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Find Safe Raw Milk

 New Year’s Resolution – Drink it Raw!

Every January begins with my inbox filling up with requests for raw milk as people  researching their resolution to eat healthier stumble upon the health benefits of this delicious and nutritious traditional food.  Due to Oregon laws only allowing for a couple of cows if you’re going to sell it raw, I can’t increase my milk production, even though my waiting list is approaching the 6 month mark.

This is frustrating for both sides – I’d truly love to be able to provide milk to everyone who needs it for their immune system, eczema, allergies, auto-immune diseases, overgrowth of yeast, osteoporosis and the myriad diseases and disorders people I talk to are using it for.  But I’m maxed out on production, so the best I can do is offer them tools to seek out their own safe milk.

Our Right and Responsibility To Choose Our Food

Since farm-fresh, unpasteurized milk is only available on the farm and not in stores, you the consumer must do your legwork to find it and make sure it’s safe.  The raw milk industry in Oregon is unregulated – dairies are not inspected and there are no food safety requirements to sell raw milk.

What Do I Look For?

Before purchasing raw milk from a farm please do some legwork to keep your family safe.  If a farmer follows the proper procedures to produce safe, clean, and nutritious raw milk, it is very easy to do so every time.  When looking for a farm to purchase raw milk from, I recommend the consumer take the following steps, none of which are cost-prohibitive and all are easily attainable by all raw milk producers, whether you have 1 cow or 50.

1. Only drink raw milk from farms who test their milk at least monthly and can show you results in the format of “Standard Plate Count” and “Coliform Count.”  If the farm doesn’t or won’t test for this, do not drink their milk.  

2. Ask for a tour. 

Do not buy milk from a farm until you tour the facility – milking parlor, pastures, barn for winter shelter, feed/water areas, milk processing and storage area.  When you meet the farmer they should be open to sharing their practices and answering all your questions. Do you trust this person, what they say and do? Ask for references of several customer’s names and numbers who have been getting milk from the farmer for some time and call the customers.  Ask them how they like the milk and how long it stays fresh (7-14 days minimum).

3. Look at the cows out in the pasture/winter barn.

Are the cows on tall (4″-8″) green grass vs. dirt? Or in wintertime are they in a covered shelter with deep, clean bedding underfoot with little visible manure around? Are the cows clean, is the feeding area clean, is the barn clean, how does the place smell? How many cows are on the property vs. the acres of grass?  Are the cows rotated to fresh pasture daily?  Every 2 or 3 days?  Does the farmer have access to irrigation so the cows are on fast-growing grass for 9 months of the year, or is the grass gone by July, meaning the cows are truly grass-fed only 3-4 months of the year? Tall grass pasture keeps the cows cleaner and therefore the milk safer to produce.

Healthy cows have sleek shiny coats all winter long.

Healthy milk cows such as Jerseys, Guernseys, and Holsteins do not grow shaggy winter coats.  Healthy cows being fed properly have smooth, shiny coats year round.  If it’s shaggy, long, dull then they are not getting their proper nutrition and this will affect the safety of the milk.  The photo on the left was taken a couple weeks ago on a sunny December day that was freezing cold and represents healthy cows with sleek, shiny coats.

4.  What does the farmer feed the cows, in addition to pasture?  

The most nutritious and safest milk comes from grass fed cows on tall, green pasture.  These cows should be supplemented with some kind of grain, perhaps rolled barley or oats, and also hay throughout the summer to balance their rumen.  They need minerals daily properly balanced with their feed.  In the winter months when grass is not growing the feed should include high-quality grass and alfalfa hay, a few pounds of some grain balanced with proper minerals.

5. Look at the milking area.

Is it clean? A dirt floor in a barn can be a clean place to milk, look to see if it is free of manure and bedding.  How is the milking equipment cleaned? (vinegar/water rinse, hot soapy water rinse, “Clean In Place” dairy sanitation.)  And how are the milk jars sanitized? Where is the milk handled and is that area clean?  How is the milk chilled (jars immersed immediately in ice bath is ideal)? If the milk is just placed in a freezer or fridge it cools down much slower which could allow for illness causing bacteria to grow.

6.  Testing.  

How often is the milk tested for bacteria? Cows should be tested daily to weekly with the California Mastitis Test and at least monthly milk samples should be sent to a lab for cultures. Ask to see the written results of lab tests which must include a coliform count of less than 50 and a Standard Plate Count of less than 15,000.  The farm should be able to provide the past 3 months lab test results and have the current month’s lab results posted in the milk pickup area.  Testing costs $30 per month so is very affordable and absolutely mandatory in order to produce safe raw milk.

7. Ask if they use organic and/or sustainable farm practices.

No hormones; occasional antibiotics only when necessary, 50% or more of the feed coming right off the farm.  Regular vaccinations should be used following an organic dairy plan.

