Andy and I have been doing much thinking and talking together recently about the farm and the store. The timing is funny... there have been a few clips and articles circulating around Facebook regarding raw milk dairy farmers and the costs of raw milk.. so we must not be the only ones taking a long hard look at our business. These articles resonated with us....and I would like to whey in on the issue. (pun intended)
Andy and I want to make decisions that will allow us to be sustainable.. to be here with your milk for years to come. It seems that more and more small raw milk dairies are shutting down all the time. The trend is alarming, but as farmers ourselves.. also quite understandable. Rising feed costs, and the hours and dedication required make this a lifestyle that is physically and emotionally draining. Dairy farming is hard.. its hard work, its hard on families too... cows have to be milked 365 days a year, regardless of whether its a holiday, a snow day, a sick day, or someone's birthday. It's also financially draining at times. Cows are unpredictable, as most things in nature, they rarely choose convenient times and places in which to have their babies.. they seem to prefer the worst days and the most difficult locations for their caregivers! As we know all too well.. cows die. Sometimes its a slip on the ice... finding the slippery slope on a creek bed, freaky things happen with livestock... and the cost to the farmer can be financially devastating. Imagine waking up one morning to discover a $2500 loss in your checking account with no explanation... it's kind of like that. It can be hard to recoup from a hit like that. Cows don't always get pregnant or have babies when we need them to.. we are currently experiencing this side affect right now. We have 13 babies due by the end of March! Never would we have planned it that way! Consequently at the moment we have an all-time low in milk production! But in the next few weeks I wont be able to make enough cheese to keep up! I am just thankful we have the creamery... all that extra milk won't go to waste!
There has been much discussion about the costs of raw milk. We charge $8.50 for a gallon of our milk. When we sit down and figure all of our expenses.. the truth is it costs more like $10 to produce each gallon of milk and this is without our paying ourselves a paycheck. It is because of this realization that we moved to the new farm and built the creamery and store. Rather than keep raising the cost of our milk, we focused on adding value to our milk in the form of cheese and yogurt and we added the store so that our customers have the opportunity to not only support other local farmers and crafters.. but to help offset our expenses. By shopping in our store.. converting a small portion of your grocery budget you are helping to keep your milk price down. Everything in the store is here on consignment with us with a 20% commission rate. For every $6 spent in our store we make an additional $1.30 which just about helps us meet expenses for one gallon of milk! Purchases of cheese especially help as 100% of that sale stays with us and helps offset milk prices. We are asking everyone to convert your spending dollars..not add on. Not seeing what you need or want in the store? Let us know! Have an idea of something we should get in? Let us know! It is our hope that we will grow the store to generate enough income to help us be here for the long haul without having to raise our prices to make ends meet.
Being sustainable, to be here for years to come, involves more for us than just our financial bottom line. We also need to manage our time so that exhaustion is not such an issue for us. We have spent the last year spending every free moment working on the creamery and store. This has begun to take its toll on us. In years past we always operated on a self service, honor system basis. We are not able to run our business this way any longer because of the need to keep raw milk sales and store sales completely separate. This means that while our store was open six days a week.. we have had to be 100% available all that time... farm chores have been difficult to complete, family time has been non-existent, and we need to make some changes to avoid burnout. Beginning on March 1st we have changed our availability to give us more time to work the farm, care for animals, and our family. We have spent weeks discussing this, looking long term, and we feel confident our new schedule is one that we can maintain for years to come. It feels much more sustainable and manageable.
We are blessed! We LOVE what we do and we have the absolute BEST customers in the world! You have supported us through a rough and rocky couple of years. If it were not for YOU we would not be here today. We came so close to closing down last year and it is only because of the support of our donors, volunteers, and cheerleaders that we pulled through and completed the creamery! As we are nearing completion of our project we cannot tell you how very thankful we are and how much we are looking forward to being here for many years to come!
“Raw Milk? WHY Would you want to drink that?”
This is a question I hear quite frequently, and from educated people who spend much time and money promoting their health. We have all been taught how bad raw milk is for us, how deadly it is, how dangerous… Why in the world would ANYONE want to drink that when perfectly safe milk is available at any grocery store? Let’s take a moment and look a bit deeper than just what mainstream media tells us.
First off, pasteurization of milk is a relatively new idea. Documentation of milk used for human consumption dates back to Biblical times. Milk and milk products are mentioned about fifty times in the Bible. This milk was not treated, or changed other than if to make cultured products. Cows, sheep, goats, camels, horses, and other ruminant mammals were milked; it depended upon what animals were present in a particular location. They all were outside eating a natural diet of forages present in their climate.
Here in the US, things began to change here after the war of 1812. This ended the import of whiskey from the British West Indies and led to the beginnings of distilleries in the US. More cities were springing up and it was getting harder to find adequate pasture close to the cities and someone had a “bright” idea. When whiskey is distilled from grain, there is a lot of sludge-like waste left over. Someone along the way decided see if it could be used to feed animals. They began to house cows next to the distilleries and feed the cows the hot slop directly as it poured off the stills. It was discovered that this swill did nothing towards fattening cattle, in fact it made them sick and emaciated. But, when given to dairy cows in large amounts it did create a nice volume of milk, even though the cows did not survive very long. The make-shift milking areas next to the cows and distillery were often unsanitary, as were the employees doing the milking, the cows were diseased, and there was little or no cleansing of buckets or utensils. The milk that resulted from the cows being fed slop alone was bluish in color, so additives were created to help it look like milk. It's not surprising that people began getting sick and were dying from drinking this “milk”.
