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Raw Milk Reality: Benefits of Raw Milk


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In Raw Milk Reality: Is Raw Milk Dangerous?, we took a closer look at the claims made by groups like the FDA and CDC that raw milk is “dangerous”. We found that, though the relative risk of becoming ill from drinking raw milk is about 9 times greater than it is from drinking pasteurized milk, the absolute risk of developing a serious illness (i.e. one that would require hospitalization) from drinking raw milk is exceedingly small: about 1 in 6 million.

Nevertheless, as small as the risk of drinking raw milk is, we still need to answer the question: why take the risk? What benefits does raw milk have over pasteurized milk that have convinced nearly 10 million people in the U.S. alone to actively seek it out?

Why drink raw milk in the first place?

There are many reasons one might prefer raw milk over pasteurized milk, ranging from nutritional to ethical to environmental. Different people will resonate with different reasons, depending on their value system, worldview and priorities.


Many consumers believe that raw milk is higher in nutritional content than conventional milk, which may have some merit.

Raw milk comes from cows that graze on grass. Some evidence suggests that milk from these cows is likely to have higher levels of fat-soluble vitamins and other nutrients. Cows fed fresh green forage, especially those grazing grass, have been shown to have higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and essential fatty acids in their milk. (1,2)  Cows are natural herbivores and are healthiest when they eat grass, rather than the grain they are fed in confinement dairy operations.

The pasteurization process also reduces the nutritional quality of milk products. Research has shown a decrease in manganese, copper, and iron after heat treatment. (3) The FDA acknowledges that pasteurization destroys a substantial portion of the vitamin C in milk, and sterilization is also known to significantly impair the bioactivity of vitamin B6 contained in milk. (45) Beta-lactoglobulin, a heat-sensitive protein in milk that is destroyed by pasteurization, increases intestinal absorption of vitamin A, so the supplemental vitamin A in conventional milk may be harder to absorb. (6) While pasteurized milk does retain some level of nutritional value, it seems that unpasteurized milk is superior in vitamin and mineral content overall.


Many people experience digestive and other problems when they consume pasteurized milk, but have no trouble with raw milk. It’s not entirely clear why this is the case. The FDA insists that unpasteurized milk has no probiotic effect or any other characteristic that could explain this phenomenon. But the collective experience of raw milk consumers suggests otherwise. The Weston A. Price Foundation conducted an informal survey of over 700 families, and determined that over eighty percent of those diagnosed with lactose intolerance no longer suffer from symptoms after switching to raw milk. (7)

While this is certainly not rigorous evidence, it matches my own anecdotal experience and that of many of my patients, blog readers and radio show listeners.  I do not feel well when eat pasteurized dairy.  It gives me sinus congestion, headaches and intestinal discomfort.  Yet I thrive on raw dairy, and fermented raw dairy in particular played a substantial role in my own healing journey.

Is it possible that the millions of people that tolerate raw milk but not pasteurized milk are experiencing a massive placebo effect?  Sure.  Anything is possible.  But a likelier explanation is that raw milk has some quality that makes it easier to digest than pasteurized milk.  The fact that this has not been proven in clinical research doesn’t make it untrue.  Lack of proof is not proof against.

Fortunately, we shouldn’t have to wait long for more reliable evidence on this topic. A clinical study is currently being performed at Stanford University to help determine whether raw milk actually reduces the incidence of lactose intolerance. (8) The results have yet to be published, but will provide scientific evidence to support or refute the anecdotal claims of many raw milk drinkers.


There is substantial epidemiological evidence from studies in Europe that consumption of raw milk during childhood may protect against asthma, allergies and other immune-mediated diseases.

A large cross-sectional study demonstrated a significant inverse association between “farm milk” consumption and childhood asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis, sensitization to pollen and other allergens. (9) While we must always remember that correlation does not prove causation, the findings were consistent across children from farming and non-farming environments, indicating that farm milk consumption may have had an independent effect on allergy development.

This protective effect may be related to the hygiene hypothesis, which I recently wrote about. It is thought that low dose exposure to a variety of commensal bacteria may help regulate immune responses outside the gut. Another hypothesis is that the higher level of omega-3 fatty acids in grass-fed dairy, particularly in full-fat dairy products, may help reduce childhood atopy risk. (10)  More research is necessary before a definitive mechanism for a reduction in allergies in children drinking raw milk can be established.