8.  The farm should be a member of FTCLDF.

Membership for Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund is $125 per year and the benefits far outweigh the cost.  Please support your raw dairy producer in becoming a member – if they can’t afford testing or FTCLDF membership then take the initiative to set up a donation fund – guaranteed they will quickly raise the $125 annual fee to join and additional funds for testing.  Or, support them in increasing the cost of the milk to cover these two items.

Overall, be an informed consumer. Be confident in the choice to drink raw milk so you can educate your friends and family who will ask how you can be sure it’s safe. If you follow these procedures then you will be assured the milk you bring home is safe to drink. Once you bring your milk home make sure it’s kept covered in its container and refrigerated to 37-40 degrees F.

Consumers of raw milk in Oregon also have the responsibility to educate themselves on the high costs involved with producing hand crafted food on a small scale.

If raw milk dairies are following the proper procedures for feeding and handling the cows and the milk, they are lucky if they cover the costs of production.  It is a very difficult lifestyle to own dairy cows on this small scale.  If you plan on enjoying the remarkable taste and health benefits of raw milk, plan on paying what it’s worth.

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • KleverOne January 6, 2013, 7:51 am

    Charlotte,
    Great piece. Very informative. I plan to take a copy to our local farmer and see if we can’t help move in this direction. Thank you!

    • Charlotte Smith January 6, 2013, 8:41 pm

      Wonderful!! Consumers can definitely support their farmers in achieving these safety standards. And if they need help/support/questions answered we have lots of resources and people that can mentor.

  • Mischna Ong February 21, 2013, 2:41 am

    thanks for this post!

  • Mindy Stone October 9, 2013, 1:13 am

    I currently live in Alameda County California. I buy my raw milk at the grocery stores (Berkeley Bowl and Mandela Food Co-op) and love the convenience and FREEDOM to buy milk that is actually HEALTHY for me (and is the first time in my life that I am drinking milk regularly w/ pleasure). I’ll be moving to OR in the next month and am worrying about how I will get my weekly supply of raw milk (I’m moving to Lane County). I want to change the laws in OR to make raw milk available to anyone who wants to buy it. Thanks for doing your part!

    • Charlotte Smith October 9, 2013, 7:55 pm

      Mindy, I’m so glad you wrote!! I was having dinner with Mark McAfee when you wrote, showed him your email since I’ll bet you buy Organic pastures milk at Berkeley Bowl. We chuckled!! Email me at champoegcreamery@gmail.com and I’ll send a few dairy names to you.

      xx
      Charlotte

      ps – would LOVE your help on legislation 🙂 we can chat.

  • LaVonne Blowers July 10, 2015, 12:49 pm

    Charlotte, we just bought our registered Holstein this week and she is producing 6 gallons of milk daily, more than we can handle. Your article is very helpful and I will proceed to follow your suggestions. Is there folks out there that you could direct to me that are interested in raw milk? We live in Molalla, OR, not far from you. Looking forward to hearing from you.

    • Charlotte Smith July 11, 2015, 7:41 pm

      Hi LaVonne – congrats!!! Have you tried putting your info on realmilk.com yet? That’s where most local people go to find a raw milk source. Probably the best place for you to start.

      Best of luck!!

      Charlotte

    • Angie Franco December 16, 2016, 5:58 pm

      I am interested in raw milk. Please send me some contacts since you are so booked out?
      Please and thank you!

    • Angie Franco December 16, 2016, 5:59 pm

      I am in Keizer Oregon

  • Karen Wildish September 12, 2016, 10:55 pm

    Hi Charlotte,
    We met at the Mother Earth News Fair and at the Weston Price conference in Anaheim. We have started selling milk from our one dairy cow. Can you direct me to a lab for the milk testing? We are in the Eugene area. Thanks so much.

    Karen

    • Charlotte Smith September 18, 2016, 7:51 pm

      Hi karen – I’d suggest you contact Udder Health Systems in Bellingham WA and also the Vet School at OSU and you should be able to work something out with either of them. Or perhaps ask your own dairy vet, too – they should be able to do basic cultures as well or refer you somewhere.

      Good luck!
      Charlotte

  • Fallon johnson November 30, 2016, 5:02 am

    We just got a bred Guernsey cow for our family. She is due any day now. I am interested in testing the milk to make sure it is safe for our consumption, and sharing with friends. Do you have any reccomendations on testing labs in the Northern California region? I am googling and not finding any sources of information regarding facilities to send for proper testing. I looked into “udderhealthsystems” that you’ve referenced but am afraid it may be to far. We are located in Mendocino county in California. Thanks! Love your site, I’ve been watching your videos, reading and learning so much! Thank you for being a solid resource for us!

    • Charlotte Smith November 30, 2016, 7:39 pm

      Ask your local vet or also why don’t you start a new post in the “profitable farm” facebook group and ask there – I know we have some other producers in CA just don’t remember who. Shawna Barr is in the Shasta area. I’m sure someone will have an idea for you!

      Good luck!

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