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**This post has been entered in Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop!**

So, raw milk!  By now you’ve probably heard about it.  Maybe you even drink it.  It’s becoming more and more popular.  Unfortunately, in many states it is still illegal and can be difficult or impossible to find.  Why would you want to drink it?  How would you find it?  Is it different than store milk when using it?  Why is the government cracking down so hard?

The Government Saga

Let’s just start with the politics, because this could answer several questions.  In the last several months, the government has been seriously cracking down — illegally– on farmers who produce raw milk or raw milk products (like cheese, butter, yogurt).  They claim that this is for “food safety,” even though there is no data showing that raw milk is inherently dangerous, despite the government and media’s claims.  Raw milk does contain natural bacteria and enzymes, but these are generally healthy.  It’s possible that raw milk could contain pathogenic bacteria, but it would have to become contaminated somehow.  It does not naturally contain bad bacteria!

In fact, pasteurized milk is really more at risk of contamination, because when it is is heated, all of the good bacteria are killed.  This leaves the milk “dead,” and inert.  Whatever gets into it can simply grow, unchecked.  In raw milk, the good bacteria tend to keep any bad bacteria in check, which is why it typically won’t make people sick.  It’s also true that pasteurization doesn’t raise the temperature high enough to kill the pathogenic bacteria, making it even more likely to be contaminated.

The conditions of the farms on which the milk is produced is very important, too.  Most pasteurized milk is produced on farms where cows are kept in confinement, in tiny stalls in large, closed barns.  The cows can’t move around.  They’re fed GMO corn and soy and ” vitamin supplements,” and stand in their own waste.  Typically, due to the crowded conditions and unnatural food, the cows become ill.  They are given antibiotics to prevent the spread of illness and to keep them alive.  Many herds are also treated with rBST or rBGH, growth hormones that increase the cow’s milk production.  This often gives the cows mastitis (same infection humans get!), which causes pus to be present in the milk.  It’s another reason why cows are treated with antibiotics.

Milk produced under these conditions would not be safe to drink raw.  It has to be pasteurized.  In fact, large-scale cow facilities and these types of conditions, which produced the sick animals and pus-filled milk, are the entire reason pasteurization became mandatory in the first place!  Raw milk was making people sick 50 or 60 years ago, but it was because the cows were fed distillery mash and forced into confinement and were ill.  Pasteurization basically masked the problem.

Cows on raw dairy farms are typically out on pasture, not confined.  They eat most or all of their diet as grass, and have free access to clean water and a salt lick (important for cows).  Under these conditions, they are not sick.  Any cow that was sick would be removed from the herd and given antibiotics, if necessary, but milk from the cow would not be sold until it was 90 days past the last dose of antibiotics (if I’m remembering the law correctly).  The milk is collected using stainless-steel machines and stored in stainless steel, copper (naturally anti-bacterial and anti-viral), or glass, and is chilled very quickly after milking.  This milk is safe and unlikely to be contaminated.

There is a small chance that individual farms could have contamination issues, and when this occurs, the government likes to point fingers at these farms and hold them up as examples of how dangerous raw milk really is (although people have become ill from contamination, no one has died for over 20 years; we can’t say the same for pasteurized milk).  However, these farms are the exception rather than the rule.  And because the operations are small and the milk is sold either directly from the farm, or locally and still from only one farm at a time, the illness can be quickly traced back to the location and contained.  When you know exactly where the food came from, controlling any contamination issues is easy.

Milk from massive farms can be combined, plus there are literally thousands of cows there.  Trying to pick out the exact source of contamination is extremely difficult, if not impossible, meaning that the outbreak cannot be well-contained.  This makes any pasteurized milk that is contaminated far more dangerous than raw.

Given all these facts, why would the government crack down?  It all has to do with money, and lobbying.  The raw milk movement is growing so quickly that it is beginning to threaten the profits of the dairy industry.  So, they’re trying to shut down the raw milk by making it look dangerous and removing the choice.  The dairy industry cannot compete with raw milk because their entire operation depends on having the cows in confinement.  Cows on pasture need a lot more land, and a lot more “managing,” and the dairy industry can’t do it.  Since they can’t provide safe raw milk, they’ve set out to run a smear campaign against it.