Additionally, some research suggests that unpasteurized milk contains antimicrobial components absent in pasteurized milk. (11121314) These studies found that pathogens grow more slowly or die more quickly when added to raw milk than when added to heat-treated milk. This does not mean that raw milk cannot be contaminated with bacteria, nor does it mean that raw milk “kills pathogens”.

Rather, unpasteurized milk may be somewhat less susceptible to contamination than pasteurized milk due to its probiotic bacteria and antimicrobial enzymes.

The evidence for this is not conclusive, however, so there is no excuse for subpar hygiene standards when dealing with unpasteurized dairy products.

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Many people think that raw milk has a superior flavor and texture to pasteurized, homogenized milk. They often use words like “fresh”, “real”, “alive” and “rich” to describe it. They also appreciate the subtle shift in the flavor of the milk through the seasons as the grasses change. Consumer research demonstrates that flavor is one of the top reasons that consumers choose raw milk in states where it is legal to buy. (1516) Emily Weinstein, blogging for The New York Times, describes her first raw milk experience:

The milk — oh man, the milk! — was creamy and full of flavors, not white like supermarket milk, but yellow-tinged. It was milk with a taste that wasn’t just defined by it texture — it was distinct, satisfying, delicious. All food should be like this, I thought, so natural it seems to redefine the word.

I’m sure those of you who drink raw milk can attest to the significant flavor differences between raw and conventional milk. While flavor alone is not reason enough for choosing raw milk, it is clearly a driving force in many consumers’ decisions.


Raw milk is almost exclusively produced by local farmers. A growing segment of the population is choosing to support local, family farms and businesses over multi-national conglomerates. There is significant economic potential in the direct sales of milk from small farms, which is often the method of producing and distributing unpasteurized milk in most states. (17) The direct sale of raw milk allows farmers to set a price that allows profit for the farm and equals the fair market value of the product for the consumer. (18) This way, farmers are able to cover their costs while still earning a living to support themselves and their families.

Consumers are reconnected with their food supply, and farmers are held accountable for their products, allowing for the stimulation of the local economy and the promotion of sustainable farming practices.


Similar to above, consuming milk that is produced by local farmers using sustainable methods has far less of an environmental impact than drinking milk produced in large confinement feeding operations thousands of miles away.  Conventional dairy operations are highly destructive to the environment. Air and water pollution from dust and feedlot manure, plus fertilizers and pesticides used in grain production, are damaging to the environment and to the health of farmers, farm workers, and nearby residents. (19) Manure runoff into water can cause the death of aquatic life, as well as contamination of drinking water by nitrate, harmful microorganisms, and antibiotics and hormones.

Raising dairy cows on well-managed pastures decreases soil erosion, increases soil fertility, and improves water quality due to decreased pollution. Cows grazing on pasture reduce the energy needed to grow grains or to mow, bale, and move hay, requiring less fuel consumption. (20) Sustainable small dairy farms that produce raw milk are much more environmentally friendly as compared to typical large-scale dairy farms that are energy intensive.


Cows that live on small farms and spend their days on green pasture are are much better off than those that live in overcrowded and inhumane “factory farm” conditions. This is important to those of us that care how animals are treated. When confined in small spaces under stressful conditions, cows often become ill and are treated with large quantities of antibiotics. (21) They are more prone to morbidity and mortality from diseases including dust-related respiratory conditions, metabolic diseases, and other ailments that can be directly attributed to their confined conditions, as well as their unnatural diet of corn, soy, and other grains. Pasture-raised cows have longer lifespans than conventionally raised cows, as corn-based diets contribute to health problems such as liver abscesses, and breeding practices designed to maximize milk production have caused reproductive problems. (22)

There are plenty of horror stories and disturbing videos that portray the inhumane treatment of cows in conventional dairy operations. (2324) By visiting small farms and purchasing raw milk from pastured cows, compassionate consumers can be assured that the animals are properly treated.

A personal decision

Any one of these reasons might be enough justification for choosing raw milk for a given individual or family. But when viewed together, it’s easy to understand why raw milk consumption has increased so significantly over the last two decades. Consuming unpasteurized milk and dairy products has several positive benefits that, for many people, may outweigh the possible risks. You must consider both the positive and negative qualities of raw milk consumption when making the decision for you and your family.