Pasteurization was brought as a solution to the milk problem in cities in early 1900. At this time, there was also the beginnings of a medical milk movement in which doctors were insisting upon certified raw milk for their patients' health rather than pasteurized swill milk. The Medical Milk Commission was founded and consisted of physicians who worked together to certify dairies. They founded the Certified Raw Milk program. The program consisted of dairies that were regulated with certain standards that must be met. All cows were to be on a pasture based diet, kept out on pasture rather than in lots, and standards were set for clean milking conditions and equipment. The certified raw milk and pasteurized milk products co-existed peacefully for years with both options available in cities and most people in rural areas purchased their milk from a local farmer. Things began to shift in 1940 when the numbers of certified farms were so small in comparison to non-certified farms that many states simply began to outlaw raw milk sales.
Many are surprised to learn that in the first half of the twentieth century raw milk was widely used a treatment for many illnesses. The Mayo Clinic even had a raw milk diet prescription for many issues including IBS, autoimmune issues, and Crohn's disease. For centuries raw milk was cherished as a life giving food and it only took less than 50 years of industrialized farming techniques to denature it and change the way we view milk.
Now, let’s look at the differences between raw milk and it’s pasteurized counterpart. Pasteurization does far more to milk than just kill any potential pathogens. This was discovered early on in its use. In 1916 The American Journal of Diseases in Children released a study in which researchers discovered that scurvy often resulted when pasteurized milk replaced raw milk in an infant's diet. In 1925 the Journal of Biochemical Chemistry published a study that showed how heating milk results in a loss of calcium and phosphorus and it was in proportion to how high the milk is heated. There were articles and studies showing differences in children on raw milk versus pasteurized milk and the marked differences in dental health and tuberculosis infections. There were no more studies on the nutrient differences between raw and pasteurized milk after 1950. The solution seemed to be to add vitamins back to pasteurized milk, so no more studies were funded. During the 1930's and 40's there were several magazine articles claiming widespread illnesses from raw milk and while founded in fiction, they did their job of spreading fears and pasteurization became the gold standard. Even today, the FDA has web pages and brochures touting the dangers of raw milk and disputing the negative affects of pasteurization on the nutrient content of milk.
Big AG has taken over and the cost has been the end of the family farm. Fifty years ago, most farms had a dairy cow or two and most raised their own livestock and even sold a bit of milk or meat to neighbors, family, or friends. Most family farms are now devoid of livestock, the family dairy cow is a rarity, millions of acres of beautiful pastureland have been turned over to corn and soy. Dairy cows are no longer housed next to distilleries and fed swill but their diets consist mainly of corn and soy and they spend their lives in dry lots rather than peacefully roaming grasslands. Today, a small dairy is defined as one milking less than 300 cows, it's practically impossible to range that many cows. Right now, the federal government is waging war on raw milk and looking to make it unobtainable in all 50 states. Why? In my opinion, the answer is simple. Ten years ago, the organics movement was gearing up, it was easy for big Ag to compete there... all they had to do is switch the dairy cow ration to organic grains but today the raw milk movement is growing as fast as organics was back then. There is simply no way that the large dairy to compete... their business model is dependent upon pasteurization! As was proven back in 1900 you CANNOT place a cow on artificial feed and drink it's milk raw. Cows have a four chambered stomach, full of rumen which is required to break down the proteins and fiber in grass. When a large amount of non-grass based feed is given to a cow, the pH in the rumen changes so as to facilitate the growth of e-Coli as well as other pathogens. Today's modern dairy cow has been bred and fed to produce an unnaturally high volume of milk; their udders are generally so huge they can hardly walk. Because of this, they usually require antibiotics to keep mastitis down and to keep them well. Most milk today (even Organic milk) comes from a cow that has spent its entire life indoors, never touching a blade of grass.
So, let's look at WHY I would want to drink raw milk. First off, raw milk from grass-fed cows is full of many nutrients essential to my health that are not easily found in modern processed foods. Vitamins A and D are naturally present and its naturally high in Vitamins B6 and B12. It is also contains all of it's natural butterfat. The butterfat is rich in short- and medium chain fatty acids which protect against disease and stimulate the immune system. The butterfat also contains glyco-spingolipids which prevent intestinal distress and conjugated linoleic acid which has strong anticancer properties. Lastly, raw milk has not been heated so it contains all of the natural enzymes that aid in the assimilation of the proteins and sugars naturally found in the milk. The naturally occurring beneficial bacteria in raw milk helps to feed our immune systems and in my opinion is one the most key ingredients to keeping my family healthy. Raw milk, unlike pasteurized milk, contains no additives. It sours naturally, never turning putrid like pasteurized milk. The standards are different; the quality of the milk is different. Typical large dairies have extremely elevated white blood cell counts in their milk, so much so that when the milk is pasteurized the processors must use centrifugal methods to spin out the resulting pus and slime.
Another important reason why we choose raw milk for our family is that we have a dairy allergy. I spent most of my adult life dealing with stomach pains and nasal congestion related to a dairy allergy. My oldest daughter was colicky as a baby so I removed dairy from my diet and she improved. I later learned just how allergic she was when she was given her first bite of ice cream and her lip blew up looking like she had been boxing. We were dairy-free for years. I could not find a replacement that was even close to comparable so just gave up my beloved cheese and ice cream. I happened to stumble upon an article about the healing properties of raw milk and allergies. We gave it a go, starting slowly with yogurt I made from the milk. There was no adverse reaction from either my daughter or myself. We moved onto fresh milk and the result was the same. We have never looked back.
Crewe, J. E. Raw Milk Cures Many Diseases, article, 1929
Porter, S. Charles Milk Diet as a Remedy for Chronic Disease, 1905-1923
The Lancet, May 8, 1937, 1142
Thomson, James C. “Pasteurized Milk, A National Menace: A Plea for Cleanliness.” Kingston Chronicle, Edinburg, 1943
Artisan Cheesemaker. Lover of all foods dairy..