Not only is this smear campaign stupid and wrought with lies, it’s also anti-freedom.  Even supposing that raw milk were more dangerous, we should have the right to choose our food.  The government should not be mandating what we can and can’t eat.  Raw milk is not a drug; it’s not a substance that could make us act crazy or kill people (like street drugs) and it doesn’t infringe on anyone else’s rights.  If you don’t want raw milk, fine, don’t buy it.  But don’t stop people who want it from having it because of some phony “science” and “food safety” nonsense.

The Benefits of Raw Milk

So, I’ve already gone over why raw milk is not dangerous.  But what are the specific benefits?

  • Naturally contains enzymes (including lactase, meaning those who are lactose-intolerant can often drink raw milk)
  • Contains beneficial bacteria
  • Has been shown to clear eczema and allergies, as well as asthma
  • Can often be safely used in people with “dairy allergy” (which could really be to corn or soy the cows are fed)
  • In the past, was used to heal wounds and called “white blood”

We, personally, switched to raw milk about a year ago, and our “dairy allergic” children do not react to it.  Other family members have had the same experience.

If raw milk is left on the counter, it will “clabber” — the enzymes will eat the lactose and the milk will become sour.  But it is not bad, it can still be drunk or used in baking!  Many let their milk clabber on purpose!  Don’t try this with pasteurized milk, though, because that milk will go bad.

Image by NickPiggot

How to Store Raw Milk

Although raw milk that has gone sour is still safe, it isn’t particularly palatable to many.  So, you’ll want to make sure that doesn’t happen!  Raw milk is a little different than pasteurized because of the natural bacteria in it.  Anytime it starts to warm up, all those enzymes and bacteria become more active and start to eat the lactose faster, souring the milk.  In order to keep the milk fresh longer, you want it to stay nice and cold to inhibit the bacterial action!

Raw milk, unrefrigerated, will sour in 1 – 2 days.  Under “ordinary” conditions, it will last about a week.  You can extend this to 2 weeks or a bit more if you keep the milk very cold, and continuously so.

When you pick up your milk, bring a cooler for it.  Ice packs are a good idea too, unless you’re also buying frozen meat from the same source (we do this).  Pack the ice or frozen meat around your milk so that it stays nice and cold.  This is especially important in the summer!  You don’t want any break in the “cold chain,” because any time the milk warms up, even temporarily, those enzymes will go to work on that lactose and sour the milk a little bit more.

When you get the milk home, place it into the fridge immediately.  Push it towards the back and make sure your fridge is set no higher than 40 degrees (38 is even better).  It should last 7 – 10 days in “drinkable” condition, though you can continue to use it for baking for awhile longer, or deliberately clabber what’s left to keep for baking or soaking later, if you want.

We found that when we left our milk in our outside fridge this winter (the fridge itself was set to 40, but the garage temperature was often quite a bit lower), it lasted 2 – 3 weeks without souring at all.  The milk was very cold and occasionally, but not always, got a bit icy or partially frozen.  It never froze completely, and we never had any broken jars (milk should be stored in glass if at all possible; ours was).  It was really nice to be able to leave a gallon out there if it would be awhile between farm trips and know that the milk would still be good!

Uses for Raw Milk

In many cases, raw milk is the same as “other” milk.  You can drink it straight, or mixed with chocolate (I like that a lot!) or strawberries.

You can cook and bake with raw milk, too.  It’s exactly the same as “other” milk.  Don’t boil it, or it will curdle.

Raw milk can also be used to make kefir or yogurt, or clabbered and used in baking (like buttermilk).  Clabbered milk can also be strained, and the whey used for soaking grains (or fermenting veggie/fruit ferments) and the thick part used like cream cheese.  (Don’t try that with pasteurized milk!)  You can also make buttermilk or sour cream with it!  And, of course, butter!

Raw milk is also delicious as ice cream — that recipe is in Real Food Basics!  We love it.  We can eat a batch in one sitting, between the four of us!

Don’t forget to add raw milk to your smoothies (I thin Daniel’s with it every morning so it can go in a sippy cup).