In the next article, I will discuss the important variables to consider when deciding whether raw milk is right for you and offer guidance on how to find a safe source of raw milk and minimize the potential risk, should you choose to consume it.

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Join the conversation

  1. I grew up on a dairy farm during the 1940’s. Drank raw milk every day; everyone in our farming community drank raw milk. I was very healthy during my childhood years. My husband was a “town” boy and had asthma. For many years we did not have a source for raw cow’s milk; however found one about 5 years ago with a wonderful dairy farm in Pa. My husband was on drugs for colitis and asthma. Since drinking the raw milk and raw milk kefir, he has been able to get off all drugs, and the colitis and asthma have disappeared. We are both in our 70’s and drug-free.

    Check out this website http://www.realmilk.com/milkcure.html

    Thanks Chris for your wonderful articles.

  2. Hey Chris,

    I know there are various lactobacillus bacteria as well as yeasts in kefir made using kefir grains and raw milk, but what about bifidobacterium? Should someone consider supplementing bifidobacterium in small amounts along with fermented dairy or is it already present (or are there any natural food sources)?

  3. I’ve found that I can drink raw milk without getting painful GI results, but I fart a lot, which is unfortunate– otherwise I really like raw milk. Are there any solutions?

  4. Chris – Have you looked into the A1 vs A2 milk debate? I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on it. Many people discussing this mention the book, “The Devil in the Milk” by Keith Woodford.

  5. Chris, just wanted to say thanks for all the information.
    The way I see it all this fear of raw milk stems from the fact that people want to have a safe, cheap product. The only way to do that is to pack the animals in confined spaces spreading disease, handle the milk on a massive scale that combines the milk from thousands of animals, and then heat it in an attempt to undo all the potential contamination that has been done.
    The reality is that if you have a healthy animal, and the famer handles the milk like he himself is going to drink it, and then refridgerate it, the chances of getting a pathagen are slim.
    I would bet that everyone on this post has gotten some sort of food poisening at some point in their life, I have. It’s kind of part of the human experience, the fact of the matter is ‘life will find a way” and food will get contaminated, cooked or not.

    Looking forward to next article and podcast.

    Ted Z.

  6. Chris,

    I’m working on gut healing for acne and have been grain free, dairy free for about 2 months now. I’d really like to add the nutritional benefits of raw milk. If I’m still having minor breakouts, do you think it’s a bad idea to add back in raw dairy or should I just try it and see? I’m taking HCL and probiotics and starting more fermented foods.


  7. I wonder if you would consider writing or podcasting about Yin and Yang foods and exercises and the diseases associated with too much Yin or Yang. If I remember right, milk is fairly yin, but raw milk is more yang than processed milk. I am especially interested in how the concept of Yin and Yang foods relates to gut health and bacterial and fungus (especially candida) balance in the body. I ran across this website which brought up all of these questions. Thanks, as always for all you do to guide us in our health journeys. 🙂

    DrLWilson (.com)


  8. Wow lots of great insight here. I’ve been making my own kefir with raw milk lately. I bought some nice kefir grains online and really enjoy the milk after it’s been fermented. My tummy loves it! 😛

  9. Dr. Garb,
    Thank you so much for your input. In the first part of this series, Chris points out that milk has as a food group has the lowest numbers for foodborne illness compared to the rest of the foods listed. The very reason being is that we have had mandatory pasteurization of milk for over 60 years. When pasteurized milk does become contaminated, there was faulty pasteurization or post pasteurization contamination. For example, an incident happened years back where many people were sickened by eating ice-cream that came from pasteurized milk/and or cream. Unfortunately, the truck used to transport the milk/and or cream had previously shipped raw eggs and somehow it hadn’t been cleaned out. Thousands of people became ill from this freak accident.

    Another aspect of the statistics we don’t know about is how many of those illnesses for vegetables, fruit eggs, poultry and meat were caused by crossed contamination in the home (sharing the same cutting board used for raw poultry or meat and then later used again for vegetables or fruit) or people not using a meat thermometer when cooking to make sure the temperature of the meat was high enough to kill the pathogens, or rinsing their poultry in the sink, or eating their eggs sunny-side-up. With a little education, people can be taught how to prevent foodborne illnesses.

