.
Raw milk CAN be a wonderful, amazing, healing gift of nature. But this requires we produce it according to nature's rules. It is when we step outside nature's boundaries that we can run into trouble. This applies to a whole host of things in the food industry, but raw milk definitely can fall into this category.
Over the years, there have been periodic occurrences where raw milk has been the culprit of various food-borne illnesses. For this reason, government health officials have really placed a heavy focus on painting raw milk into a villainous food. However, this is really unfair because they are overlooking some important facts and public benefits. And, instead of studying and understanding raw milk and how it CAN be produced well and safe, they dismiss it altogether and go to great lengths to scare the public about it. Yet, the interest, curiosity and demand in the market place grows!
As raw milk producers, we are passionate about creating safe and clean raw milk and educating both producers and consumers about the difference with raw milk intended for human consumption. When both producers and consumers are educated, it helps establish a stronger track record of raw milk success, and that is exactly what we need in order to push back against food regulator bias.
Working with Nature
There are several important components that a dairyman must adhere to in producing safe, nutritious raw milk. Here are the top most important. These are all things that we do here at Shumway Farms to help us make sure we're doing all we can produce the best raw milk possible!
Grass-Fed Cows: Cows are meant to digest grass and forage. When cows are fed grass and forage, their health and nutrition will be optimized and that will pass on to their milk. Cows fed heavy corn and soy diets have a harder time digesting this feed, which can weaken immune systems. Yes, they may produce a lot more milk on these diets, which is why most conventional dairies rely on these cheap, abundant sources of feed. But again, however, cows are meant to digest and process forage! Our cows are fed 99% forage (grass in the summer, hay in the winter) with a small amount of barley as a milking time snack. A tiny bit of grain in a cow's diet is fine, and helpful, for a cow's diet since in nature they would consume various wild grains as part of their natural grazing diet.
Pasture Access: Cows in confinement is a HUGE red flag for raw milk safety! Even in the winter time, it is important that they have access to open spaces to wander and get out of the barn. Pathogens are more likely to develop in the farm environment when the animals are confined. Then, those pathogens can spread into the milking parlor. Healthy pastures will not support pathogen life, which is why it's important for cows to spend most of their time out in them! Yes, there may be bouts of harsh weather in the winter where the cows need to be brought in for a short stint, but that should be the exception, and not the rule.
Good Milking and Cleaning Procedures: We work really hard to keep our cows clean during the milking process, along with all of our milking equipment. On our farm, we clean our cows with ozonated water (water infused with ozone). It acts like peroxide in cleaning the cows' teats and udders. We also have a policy on our farm to wash each cow at least twice!
On-Farm Testing Equipment: It is important for a raw milk dairy farmer to keep a steady eye on the bacteria levels in their milk. However, most dairies rely on a monthly test from the state. On our farm, we have our lab equipment where we test our milk regularly! We watch these tests for specific levels of bacteria to make sure our milk has been produced in a clean manner. Check out a video clip below of me showing the milk testing process!