One caution on raw milk: if you are not used to it, do not drink large quantities of it at once.  All that beneficial bacteria means tons of probiotics, and that can cause a die-off reaction.  This occurs when the good bacteria starts killing all the bad bacteria and toxins get released into your system as they’re dying.  That usually amounts to minor stomach cramps and diarrhea.  Raw milk isn’t as “strong” as other types of probiotics (which can cause the same type of reaction, but can also include nausea, headache, loss of appetite, etc.), but it can cause this.  This happened to us for a few days when we first started to drink raw milk, then disappeared.  This is not the same as raw milk that is contaminated!  When this happened to me most recently I never felt “sick,” I just had minor cramps.  I felt really quite well, actually.  If the raw milk were actually contaminated, even a small amount would cause nausea, vomiting, and other unpleasant symptoms that this reaction does not cause.

Dream up more ways!  How do you use raw milk?

Finding the Darn Stuff

Unfortunately, the trickiest part for many is actually finding raw milk.  If you happen to be local (Columbus, OH), please send me an email.  I run a group that orders from a farm that has herd shares available and would love to include others.

In some states, particularly out west, raw milk is legal to buy and available in health food stores.  Sometimes, private buying clubs sell raw milk as well (even if it is not legal to sell otherwise).  Ask at your local health food store if they sell it, or know of a buying club, or even a local farm.  They may know!

In other states, raw milk sales are legal only direct from the farm.  In this case (and it’s really a pretty safe deal, probably the best way to buy!), farmer’s markets are also a good place to ask.  If you know a place sells beef, they may also sell raw milk.  It’s a good idea to know your farmer anyway, so you’re sure that you’re getting milk from a clean, safe operation.  We visit our farmer on a regular basis!

A herd share is a way to get around the law, in states where raw milk sales are illegal.  Basically, you sign a legal contract and pay to “buy” into a herd.  If you own a cow, or part of a cow, then you are entitled to milk from it.  Most contracts will state that you pay a one-time fee to buy into the herd, then a monthly “maintenance fee” for upkeep, feed, etc.  From here it varies.  With some farms you’ll still have to pay extra for the milk.  With many you have to pay the monthly “upkeep” fee whether or not you actually pick up your milk.  Typically, you will have the opportunity to pick up milk once a week, and each share you purchase entitles you to one gallon.  Some farmers are more flexible about this than others.  (Ours doesn’t make us pay if we don’t pick up milk, and we can pick up every two weeks, and get a little more or less than we’re “supposed” to if available.)

In some states, herd shares are also illegal (sigh).  In this case, you may be able to buy the milk “for pet use,” or some farmers will set it out and “suggest” a donation — then you come and get it and leave money.  It’s not *technically* a sale!  Others, especially near s tate line, will go across the state line to get raw milk if the laws are better (although carrying raw milk across state lines is, again, illegal…sigh).

Talk to others at health food stores, farmer’s markets, and other like-minded communities.  You’ll often find “underground” options in these locations.  If raw milk sales are legal, either at the store, direct from the farm, or through herd shares, you can check Eat Wild to look for farms near you.

Do you drink raw milk?  Why or why not?  How did you find your farm or source?


This is the writings of:

Kate is wife to Ben and mommy to Bekah (6.5), Daniel (5), Jacob (3), and Nathan (1.5). She is passionate about God, health, and food. She has written 7 cookbooks and a popular book entitled A Practical Guide to Children's Health. She also recently released Healing With God's Earthly Gifts: Natural and Herbal Remedies, which teaches people to use natural remedies to keep their families healthy. When she's not blogging, she's in the kitchen, sewing, or homeschooling her children.

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35 Comments

  1. We switched to raw milk about 4 months ago and haven't looked back. We found our source word-of-mouth from a family at church. It comes straight from the milk tank at the farm, byob. It takes a little manual labor to get it but it is over $2.00 cheaper per half gallon then another local source whose milk comes bottled.

    Reply

  2. Wow! Thanks for this. Our family is looking into raw milk, and I had no idea it could be illegal to cross state lines with milk. I'm going to have to check my state laws!

