How To Find Safe, High Quality Raw Milk

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Written by contributor Tiffany Larson.

Part 2 of 2 in a series talking with Charlotte Smith, the owner of Champoeg Creamery. Charlotte raises jersey cows in St. Paul, Oregon providing over 80 families a week with fresh, high quality raw milk. You can find Part 1 here.

We continued to drink raw milk and I learned all I could about the politics behind it and why it’s so hard to find.  We were spending about $250 per month on raw milk.  Not only did we drink two-three glasses each per day but I was also making our own cheese, butter, yogurt and sour cream, all naturally enzyme-rich foods we needed for great health.  I then realized I had five acres of grass pasture and felt the “calling” to have my own cows.

I was so passionate about providing this luscious and nutritious “white gold” for my family that I began Champoeg Creamery two years ago. Being a small, raw milk dairy truly is a calling – it is not a profitable endeavor due to the constraints of Oregon law.  Raw milk legality varies from state to state and it is legal in about half the states. In Oregon, raw milk sales are legal if you have three dairy cows or fewer, sell the milk directly from the farm, and do not advertise.  We get no government subsidies like pasteurized milk dairies receive, and it’s very hard, dirty work that has to take place twice a day, 365 days a year, 18 degrees and icy or 95 degrees and sweaty.

Raw Milk Quality

I also began producing raw milk because I knew I could produce better raw milk than I could buy anywhere. All raw milk is not the same.  The most nutritious raw milk comes from cows who are:

  • rotated to fresh grass daily
  • eating grass that is 4-7 inches tall and therefore fast growing and at its nutritional peak
  • not returning to the same grass paddock for at least 21 days

Additionally, the safest raw milk is chilled within minutes to 37 degrees Fahrenheit. Healthy cows produce healthy raw milk – healthy cows eat grass, high-quality hay, and very little grain. I knew I could commit to these labor intensive and costly practices to ensure top quality milk.

Raw Milk Safety

The FDA is concerned about the safety of raw milk because if it is not handled properly it can harbor food borne illness causing bacteria, just like any other product. My response to that is that consumers must do their homework. We need to shift from a society that expects the government to provide everything for us so we can act unconsciously, to one of being informed consumers who take the responsibility of buying food for our families very seriously. We mistakenly believe when we go to the grocery store that everything there is safe to bring home and serve our families, however, look at the news and the millions and millions of pounds of food products being recalled on a regular basis, everyday items we buy in the store.

Buying Raw Milk Locally

If you follow the procedures I use to produce safe, clean, and nutritious raw milk, it is very easy to do so.  When looking for a farm to purchase raw milk, I recommend the following:

1. Ask for a tour. If a farmer won’t let you tour their property then I would not buy milk from them. When you meet the farmer they should be open to sharing their practices and answering all your questions. Do you trust this person? Ask for references of several customer’s names and numbers who’ve been getting milk from the farmer for some time and call the customers.

2. Look at the cows out in the pasture.  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?  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 4-5 months of the year?

3. 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 and how are the milk jars sanitized?  Where is the milk handled and is that area clean?  How is the milk chilled? Is it in an ice bath or just placed in a freezer or fridge (cools down much slower which could allow for illness causing bacteria to grow)  How often is the milk tested for bacteria?

4. Ask if they use organic and sustainable farm practices.  No hormones or antibiotics, no GMO grains, 50% or more of the feed coming right off the farm.

Overall, be an informed consumer. Be confident in the choice to drink raw milk so you can educate your friends 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 to drink is safe. Then, in your own home, make sure it’s kept covered in its container and refrigerated.

Photo by cheeseslave

Raw Milk and Health

For seven years now our family has enjoyed excellent health due to introducing raw milk into our diet.  Since incorporating raw dairy products into our lives we rarely get sick, we suffer from no upset tummies and have healthy digestive systems, we rarely spend money on doctors, over the counter or prescription medications.

I drank raw milk all throughout my last pregnancy and my youngest began drinking raw milk as soon as she could hold a sippy cup. She is the poster child for good health – rarely gets colds, has never had antibiotics (she’s almost five) and sports a very strong immune system. She’s in school with 16 other children, being exposed to all sorts of illnesses, but remains infection-free.

I talk with many of my customers who are controlling the symptoms of, or curing a variety of health issues with raw dairy products: eczema, asthma, allergies, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, autism, osteoporosis slowing, quicker healing of bones after surgeries, and many comments of overall stronger immunity. Every time I listen to a customer’s anecdotal evidence I am more inspired to get up and go out in the weather, 365 days a year, to produce the nutritious food that is helping people recover good health.

