Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Raw Milk: An Introduction and Brief History

Seriously, where does one begin to discuss the benefits of raw milk? With it's history? It's benefits? The myths? Or how about the political war on raw milk? 

I know... too many questions. And too many answers. There are more books written on this subject than I realized! So, I selected two from Amazon and I'm about to dive into the subject. Not that I need convincing, but I need facts. Hard facts that I can lean on in a friendly debate, because whenever you mention you're a raw milk drinker, you typically get only one of two looks in return... gleams of admiration or stares of absolute stupidity. 

My recent poll leads me to think that most of you are fellow "drinkers" or wannabes. But alas, the laws restrain you or make it difficult for you to obtain this precious treasure. A few might even confess to having some contraband in their refrigerator at this very moment! That being the case, much of the "raw milk" info may be old news. However, please don't run off just yet. Your fellow sisters are in need of encouragement that this is worth hunting for! Your input is needed to help convince the rest that it's actually OKAY to drink raw milk.

Let me state what raw milk is and isn't. It isn't pasteurized (heated to kill all bacteria, destroying enzymes and diminishing vitamins) and it isn't homogenized (where the milk fats are broken down never to come together again.) Nothing has been added back in to make it "enriched" or "healthy". It's milk that comes straight from the cow or goat and consumed as God made it.  

That said, I think knowing some of the history is the logical place to begin. For example, people have had raw milk for centuries upon centuries and pasteurized milk didn't come on the scene until the late 1800's. So pasteurization is actually a fairly recent phenomenon. Knowing why pasteurization became necessary will help relieve a lot of fear, confusion, and ignorance on our part.

Due to a series of events (mainly the industrial revolution), people who originally lived in rural areas and had their own dairy cow or goat, were now living in the city and working in various industries. No longer did they have access to milk straight from their own livestock. Of course, someone with entrepreneurial ideas decided that they would keep cattle next to the newly popular distilleries and feed them the bi-product or waste from the spirits that were being made. And as you can imagine, they had to do some slight of hand type tricks to get the cows to consume the stuff; cut off water, food, etc.

Unfortunately, cows were not designed to consume this kind of thing (have we heard that before?) and the milk they started producing was poor in quality to say the least. Add to that the fact that the cattle were now confined and standing in their own feces, developing diseases (Hmmm... have we heard that, too?). This milk was sold and taken home where no refrigeration existed (not that it would have mattered at this point as the milk was toxic already) and it was treated much like it had been when people lived on farms. It seemed reasonable to do what they had always done, right? (Before anyone emails me, I understand that some distillers grains can be nutritious, but this was different. I'm assuming they didn't know any different, but it was one of those "too much of a good thing" moments along with the lack of sanitary conditions that created the disaster). 

You can imagine what happened from here. Children particularly started dying. And like good Americans, more than one person worked to solve it. But each had his own idea of how that should look. One individual, Dr. Henry Coit, worked to get dairy standards in place (apparently by farmers voluntarily agreeing to the standards, not forced). Another individual, Nathan Straus, felt that the new method of pasteurization recently developed by Louis Pasteur was the better route. Because of Straus' wealth, he was able to promote this scientific solution to a fearful American audience. 

I need to insert here that Louis Pasteur isn't the bad guy. He developed this process with good intent and for a different purpose all together - to prevent beer and wine from souring. And really, I don't think Straus had wrong motives either. I think he truly believed pasteurization was not only a viable alternative, but the best solution to an alarming crisis. Both Straus and Hoit had lost children to the deadly milk and I'm sure they wanted to make a difference. 

Photo Credit: sweetbeatandgreenbean

Today, we are better able to step back and look at the evidence that has continued to build since the late 1800's and make a more informed choice. However, I feel three big factors prevent Americans from waking up to the truth:

1) Ignorance. This stuff happened generations ago. I had no idea about the information I just wrote until a few years ago. We have been raised to believe that pasteurized milk is good, raw milk is bad. Honestly, I didn't even know their was such a thing as raw milk until I was in FFA in high school and I started judging dairy cattle. Seriously!! I didn't grow up on a farm. I lived on the edge of a small town and my mom bought our milk at the store. I just never stopped to think about it. And guess what? Our kids won't either unless we talk to them about it first!