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  3. We can't afford to go totally raw milk (as we go through more than 2 gallons a week) but I do get some for drinking (for me). It seems to really help balance my hormonal system so it is totally worth it as far as I'm concerned. It is hard to get though. We do have a Co-op and a farmer's market that sell it here in PA.

    Reply

  4. This is the first that I have about the benifits of raw milk, after seeing a friend repost your blog. I am definatly interested in learning more. Can you possibly explain alittle more about milk allergy a little more. I have never been able to figure out why I have problems drinking regular milk. However, when I drink organic milk I am fine and I can eat regular cheese and yougurt as well.

    Reply

  5. Paige,

    It sounds like you (like many adults) don't digest lactose well. In cheese and yogurt, the lactose has been consumed through the fermentation process. In raw milk, the enzyme lactase is naturally present in the milk, which helps you to digest it. We knew someone who was SO lactose-intolerant that she couldn't eat a small milk chocolate bar without getting very sick. She could drink raw milk just fine, though. There are a lot of other great enzymes and probiotics in raw milk that aid in digesting it, too. If you can find some, try it out!

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  6. Yum! I haven't been able to go get our raw milk in awhile but have been craving it… which tells me I need it. I will have to go get some soon!!!!

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  7. In our province, the sale of raw milk is illegal, but herd shares are not. I've been looking into buying a herd share, unfortunately, our only local source is very expensive, and we wouldn' be able to get enough milk to cover our entire dairy need. In your opinion, what would you use the milk for if you had a limited supply, and where would you supplement with store-bought? Drink raw milk, cook with pasteurized and buy yogourt, butter etc. at the store? I think that's what I'd have to do, there simply would not be enough milk to also use it to make my own yogurt etc.

    Reply

  8. Miika,

    I would definitely use the raw milk for drinking, or other times when it will remain raw — like if you make ice cream or something (we love that!). Buy yogurt, or make it from regular pasteurized milk (not ultra-pasteurized, though I'm sure you know that). I honestly buy yogurt a lot because I don't have time. Trader Joe's has cheap organic yogurt ($3/qt). I buy butter from local Amish farms or other local dairies, but Kerrygold is good too. Cooking with pasteurized isn't bad, but do you have any low-temp pasteurized, grass-fed milk available to you? That's what I buy if I need extra milk or cream and can't get raw. Ultimately do the best you can with what you have!

    Reply

  9. This was a great post! Our family has been using raw milk since we first got married nearly twenty years ago. Thankfully we have almost always know of a local source that we could buy directly, probably because we have lived mostly in rural areas. As you stated, we ought to have the right in every state to purchase raw milk, even if there is "possible risk." This will only come through enough education and public outcry. Our whole agricultural system works better when the consumer knows the source of the food being consumed. It is the only real accountability for good farming practices. Government policies have never been truly effective in achieving and maintaining good practices – just a lot more red tape to cut through.

    Reply

  10. Another awesome article. I am just *LOVING* the blog lately… I appreciate the time and effort you put in, thank you so much! :)

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  11. Hi! I'm new to your blog and really like what you have to say! I do have one little problem with this post, however. Please don't generalize and say that all large farms are bad and thus have unsafe raw milk. We are dairy farmers and milk 500 cows. While the cows are milking, they are in a very clean barn (much cleaner than most small operations) and they don't stand in their own muck. They have clean stalls to go and lay down in. When the cows are "dry," meaning they are pregnant and not milking, they are often out on pasture. The young heifers also get to go outside. Contrary to popular belief, being out on pasture actually is dirtier than being in a clean barn with clean sand to bed down on. Sand does not harbor as much bad bacteria as mud does.

    We used to be a smaller operation and had some problems with our bad bacteria counts being high. Since expanding and moving to our new barns and milking parlor, those counts have seriously dropped. And we have less mastitis now than we ever did.

