How to Choose a Raw Milk Farmer: Raw Milk Safety and Clean Farming Practices
In the last couple of posts, part 1 about the many health benefits of raw milk, and part 2 about safety issues and some logistics, we began the discussions on raw milk. This time in part 3, I want to introduce you to Karen Lubbers of Lubbers Family Farm. (See pictures of our trip to beautiful Lubbers Farm!) I'll just give you a peek into my e-mail folder and start with my note to her and follow it with her response. I hope you enjoy reading…
Hello Karen, I'm thankful you have agreed to write a guest post and help get the word out even more about the benefits of raw milk!
Following are some questions I was hoping you could address:
- Could you talk a little about your farm and how you got into selling cow shares to those who want to obtain raw milk?
- Can you explain specific points for what we should look for when choosing a farmer to obtain milk from? Touch on things like: overall cleanliness, how milk is kept free from contamination, how cows are treated, what cows are fed, what cows should not be given.
- Are raw milk dairy farms inspected by anyone to be sure you're meeting the safety requirements? If so, how often?
- How much does it cost to buy a cow share and how much is the milk each week?
If you can think of other common questions people ask, please feel free to cover that too. I wanted everyone to hear from a farmer, and someone with much more experience than I have with raw milk! Thanks again Karen!
Hi Kelly, I am responding to your questions for a guest post. Thank you so much for asking me!
How we got into sustainable farming and cow shares:
In 1993 our six-year-old daughter was diagnosed with brain cancer. It was the shock of our lives and I began serious research into the origins of cancer, which led, inevitably, to the origins of good health, which led to nutrition. In the mid-nineties nutrient dense food was extremely difficult to find, so we began to raise our own. Our daughter was eating very little, but she would drink milk. The more research I conducted, the more dubious I became about commercial milk, so we did the logical thing and bought a cow. There’s a lot of stories there, but it soon became the most important thing we did. Fast forward fifteen years and Jamie is now twenty-one years old! We raise grass fed meats on our farm, which we sell through a newsletter, and offer a cow share program. Our son operates a bakery called the Little Rooster Bread Company. We rarely buy food (with the exception of coffee beans, salt and some spices). We are grateful.
How to choose a farm/cow share program (16 things to look for):
Choosing a cow share program can be somewhat overwhelming if you haven’t had the experience of owning your own cow. There are several things I would recommend you look for, for optimal raw milk safety:
- Cleanliness is critical – the milk house should be clean.
- A place to wash your hands should be available to you when you pick up your milk.
- Cleanliness procedures for cow share owners should be posted.
- The parlor where the cows are milked should be clean.
- Although manure may gather during milking, it should never be allowed to stay in the parlor once milking is complete.
- There should be a regular schedule for cleaning the milk tank and cleaning of the milk lines should occur with every milking.
- Your farmer should be able to talk with you about the importance of cleanliness and should do so without your prompting.
- The milk should be kept very cold – clean and cold are the two most significant inhibitors of pathogen growth in fresh milk.
- It should be apparent that the farmer is fond of his/her cows. They should be able to tell you stories about individual cows and easily answer any questions you have.
- The cows should have access to fresh water and, in the winter, shelter.
- When they are confined due to bad weather, they should have outdoor access and the opportunity to stand on soil (not just concrete).
- You should, of course, be introduced to the cows. It’s good manners. 🙂
- Ideally, the cows would be a heritage breed with a high cream content. Production will likely be lower, but the quality of the milk will be much better.
- Cows are ruminants (more than one stomach) and have evolved to eat grass. In the summer they should be out on pasture and rotationally grazed (moved to fresh paddocks daily). Ideally, they will be followed by poultry to break up the pathogen cycle without worming. If they are given any grain (small amounts for dairy cows are acceptable—wild ruminants graze small amounts as well), it should be organic and/or local. In the winter they should be fed hay.
- They should NOT be given steroids, growth hormones, estrogens, antibiotics or, really, anything other than real cow food.
- Their pastures should NOT be treated with fungicides, pesticides or herbicides.
Cow share programs are considered a private agreement in Michigan and are, so far, unregulated. Therefore, no organization inspects the cow share programs. Your farmer should maintain a very open policy so you will be able to inspect for yourself.
I am often asked what my best advice is for obtaining good food and my answer is first, to raise it yourself and, second, to know the farmer who does.
A cow share farmer can have the milk tested independently by a lab, and those results should be posted where you can see them.
Costs for a cow share program vary from farm to farm. Generally speaking, you will purchase part of a cow or herd. This is a one-time fee and makes you a legal owner, which is required by law to obtain raw milk in Michigan. If you join a program that sells specific cows, you can take a picture of your cow and post it on your refrigerator. It will give you a serious connection with your food! You then pay the farmer an ongoing boarding fee to care for your cow, feed it and milk it. Again, costs vary but tend to run somewhat higher than organic milk available in the store. All of that milk has been pasteurized, however!
Fresh milk can be used to make many more products than just the drinking of milk. You can make your own butter, yogurt, ice cream, cheeses, etc. Your farmer should be able to teach you how to do this, or direct you to a source that can. This also offsets much of the additional cost of the milk. You can also expect the flavor of the milk to vary somewhat. It’s a living food, and this is part of what makes it so much fun, enjoy!
Karen Lubbers, Lubbers Family Farm
- Part 1 in raw milk series on the many health benefits of raw milk
- Part 2 in raw milk series on safety issues and some logistics
- Part 4 is a testimony from my friend, Michelle, on how she and David decided raw milk was the best choice for their family
- Raw Milk Benefits and Information: Q & A with Mark McAfee
- Book suggestions – on nutrition and more
- Here’s a book on the topic that you’ll definitely want to read: The Untold Story of Milk
- All my posts on fresh raw milk from the farm
- Why everyone should take cod liver oil daily!