2) Fear. What we don't know, we fear. And we don't know raw milk. We haven't produced it, seen it, smelled it, or tasted it. Certainly raw milk can be contaminated. So can anything coming from a farm - like spinach! (I'm assuming you read the news.) Yes, organisms live on farms. And they can live in our homes. But maintaining good, but sensible sanitary measures makes a world of difference. We've become the generation of NO bacteria to the exclusion of GOOD bacteria. Folks, we're throwing the baby out with the bath water! We need a good education on the subject of bacteria in general.

3) Money. Do you know what it would cost for farmers to make some changes to go raw? I don't. But I can assure you, it isn't just a matter of stopping the heating process. Daily inspections, new sanitation methods, retraining employees, on and on... And our government. How much money would it cost if they made these changes? Hiring and retraining more inspectors, rewriting standards, educating farmers, on and on... I'm not saying it shouldn't be done. All I'm pointing out is that when money is involved, people don't won't to upset the apple cart. Now corporations have made an investment and they don't want to loose their dollars.

Whew! That's a lot of info. Is anyone still reading at this point? I'm just skimming the surface here, but I hope to do more posts on this subject because I feel it is so important. And I'm assuming some of you have more questions that are running around in your head. I'm no expert. I'm just a wife and a mom. But I'll try to do this subject justice. Just be patient with me.

Second Annual Raw Milk Symposium - April 10, 2010 - Madison, WIFor anyone in the Madison, Wisconsin area, I want to mention the Second Annual Raw Milk Symposium on April 10th. Speakers will include Sally Fallon Morell (Nourishing Traditions author) and Mark McAfee (CEO of Organic Pastures Dairy - where I get my own raw cow milk) among others who are pioneers in the raw milk movement. The agenda looks fabulous. Wish I could be there! But perhaps you can! For more information, be sure to visit the Farm-To-Consumer Foundation


Second Annual Raw Milk Symposium - April 10, 2010 - Madison, WI


  1. Wanna-be here. Have to say, we've only ventured as far as the organic jug'o'milk. but I'm not far from the raw. Knowing what you've described, working on understanding why all of the processes are really necessary, if they are at all, is important. I heard the Omnivore's Dilmma fellow say (yes I watched that episode on Oprah) say 'if you can't pronounce most of the ingredients' and if your great grandmother wouldn't recognize it as a food....
    Well, it seems it would behoove us to question the food and the processes it undergoes to see if it's really necessary.
    The other day I refused a flouride treatment on my teeth at the dentist (we don't have flouride in our water)... I know this is a digression, but it's my body, & if I don't want extra flouride, I don't have to have it. Just because a dr. says it, or a food manufacturer says it, I don't have to do it or eat it.
    Thanks Amy, as always- Laura

  2. Fantastic information! I'm allergic to milk, but I could tolerate raw milk when I was pregnant. It's sooooo good for you.

  3. A great post with lots of interesting information. I will grab your button and put it on my blog....


  4. Great post. There is a lot of fear about fresh milk but there seems to be a changing tide. I love the comparative abundance of information that is becoming available to the public. I am fortunate enough to have the desire and ability to own Jersesy cows and can't imagine going back to store bought dairy or not!

  5. Ahh, so that's how it started. Thanks for the great post on Raw milk. We currently drink our milk raw right from our Nubian Dairy goats. It sure changes the perspective when you can hug and pet your milk supplier. GRIN.

  6. Great post! My family has been drinking raw milk for a couple years now and just last year we switched from cow milk to goat milk, which is supposed to be easier on the digestive system. Thanks for the great post!

  7. Please, can you write a blog article explaining how easy it is to pasturize you own milk at home! Easily find instructions by googling "pasturize milk at home".

    I believe this would really help people who are afraid of raw milk to at least get the benefits of whole, nonhomogenized milk from a local ranchers into bodies. If they feel better about heating the milk at home then so be it, at least that would encourage relutants to experiment with a much more wholesome product. Maybe they would try the milk raw and eventually gain the confidence needed consume it raw on a regular basis.

    I would never heat my milk, but I do culture and drink about 2 gallons a week. I prefer cultured to raw cause culturing elimnates the lactose (sugar) present in raw milk, and we stickly limit our sugar intack.

    And don't forget, if you buy processsed food only buy food with an Organic label, it is the only to avoid GMO - for now. Or don't buy processed foods at all, get raw ingredients from farmers and ranchers you trust and make all your own foods at home.

