Sunday, July 01, 2012

Mooove on down the road

As I've posted before, I own a share in a dairy herd, for which I receive fresh-from-the-farm milk. Today my SO and I braved the fallen branches and dead traffic lights to participate in a tour of the farm.

Pasture's Delights is a small operation, with a growing herd of Ayrshire cows. The animals were friendly, once we lured them out of the barn with apples.

The farm itself was formerly a commercial dairy, so the infrastructure was there, although since the cows are fed no grain, the silos are empty. The soil, dead from years of so-called modern farming methods, has been brought back to life. The animals are pasture-fed, receiving no supplements other than minerals and, in winter, molasses, so the milk is free from hormones and antibiotics.

As part of the tour, we were shown the milking parlor and the sanitation methods were explained. The underside of the cow is wiped down, the individual teats are dipped before milking to clean them and afterwards to close them to bacteria. Samples of each milking are kept in a freezer and once a month, a sample is sent to a lab for testing.

The cows are mechanically milked once a day - it currently is not cost effective for them to milk more often - and the milk goes from cow to stainless steel containers. From these containers, it is poured into a larger tank with a spigot where it is "jugged". The plastic jugs go into a freezer for a few hours, to quickly cool the milk, then into refrigerators.

The farm did not escape damage from the recent storm. Not only did this tree go down, a shed roof fell in (no cows were injured). While some of the surrounding communities were without electricity, the farm had power.

When I started receiving my share of milk from Pasture's Delights, I initially was afraid to drink it because it is not pasteurized; the brainwashed me kept screaming "Danger! Danger!" The logical me found this a bit ridiculous, as milk from commercial dairies has a longer supply chain and the milk is mixed in with the milk from other dairies and shipped long distances, all of which provide many opportunities for contamination in spite of pasteurization.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the issue of "raw" milk. There are news stories that hype the dangers without providing the whole truth. Pasteurization came about because of poor sanitation methods, not because milk is intrinsically bad. When properly handled, fresh milk is perfectly safe to drink.

I am a proponent of farmers being able to produce and sell raw milk directly to the public, but I am NOT in favor of raw milk being sold in stores. For one thing, that would extend the supply chain, inviting opportunities for mishandling. For another, agribusiness would butt in and squeeze out the small, local farm operations. Also, there is value in knowing the person producing the food you eat.

While obtaining fresh milk is more expensive, I consider the money spent to be an investment in my health, similar to buying organic produce and pasture-raised meat. On the other side of the ledger, I have returned to making my own yogurt and have experimented with making cheese, plus I no longer take a calcium supplement.

Some of you don't approve of my consumption of raw milk, and I understand that. But please respect my right to choose my food sources. It is important to me to know where my food comes from and how it is produced.


ErinFromIowa said...

I think it's the smart thing to do. I would do it if I could. I do make my own Greek yogurt... with haha... cartons of milk I get in my meals on wheels.

Jason said...

I don't know enough to have an opinion on the raw milk v. pasteurized issue. I like what you're doing with the dairy farm. If my kids were still at home (a gallon of milk could disappear in a day at one point) I'd look into something like that locally.

There are two questions that occur to me. First, is this milk prohibitively expensive? Second, can you really tell a difference in taste?