    In this argument about foodborne illnesses, what seems to be left out is that FOODBORNE ILLNESSES ARE PREVENTABLE. We now have a group of people advocating for the use of raw milk and pregnant women, infants and children are the target group for consumption. This group wants to turn back the clock on foodborne illness prevention. If you want to support your local farmer and also want milk that is free from hormones, antibiotics and homogenization buy raw milk and pasteurize it at home. Raw milk is not worth risking your child’s life over.

    Dr. Garb, here is our story and how we found our way to raw milk. My son had HUS and was in the hospital for 2 months. http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/04/is-the-foundation-of-good-health-found-in-a-bottle-of-raw-milk/

    I share my son’s story with the hope that it prevents other parents from making the same mistake we did. My motto is: If you can’t name all the pathogens that can be found in raw milk, along with naming the illnesses these pathogens can cause, you can’t make an informed decision about raw milk consumption.

    I am also a member of the working group for Real Raw Milk Facts. It is an attempt to present both sides of the story on milk. http://www.realrawmilkfacts.com/ .

    • @Mary – I appreciate your passion in warning people in the hope they will not experience the trauma that your son went through. My question is: could you be misplacing blame on raw milk for your son’s illness? Is it possible that the “the microbes are nothing; the terrain is everything”? Our bodies are 90% microbes, 10% human. Was your son a victim of unhealthy microbiome? Were you taking antibiotics before or during pregnancy? Were you on NSAIDs? Hormonal birth control? Steroids? Was he born c-section? Were you under a lot of stress? All these factors would impact his microbiome at birth and possibly make him more vulnerable to infection from any source. Did he himself receive any antibiotic treatments or any other medications? We can sterilize our foods and environment to the utmost – maybe avoid food-borne illness – but make ourselves more vulnerable to that errant tick-borne infection, or nasty virus someone sneezes on the door handle we touch. More and more it seems our compulsive hygiene as a society is wreaking havoc on our health, with devastating auto-immune and chronic diseases esp. among young people at epidemic levels. Those of us trying to heal without medications and their unacceptable side-effects are finding that sometimes we NEED the bacteria and enzymes and heat-sensitive vitamins that only raw milk can provide.

      • Charlene, the blame for my son’s illness is owned by E.coli 0157:H7. The vehicle for its transmission was raw milk. Cows harbor E.coli 0157:H7 in their intestinal track. In the hot summer months they shed Ecoli. Contaminated cow poop found its way into the raw milk. E.coli 0157:H7 is an extremely virulent pathogen. It can take as few as 10-50 cells to make someone ill. 250,000 can fit on the head of a pin. Raw milk is a great medium for pathogens to grow. Also, if the milk is not chilled properly and a pathogen is in the milk, it grows like a wildfire. My son became ill because the milk he drank was extremely contaminated.

        As for the list of “blame the victim” reasons you give as to why my son became ill, are you not aware that children with autism, ADD, allergies, & asthma are encouraged to drink raw milk? All of these children have “gut issues” and are at a high risk of becoming ill if a pathogen is in the milk. Children in general are at risk do to an underdeveloped immune system.

        As for my pregnancy, my son is adopted. I guess I should call his birth mother and blame her for his illness.

  10. Thanks Charlene for posting your daughter’s story and your very important comments on our freedom to choose our food. We must educate consumers who care about what they eat that this freedom is fragile. If we don’t remain vigilant, our only choices will be Kraft, Cargill, and the like. We must support and protect those who bring us life-giving foods; the small farmers and ranchers who sell direct. I own a herd share and told my dairywoman I’d lay down in her farm’s driveway to stop anyone coming to harass her. Join the Farm-To-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, together we have strength!

  11. I have seen 3 children ages 17 months to 10 years old in the last 2 months with E. Coli 0157-H7 gastroenteritis all of whom drank raw milk. The two youngest had the complication of HUS which is Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome. This causes renal failure and other life threatening complications. One child is still in the hospital going on 2 months now. I would not recommend drinking unpasturized milk for anyone under the age of 3 or 4 years old. It is simply not worth the risk regardless of statistics as mentioned previously. If it is your child the incidence is 100%!