    As for the cows' diet, they get more than just corn and "vitamins", whatever that means. They have hay, silage, straw, etc. to nibble on. And we don't pump them full of antibiotics. Sure, we treat a cow if necessary and then that milk is dumped (not used) until the antibiotics are out of her system. It's just like most people would treat themselves if they had strep throat or a urinary tract infection. Maybe you don't do that (I haven't been reading long enough to know) but as long as medicine is used in moderation, I believe it's fine. On organic farms you can not treat a sick cow with any antibiotics and I believe that is cruel to our animals not to be able to take care of them properly. Lots of organic farms have high cull rates (how many animals die). We care about our animals too much to have them die.

    My family only drinks our raw milk. I think I've only bought half a gallon of pasteurized milk in the last 5 years. And we are healthier than ever.

    Of course, there are plenty of farms that do fall in the filthy, unsafe category and I do understand why that generalization is often used. I'm just trying to let people know that just because a farmer has more than 30 cows, it doesn't mean their milk is unsafe or dangerous to drink.

    Reply

  12. Would raw milk work for a child who has an allergy to casein which results in excema?

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  13. We drink raw milk and LOTS of it. It's fantastic! Our raw milk actually keeps quite well for 3 weeks or more and I don't even think our refridgerator is all that cold. I guess you just need to jump in and give it a try when you find a source. It's a living food so it's going to vary from farm to farm, cow to cow, season to season.

    I do want to respond to some things in Zoe's comment. There is a big difference between an organic grain-fed farm and a grass-fed farm (certified organic or with organic practices). Some organic farms have practices that I consider less than desirable so I don't buy from them. When a farm is grass-fed, e-coli is almost nonexistant, the cows are healthier and therefore rarely need antibiotics. IF they do, It's not like they just let the infection take over and kill the cow. There is no cruelty. They are treated with natural remedies or removed if antibiotics do turn out to be needed. The cow may be butchered or the milk used for some other purpose. I'm also not worried about the bacteria in the mud. There's lots and lots of beneficial bacteria there if the pasture is properly and naturally cared for the way God intended. Good bacteria in the mud = more nutritious grass = healthy cow = nutritious milk and lots of fertilizing cow poo back onto the pasture. And so the cycle begins again. I am worried about a cow that lives in a overly clean stall away from pasture shaded from the sun and deprived of the things they were designed to need.

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  14. Jen, there are different statistics on all of this. Of course, choose to believe what you want (as in all areas of life) but our cows are treated very well and do not get sick any more often than a cow out on pasture. How do you explain that our cows in our new dairy don't get mastitis nearly as often as they used to do when they were out on pasture during their milking months? I agree that being overly clean is not good (I don't use antibacterial soaps and things in our house…dirt is good!) but it's not like we bathe our cows in antibacterial soap once a day or anything. There is still dirt and bacteria in the sand.

    Like I said, we could go on and on about this. We'll just have to agree to disagree and go on with our happy lives. You can buy your organic, grass-fed whatever and I'll stick with my creamy milk from the big stainless steel tank up the road :)

    Reply

  15. Our family has switched over to raw recently as we are getting back to eating things the way they should be ate. I linked to a couple of your articles on here at the end of my post for further reading. Thanks!
    Sarah

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  16. This is such an awesome post!

    I've been reading about raw milk a lot recently and would LOVE to try it…but it is illegal in Ontario…I think I would only be able to get it in Quebec! (I'll have to convince hubby to go on a summer road trip!).

    I will be asking around at farmer's markets this summer, though…

    Appreciate all the great information!

    Reply

    • kelly, where abouts in Ontario are you? I just heard of a cow share program near Barrie, ON. I can find the exact name and location of the place, if you’re interested.

      I hope that you still see this comment as I know my comment is a year later than yours/

      Reply

  17. We have our own milk cow, and could have others in production, and I keep only one customer. I think it would be a great thing to have more customers and have an income from our raw milk, but the problem I find is that people like to come to the farm, have a visit, let their children run around and disrupt my day. I know city folks love to see the farm and the animals, and that is really great….but some people make a day, or hour of it, and I get behind on my chores, or the kids get behind on their schooling. We believe in, and trust our milk to be healthy. We drink it ourselves and give it to our children. If you can find a local source, that is terrific, but respect your farmer and their family time. I have folks show up here with their grandkids to show them our chickens….unannounced. I think if more folks treated their farm source as a business rather than their family's day out to the petting zoo, their would be many more home dairys willing to sell their milk.