I also give cheese classes on the dairy so attendees can have the farm experience of making cheese from milk directly from the source. It’s a wonderful way to give people the opportunity to be connected to their food.

Does your family drink raw milk? If not, what are your concerns about drinking raw milk? Do you have any other questions for Charlotte about producing or using raw milk?

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About Tiffany

Tiffany can’t remember a day of her childhood spent inside. She was riding bikes, rollerblading, building forts or playing in the snow. Her mother raised her on healthy food before it became popular and only when she had her first child, did the importance of a healthy lifestyle become a priority again. She is passionate about passing on her love for the outdoors and a healthy lifestyle to her two young children and her family spends their free time on the snow, water, dirt or road! She also loves interior design, reading, playing tennis, photography and has a small obsession with coupons. Tiffany can be found on Facebook at Mommy Goes Green and as a contributor at The Creative Mama

Comments

  1. I wish I could! But here in Norway, I’ve been told that all the farmers have made a deal with the dairy industry that they will not sell to anybody else. And noone keeps cows if not to sell the milk, so… No raw milk for me unless I get a cow of my own.
    Jeanette´s latest post: Dealing with PMS Naturally

    • You might try realmilk.com – there is actually a listing for a farm in Norway. Here’s what it says:

      Holmestrand: Skaarbu Gård with farmer Gustav Koot has raw milk available in liter bottles. He makes gouda raw milk cheese pluss other dairy products. Cows are pasture fed, farm is biodynamic. Due to strict health regulations in Norway you can buy raw milk directly from the farm, but only “occasionally”!!! Langelivn. 12 3080 Holmestrand. Tel: 0047 – 92293266 Web: http://www.skaarbu.no

      Maybe this farm is convenient? Also, you can still get the health benefits if you have to pick it up only occasionally but can freeze some to make fresh kefir or yogurt from later.
      charlotte smith´s latest post: Let’s Make Butter!

    • Jeanette

      farmers in Norway do sell raw milk to people. Not all, but any farmer I have asked over the years. Most farmers do not believe the bullshit about raw milk being bad, and so don’t care about government regulations. They have no, btw, made a deal with the dairy industry, but are harassed by the norwegian version of FDA, mattilsynet. If you ask a farmer about buying raw milk and he or she hesitates, you could always say it is for your pets or that you will make cheese (involves heat in many cases).

      Have fun :-)

      Peter

  2. I just moved to PA and there’s a small organic/natural foods store within walking distance of my home. They carry raw milk there. I was excited to learn that. It is brought in once a week. It’s convenient. Should I still go visit the farm? It is carried at the store at the request of the shop owner. The shop owner even requested that they create nice paper labels for the milk containers and it is placed in the usual plastic containers so that more people would be inclined to try raw milk. Also… do I lose the value of raw milk when I heat it on the stove for a hot drink?

    • In PA the dairies have to have a permit and be inspected by the PA dept. of Ag. in order to sell raw milk so that should give some comfort. It really varies from state to state. It would still be nice for you to know how much time the cows spend eating grass in pastures and what breed they are.

      Enzymes and the “good” bacteria start to be destroyed as you heat the milk over 115 degrees, so the more “lukewarm” you keep the milk the more benefit you will have. Sometimes we have to make hot chocolate or something and just appreciate that even though we’ve probably destroyed most of good stuff, we still began with very high quality milk.
      charlotte smith´s latest post: Let’s Make Butter!

  3. Are the benefits of goat’s milk the same? That is all I can find in an hour distance.

  4. I would love to visit your dairy sometime. I actually live close enough I could.

    I have all the raw milk I want from a friend. They have a jersay and a guernsey. And milk them by hand for themselves and let us partake of the “leftovers”.

    I learned a bit about the legalities in OR form this post. Thank you.

  5. we do this with goats <3
    thefisherlady´s latest post: my favourite things/everything all glory grace

  6. In many states that raw milk is illegal, you may be able to find farms who sell for “animal use”. You can find these by visiting your local farmers markets and talking to people to find a supplier that way, IF you feel strongly about having raw milk.
    Bernice
    Successful Woman’s Resource Center´s latest post: 10 easy meals for busy nights

  7. Thank you so much for these posts. We do not drink raw milk but I’ve felt for awhile that this just might end up being my next baby step. I’ll have to get my husband on board first though! Thankfully there are several sources for raw milk in our area. I’m glad for the advice on choosing which on would be the best.