    • I agree that statistics become a lot less compelling when your child is the 1 in 6 million or whatever the numbers are. That said, I still think they’re important in terms of evaluating overall risk. I’m going to discuss the fact that children, the elderly and pregnant women are more vulnerable in my last post (Friday) about determining whether raw milk is worth the risk on an individual level.

      Out of curiosity, were these cases related to the Oregon outbreak?

      • If you google his name he is a prominent pediatrician from Columbus, Missouri which had an outbreak of e.coli from raw milk earlier this year right before Oregon.

  12. I’ve been drinking raw home produced goats milk and cow’s milk from friends for 26 years. I practice good animal husbandry, aseptic utter cleaning and chilling my milk to high grade B standards. I have experienced one 24 hour GI illness over those same 26 years. I’m an RN by Profession, so I have lots of occupational exposure on a daily basis. I’ve called in for personal illness 4X over my career. I initally got into drinking raw goats milk when my daughter stopped breast feeding and was unab;e to tolerate any type of milk, formula and an older Pediatrician suggested raw gots milk as a possible solution. I lived in a rural area and actually had a coworker who raised and milked goats. Daughter tolerated and we changed to raw milk eventually getting a herd start from the coworker who became a close friend. My personal experience is prrof enough for me on the benefits of raw milk.

    • My uncle Johnny passed away last year at the age of 82. At his funeral a family member gave an account of how he was born.

      He was born at just under 6 months gestation (on October 31, 1928 of all days) and Va, my great grandma, was told by the doctors that he wouldn’t survive and that they could keep him at the hospital in an incubator until he passes. Va told the doctor that if he was going to die then he was going to die at home. They fashioned a bed for him out of a shoe box and kept him by the stove for warmth. He was too young to breast feed so he was given goats milk (presumably raw) and obviously survived against all odds.

      Milk, regardless of what animal it comes from, is a life giving substance. There is much more to this food than we know.

  13. Thank god for the heroic Minnesota dairy farmers who provide us with unprocessed milk in the face of oppressive harassment by the MN Dept. of Agric. My daughter has almost completely recovered her health – was bedridden for most of 2011 with severe pains from rheumatoid arthritis – drinking raw milk 3 quarts daily and WAPF diet. She is out of pain, back at school full time, no medications, and ready to fight for her right to access this healing food.

    Those of you who fear the risk of getting sick: Good news. No one is forcing you to eat raw dairy. The choice is yours. The choice should be ours.

  14. I’ve been around the animal industry (factory farms) a long time, not that it provides credentials in itself. I’ve always been taught that poorly treated animals do not keep a facility running smoothly. Many farms generate revenue based on animal production, and mistreating said animals does not make money. I realize that some farms concentrate on the bottom line to the point of seeming like a unfeeling business, but almost all of the farmers, managers, and students in the animal industry I have interacted with seem to actually care about the animals upon which they found a business. As in all businesses, efficiency leads the way to increased profits. This has led to streamlined farms with lots of animals, however, animal welfare is going to be the first priority of any farm that wants to stay afloat and not incur the wrath of fines and bad publicity from the government and animal rights movements. Every action revolving around the treatment and production of an animal has a logical foundation that makes “sense” to the industry. Some methods have been weeded out or replaced as humane handling has been increasingly explored, and room for improvement is always present in any industry. There are bad apples in every bunch, and farms who grew beyond small-scale production shouldn’t be blamed for growth. Beating cows/calves with crowbars, stabbing them with pitchforks, and stomping on their heads is not standard production, and I have to wonder from a production standpoint why an animal who a farm has invested money in would be treated in such a way…unless the video was staged or meant to be a forceful message. Dehorning is real, though not in the rough manner seen in the reference. N=1, and I care about both animal welfare and making money to feed families on a large scale. I agree that factory farms are too dependent on grains, which I hate. Also, as farms get larger and products feed/ are distributed to more people, food safety becomes an issue not only of quality but accountability. It’s much easier to sue a farm with more money than a small farmer who got manure in a milking bucket by accident. Otherwise, great post. I’m always willing to assess my views and evolve; I’ve just grown up on the other side of the fence (am working up the courage to try raw milk, though my factory farm dairy friends claim it is delicious).