    Reply

  18. Hello Kate,

    I live in Columbus Ohio. I recently saw a naturopath who recommended that I make my own Kefir using whole raw milk. Can you let me know where and how I can get some, and how much it would cost.
    Thanks,

    Michal

    Reply

  19. Great article! I live near the Columbus, OH area and would love to buy into a co-op for milk. Please contact me if you still have openings!!

    Thanks,
    Jim

    Reply

  20. we are also in the columbus area. we currently use snowville creamery milk, but i am interested in the herd share information. thanks!

    Reply

    • Hello Kate
      I’m also in Columbus and very interested in the raw milk, I couldn’t find a way to contact you so maybe you could get in touch with me too, please!
      I am from Brazil and I have been living in the US for around 4 years, and I very much concerned about the food habbits and all the things that they don’t have to put on the labels and all that. so I am looking for alternatives, I am shocked to know all that the government does to these farms and to the public…
      Anyway, please contact me I would really appreciate it!
      Thank you!

      Reply

  21. We have recently began learning about the health benefits of a natural food diet. After a few weeks we can feel the difference. I’m offended to find that my government is not giving me the choice to buy and consume natural raw milk. I would like information on herd shares near Columbus Ohio, and where to affectively voice opposition to these laws that take away our freedom.

    Reply

  22. Hi Kate,
    I am in the Columbus area and would love to get in contact with herd share information. Can you email me the info? I would greatly appreciate it! I tried Facebook messaging you but maybe you didn’t get it.
    Thank you so much in advance. I look forward to hearing from you!

    Reply

  23. Hi there, I’m in the Columbus, OH area and looking for a raw milk source. Can you email me with information? Thanks!

    Reply

  24. Hello,
    I am from Senegal and have been looking to get raw mild for the past couple of month! I am so happy to have found this website. Please send me the info regarding possibilities to have some.

    Thanks

    Reply

  25. Hi!
    I live in the Columbus, OH area and am trying to find raw milk. I I currently am making kefir with organic, pasteurized milk. I would be interested in herd-share information, if it is still available. Could you email me?

    Thanks!

    Reply

  26. Hi Amy, Can you please email give me the contacts or farms that sell raw products in Columbus Ohio? We sampled some from a friend that lives near Cinci and we had some amazing results. It is worth fitting it in the budget!! Thanks!! Jeni

    Reply

  27. Good evening,
    I am in the Columbus, OH area and I am looking for a raw milk source for my children.
    Can you please email me with information?
    Thank you!

    Reply

  28. Hi Kate,
    I live in Reynoldsburg, suburb of Columbus.
    I would greatly appreciate info on where and how to get raw milk.
    Also in winter do the cows on this farm just eat hay?
    Does it effect quality of the milk?

    Reply

  29. Hi! I am interested in getting the information on where I can get raw milk for my family. We live in Delaware, Oh. I am so happy I stumbled onto your blog tonight.

    Reply

  30. I am in Columbus OH and am looking for raw milk. I am interested in herd share info, as well.
    Please message me. Thank you!

    Reply

  31. Hi. I live in Columbus, Ohio and am interested in obtaining raw milk. Can you email me the information regarding the shares that you referred to in the article? Thank you

    Reply

  32. Hi! I just now came across this blog – wonderful, informative, thanks! I’ve been worrying about our family’s health for a while now after being exposed to some of the information in the Maker’s Diet a while back. Recently, my husband and I watched part of a seminar featuring Sally Fallon from the Weston A. Price foundation on youtube and we were both inspired to change our eating habits and diet for good. It’s a little daunting to try to find food you can’t get in the grocery store yet is essential for good health! I ordered Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon’s book on amazon today and can’t wait to start reading it. In the mean time, we’ve got to get a hold of some raw milk. We’re in Columbus, OH and just started our health journey. I’ve been to the eatwild website to look for resources, but someone local such as yourself I’m sure has plenty of valuable information I’m not necessarily finding on the web. If you could, please contact me! Thanks so much! – April M Cook

    Reply

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