  8. oh my,i can't believe you are posting about this today. i have just recently been searching for a source of raw milk near me. (almost impossible) seems we are talking about a lot of the same things lately. i don't have time to really read this, i'm late this morning, but i will be back later, i am so excited to see what you have to say on this subject because i will admit, i am a bit scared. just wanted to say hi and loving your info!

  9. I wonder how the difference between raw and "store" milk would affect those with lactose intolerance or other dairy allergies? My daughter hasn't ever been able to drink milk. It isn't a lactose issue, it was just that she broke out in a rash on her face within 15 minutes of drinking milk. So I stopped giving her milk. Kind of a "well duh" thing but we never did figure out what exactly the problem was. She can have yogurt, cheese, butter, sour cream, you-name-it, just not milk. Anyway, I think I can get raw milk in my area but I don't know if it would make a difference. I also wonder how long it stays good in the fridge for? We don't drink much milk anyway.

  10. Thanks for the awesome comments everyone!

    Talitha, everyone is different, but my lactose intolerant daughter can drink raw milk just fine because it sill has the enzymes in it that are needed to digest the lactose. Usually, raw milk is sold in smaller quantities such as a half gallon. It doesn't go "bad" as much as it starts to sour after a while - which makes it great for baking if you don't like sour milk. Goat milk can start to taste kind of "musky" but if it gets too strong, again I just use it for baking.

  11. I sooo want to start using raw milk, that I would be willing to visit a farm and milk the cow myself! I have been casually looking around, but I will start to look a little harder! Thanks for all of the work and reasearch. I want to learn more about culturing to eliminate the lactose.

  12. Laura, I'm not sure about the lactose thing. But I know that my daughter who is lactose intolerant can drink it straight from the goat or cow without culturing it. Of course we do some of both, but if you find some you might try it and see.

    Did you talk to the people at Bread Beckers about where they get their raw milk? I believe Sue mentioned that they drink raw milk from a certified dairy somewhere in Florida or Georgia.

  13. So interesting! Raw milk is an avenue we haven't started down yet...mainly because it is so expensive. Lassen's sells it for close to $8 a gallon which is no bueno on our food budget. However, it is definitely something I'd like to be able to give my family in the future!

  14. My goodness. I keep thinking you will soon run out of these great topics, but they keep coming!:-) A cousin has shared with us his raw milk share when he's gone out of town- we always use it to make yogurt. I wish raw milk was easier to come by and less expensive. Hopefully before too long it will be more readily available. Thanks for the history on the subject- fascinating!

  15. Great post, Amy! I recently switched my husband and I over to raw milk. I'm going to show him your post because he is still a little leary about drinking milk "straight from a cow teat," as he so eloquently put it. Thanks, as always, for sharing your research!

    PS - For anyone who lives in the Seattle Area, Central Market carries raw milk from Lynden.

  16. Thank you for sharing on this important topic, Amy! We found a source for raw milk early last summer and haven't turned back since. I know raw milk is usually more expensive, but in our case it is cheaper than the ultra-pasteurized organic milk in the grocery store. We are so blessed! The boys have thrived and when I had to stop nursing our youngest when he was nine months due to pregnancy, he went right onto raw milk with absolutely no problems and no issues with his iron levels.

  17. Our family has enjoyed raw milk for many years with no problems. BUT we have personally known our farmers, and I probably wouldn't buy it any other way. We have seen them milk many times, seen the pasture their cows graze on, seen the care they receive. I don't really trust government certification as much as I do my own eyes! Raw milk was not meant to be distributed on an industrial scale; small and local is where it is safe. We are currently looking for a new supplier as our son ran off with and married the farmer's daughter, literally, and now they won't sell to us:-/ Nobody around here is enjoying the lack of good milk!

    As for milk allergies, I was not permitted to drink milk until I was a teen because of allergies in my family. As a young mom, I was told that children were far less likely to develop an allergy to milk if they weren't fed cow's milk too young, and that they would usually outgrow it if they did have a problem. My daughter-in-law is lactose intolerant, but she does fine with raw milk and raw milk cheeses.

  18. Raw milk is the best tasting .. we had milk cows on the farm and remember the 1st time tasting store milk .. a BIG YUCK! then the cows were sold and had store milk for over 40 more years .. then 6 years ago we moved to a village in Ukraine where we could buy fresh milk (still warm) from a lady down the street, cream rising to the top ... my husband's lactose intolerant but the raw milk didn't bother him at all

  19. well after reading i feel more informed. i guess the bottom line is for me to find a farm that i have confidence in and feel that they are really doing what they need to do to keep thing safe. there is no other barrier for me,i am in. i want raw milk and if it means having my own cow i am down with that too! just loving all you have to say as it is so inline with what i am feeling and doing right now!!!