    • What about all those froz hamburgers, chicken, lettuce, green onions with ecoli ? Its not just raw milk. Most of the above come from Engineered farms, not sm local farmers. Get your head out of the sand and start living.

  15. There are many aged (60+ days), hard cheeses imported from Europe that are truly raw and have been artisanally made the same way for centuries. On the label look for “milk” or “fresh milk.” A good source in the U.S. are the Amish, if you are lucky enough to live nearby. Otherwise contact the Weston A. Price Foundation and order their Shopping Guide. There are pages of cheese sources in the Guide. I buy Sierra Nevada Cheese Company’s raw cheddar and jack, though not in stores, but via Azure Standard. Or find the best specialty / gourmet / cheese store in your area and start asking questions!

  16. Does raw cheese have to be bought from a farm or made at home? Can it be found in stores, please?

  17. I’ve been living in Norway for the past 3 years and whenever we go to our mountain cabin, we make a point of getting a bucket of raw milk from the local milk farmer. It just tastes better. I feed it to my little children and they love it. We’ve never had any problems with it and people around Norway feed their children raw milk every chance they get. So far, I’ve never heard anyone having problems with it. I use it to make yogurt, cream cheese and ricotta cheese. It’s delicious! My husband and I’ve noticed that it lasts longer than the milk we buy at the store. Perhaps because the ones at the store have been sitting in storage longer? Whatever it is, we think bacteria grows slower in raw milk (and my husband is a scientist/engineer).

  18. Great article, Chris! Do you think it likely that clabbered milk would be safer than fresh raw milk? Would the probiotic bacteria multiply and crowd out any pathogens? Or does it depend on the balance of bacteria already present in the milk?

    Many thanks

  19. I buy raw milk and let it sour for a good source of probiotics.
    Pasteurizded milk does not sour; it rots, because the natural bacteria are gone, and other bacteria get into it.
    I grew up on a small Iowa farm in the 30’s. We had two cows. Later, we had goats. If a cow put its foot in the bucket, we strained the milk through cheesecloth, and never worried about disease, and never heard of anyone getting sick from milk. It happened, of course, but it was not so common that any of us thought of it being a problem. Then, with less hygeine, as now with very well controlled sanitary facitities, raw milk was and is among the safest of foods.

  20. Not all raw milk is 100% grass fed. Organic Pastures, the biggest raw milk operation here in California, supplement their cows’ pasture with corn. Disappointingly true. See their FAQ.

    • Chris,

      I, too, was surprised to learn this as they say their cows are 100% grass-fed on their label. I even wrote a blog post about it: http://farmmuckraker.blogspot.com/2011/12/californians-whats-in-your-raw-milk.html (this was back when I was drinking raw milk)

      These videos came out showing that OPDC cows eat a substantial amount of grain, amongst other questionable practices:

      Of course, I was also angry from a consumer standpoint because saying your cows are 100% grass-fed on your label when they are not is not honest marketing. The last comment from an experienced dairyman on the blog post of the videos above is very telling.

      As Chris Kresser has said, he will be writing about what to look for in a raw milk dairy in part 3, so maybe he will cover this issue.


      • Where I am in Santa Barbara, CA, I can also get Claravale dairy milk, which comes from Jersey cows and is delicious. They also partially grain feed and address this on their FAQ, stating that dairy cows, unlike beef cows, need pasture, hay, and grain to thrive due to the breed differences and the demands of producing milk.


        I’d be intereste to know if there are dairies producing solely on pasture, what breeds they use, and how they manage their herd?


        • There is a lady in New Mexico with mini-Jerseys that are pasture only.
          Shalali Infante of PintsizedFarm.com
          I do think you will have to look for a very small scale farm. Basically, the reason for grain is consistency in the amount and quality of the milk (and it increases yields, a pro if you’re in the milk selling business). This is a highly interesting thread on pasturing dairy animals http://www.permies.com/t/2355/critter-care/milk-cows-grass-fed
          Believe it or not, cows have had less time to adapt to grains than humans have.

    • The Amish haveto do that, because druing the Winter, grass doesn’t grow in cold states. During the warm weather their milk is such a pretty light yellow, and in the Winter the cows are fed hay and straw to supplement. I still love raw milk any time of yr. Besides the milk is hormone and pesticide free. No gmo, gluten or Monsanto involved.