  8. Charlotte, it seems like you began giving your baby raw milk before she turned 1? My family has recently switched to raw milk. My 10 month old, who is on formula, is constantly sick with colds, ear infections, etc. Do you know of any research/ evidence that supports supplementing formula with raw milk for babies? He has been doing fine with homemade yogurt, so surely its fine, but I’m still a little nervous to break the “don’t give your baby cow’s milk before 1 year” rule.

    • One of our family’s most reliable resources is the “Nourishing Traditions” cookbook by Sally Fallon who also founded the westonaprice.org website which is full of valuable info. She devotes a section to “Feeding Babies” and has recipes for homemade formulas. She addresses how properly produced raw milk does not pose a danger to your child if it is from grass-fed cows not eating soy,

      She also addresses why formula feeding may be one cause of your son’s illness. Yes, my daughter began drinking small amounts of raw milk at about 9 months with no allergies or upset stomach ever. She never ate any processed foods but instead ate many of the foods found in Sally’s book – soft boiled egg yolks, etc… And she’s so healthy today at almost 5 years old – never an ear infection or allergy of any sort!

      Good luck on your research – the weston price website is packed full of good info!!
      Charlotte Smith´s latest post: Let’s Make Butter!

      • Fallon is loose with her science. Crafts it to her own ends and doesn’t always understand how things work. Picks little things and runs off with them. Seems to be popular with folks anyhow. Be safe as you can with raw milk, if you risk it at all. People get sick more often from it.

  9. I have loved these posts. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I grew up on raw milk and both my brother and I were very healthy children and continue to be as adults. Several years ago I was able to find raw milk (it’s illegal in our state to sell it) but then our source moo-ved on (sorry – I couldn’t resist!) and now I’m in the process of finding a new raw dairy source for our family with small children. It’s magical and the cream is one of the most healing substances you can find. Of all the things in the world to worry about, drinking raw milk would not be one of them! (I would be much more concerned about consuming a Lunchable or soda pop! :))
    Roxy Schow´s latest post: my sweetie pies

  11. Nice article, thanks for the information.
    rental mobil jakarta´s latest post: GRIYA MOBIL KITA (021-71 386 345) | JASA RENTAL – SEWA MOBIL DI JAKARTA

  12. We are currently in the process of searching for acreage where we can have a family cow, sheep and chickens (our current chickens are city legal but not permitted due to our neighborhood covenants) all while wanting so much to stay in the high mountains and it’s become a chore to find acreage that isn’t being regulated by an HOA! Why would I buy 5+ acres and not be able use it for food? No gardens, no livestock, no poultry, no cutting of your own trees, no, no no. As of right now we have no reliable raw milk dairies within a reasonable driving distance so I go for the next best thing, low-temp pasteurized, grass-fed, non-homogenized whole milk until we find our elusive acreage for my own cow :)

  13. Very informative articles – thank you! I live in Wisconsin, the “dairy state”, and raw milk is illegal here. Go figure. :(
    Becky´s latest post: We Have a Walker!

  14. Where can I go to find out if it is legal in my state? I live in Indiana.

    Also, how long does it keep safely in the fridge?

    • Hi Gwen,
      I’m in Indiana, and while I haven’t taken the plunge to raw milk yet, I have been researching it. It is legal in Indiana if you are part of a cow share. Meaning that you pay a certain amount to purchase a share of the herd of cows, therefore you “own” them and have a right to drink the milk that they produce. I’m not sure where you are in Indiana, but I am in South Bend, and I have found a few different farms that provide raw milk locally. You can check the site mentioned above – realmilk.com to find a farm near you. Hope that helps!
      Emily @ Live Renewed´s latest post: Dreaming of A Green Christmas – Koko by Cosmoda Lunch Bag Giveaway!

  15. I know this is an older post but I was wondering if freezing raw milk ruins it’s enzyme qualities? It is a help to me to be able to purchase quite a bit and then freeze some of it until we are ready to drink it. I’ve never heard anyone post about raw milk and mention if you can freeze it or not without losing it’s nutritional value. I know that heating it ruins it but what about freezing? Thanks,
    Jen
    http://www.realfoodhealthyliving.com

    • Yes, you can definitely freeze it and retain the integrity of the milk and its nutrition. When you thaw it the cream will still have small lumps in it which I don’t like the texture of in my mouth, so I don’t use thawed raw milk for drinking. Instead, I drink fresh and freeze extra for smoothies, yogurt, kefir, ice cream, butter – even cheese.

      There are some studies out there that show a minimal loss of some of the vitamins, but it is still far better than a pasturized product would be.

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