  20. Anyone living in California can obtain quality raw milk from Organic Pastures Dairy in Fresno. That is where we currently get ours from. It used to be that we could buy it locally from a farm here in our county but they have since withdrawn their program. So, until we get our own Jersey, Organic Pastures is the dairy for us.
    My family has been drinking raw milk now for over 4 years. I have had 3 babies in that time and drank raw milk all throughout my pregnancies. My children also have had raw milk since their infancy. If I ever needed to supplement while nursing, I used the Raw Milk Formula recipe that Sally Fallon has in her Nourishing Traditions book. While breastmilk is ALWAYS best, raw milk from healthy, organic, pastured cows is next in line!
    I make buttermilk and yogurt with our raw milk and as soon as we have our own cow I will also be making raw milk butter, sour cream and cheese.
    It is truly a shame that more people aren't aware of the fantastic benefits of raw milk!

  21. I milk and drink our Dexter cows milk and she gives us pure white, sweet, creamy milk. It has the most amazing taste. I have been drinking it for about 2 years now. Interestingly enough I have not had so much as a cold in all that time. Last Yr I had to buy raw jersey milk while my cow went on her two month maternity leave. It was expensive. This yr. a friend fellow Dexter owner has offered to lend me one of her first time heifers to train to milk. Ill keep her here until my cow calves and I can milk her again. I make yogurt and butter and just purchased some keifer grains try for the first time. Having your own milk supply is a real treat. I encourage anyone who has the space and time to do it. Its worth its weight in gold in so many ways.

  22. Oh yes, I did not mean that raw milk could not be used for babies. I too have seen the raw milk formula recipe in Nourishing Traditions, although I never tried it personally. I was very very blessed to breastfeed for about 20 years straight with no problems. The doctor who told me never to feed cow's milk to young children was definitely referring to pasteurized, homogenized, dead store *milk*.

    As to those whose budget cannot tolerate $8 per gallon for milk, the first thing we did to make it affordable was change the amount of milk we thought we needed! Before we learned about this style of eating, we bought eight gallons of milk per week at the grocery. When we switched to raw milk and whole foods, we bought two gallons per week (for 16 people)and made that work. Obviously there were some changes in how we used milk! But after becoming used to raw milk, and really believing in it, it is almost imnpossible to buy that stuff at the store.

    How I would love to have a cow, but by the time we can do that, the milk will be for the grandchildren:-) Or maybe the great-grandchildren...

  23. Thank you for this post! it was very timely. We have goats, but none that are in milk right now. We would like to get a milk cow, but are just not able to at this time. :-)

    God Bless!
    The Country Helpmeet

  24. I did some research for this area... we have a GREAT organic dairy nearby... but their website didn't show any raw milk. Come to find out, it is ILLEGAL to sell raw milk in the state of Montana. Are you kidding me??? I'm shocked. I do head west pretty often though, so I may be able to plan stops in Spokane to purchase raw milk from a Washington dairy. Washington apparently has many raw milk suppliers. I'm disappointed that I won't be able to make it a regular part of our diet, but at least I'll be able to try it with my daughter to see if she can drink it.

    So, more questions. If I have to purchase it out of town, can I freeze it for later use? How do I know when it sours? How long does it take to sour? It's really still okay to consume after it sours? Are you going to answer all these questions in a future post? lol

  25. When you have a moment, some research into milk from A1 vs. A2 cows may help explain why a lot of people are "allergic" to dairy... it really is in the COWS' genetics! We have a dairy cow and have our Nubians as well and the movement for backyard/family dairies is on - keep on spreading the word so people know what a fantastic food source real milk really is!

  26. Talitha, you can read my own experience with "sour" milk by reading here:

    You'll know when it's sour by the taste! And you can freeze it - I did for about a year until I could find a source closer to home. I could tell very little difference if any. But then again, I LOVE milk!!

    Whoever posted the info on A1 v. A2 cows, thanks for the tip. (I just love researching this stuff!).

  27. While I am all for small farms and getting as close to your food source as possible (we raise much of our own) I have serious concerns about the raw milk debate. People, especially children, still die and get sickened from consuming raw milk.

    Please, if you are considering consuming raw milk, read ALL sides of the issue.

    Especially read the stories of the children who have died.

    My decision for my own goats came down to weighing the worst possible scenario of each side... consuming pasteurized milk: worst scenario would be the possibility of some negative alterations of the milk... consuming non-pasteurized milk, especially for my two year old, could be deadly.

    You can read more about my decision here:

  28. Amy,
    Thanks for stopping by Homestead Revival and weighing in on the raw milk v. pasteurization debate. I am fine with comments from both sides of the issue because I believe each person needs to make their own decision (not the government doing it for us).

    If you understand the history of why we abandoned raw milk in the first place, it sheds a lot of light on the subject. There was a period at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution where I would have agreed with you that it was necessary unless you lived on a farm and drank your own milk. On the other hand, people have consumed raw milk for centuries. And yes, some have gotten sick and died. Just like some have died from peanut butter that is contaminated, spinach with e.coli, and even lettuce. The culprit is NOT the raw milk, but rather the standard of cleanliness.

    While some feel the need to use an anti-bacterial soap for everything, others feel that just a regular soap is fine. Pasteurization is the equivalent of anti-bacterial soap. It gives the highest protection. Each person needs to do what he or she is comfortable with. There is no doubt in my own mind that heating milk to certain temperatures kills the good along with the bad. However, my comfort level allows me to consume it. And yes, heating yogurt kills a lot of the good stuff, too, so I only heat my raw milk to 110 degrees when making yogurt.

    A healthy debate on the topic is very beneficial for individuals to be informed about the choices that they make. But I find it highly offensive when my government wants to play nanny and keep me from making my own decision. That is a loss of my personal freedoms and unAmerican.

  29. Raw cow's milk in my area is $14/gallon, so $8 sounds like a steal! We were at Trader Joe's the other day and a QUART of raw goat milk was $3.69. That's almost $15/gallon and I've got 4 gallons sitting in my fridge from my 2 Alpines. I'd say they were a good investment.

    To the other Amy, real milk, which is raw, is so much healthier and safer, but the official government position says otherwise and has convinced the population in general that raw milk is dangerous. I just read where there are 10 times more food poisoning issues related to pasteurized milk as there are for raw milk, and the ones claiming raw milk as the culprit can't be verified. I'm not suggesting you go against your conscience, but would suggest reading "The Untold Story of Milk" by Ron Schmidt before making a final decision. He goes in depth on the issues that Amy has suggested and chronicles the reasons why we've been taught to believe raw milk is dangerous. Everyone has a right to choose the foods that are best for him or her and their family members, but the government is trying to take that right away, especially in regards to milk. Since you obviously want to choose well for your family, as we all do, please read more about raw milk.
    Oops-yes, I'm passionate about this topic!

  30. Though I am a late comer to this post, I thank you so much for the information you've posted on the subject. I have been reading a LOT about this issue and your post and the resulting comments have provided SO MUCH information. I am one of those lactose intolerant folks that happen to love milk, but have had to be really careful about when and where I consume it, if you know what I mean :) I have tried soy milk and don't like the taste, plus I'm concerned about other issues with soy products. I've tried goat's milk in the past with some success, but it was "store bought". Now I'm on the lookout for a source of raw milk (middle TN), but I have to purchase a cow share, as it it the only way it is legal here. I've thought about getting milk goats, as I have the land for it, but don't have the time right now to milk them and care for them, as DH and I both work over 40 hrs. a week still. Again, thank you for this information. I'm off to do more research on the subject.

  31. Whoot! Whoot! I found some! I found some! 8 months later and I finally found some! And it's good!

  32. Hooray for you, Andrea!! Glad you finally found a source... hope it's a steady supply for you because once you've had it, you won't want to go back!

  33. So interesting, Amy. I learned some new things here! What I don't understand is why the gov't doesn't let more people opt out of the pasteurization issue in all states. Complex issue....

  34. Great Job!! Blessings and Support ~Amy
    I have an article on RAW cheese making I wrote last year after attending Cal Poly Artisan cheese making course.

  35. I've been wondering about raw milk lately. I am learning that the FDA isn't looking out for our best interests, neither does the USDA. It's time we take back food and feed our families as God intended. Easier said than done, but worth working on.


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