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Raw Milk Reality: Buying Raw Milk Safely


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In my first article on raw milk, I clarified the statistical risks associated with drinking unpasteurized milk. In my second article, I discussed the various potential benefits of purchasing and drinking raw milk. In my third article, I provided a framework for making the decision for you and your family on whether buying raw milk is a good choice. In this final article in my series on raw milk, I will explain how to choose a source of raw dairy in order to minimize the risk of getting sick.

Once you decide you want to consume raw dairy, the next step is to identify a source. The key to minimizing the risk associated with raw dairy is to ensure the source you obtain it from is using best practices. This does not eliminate the risk entirely (nor does pasteurization), but it reduces it significantly. In order to do this, I recommend visiting the farm you will be purchasing your milk from, and asking your farmer about his or her production methods.

Questions to ask your farmer

Dr. Amanda Rose (PhD) from Traditional Foods has written an excellent free consumer guide with tips on questions to ask farmer, as well as red flags to look for when considering a potential raw milk producer. Her guide focuses mainly on larger operations, but many of the principles can be applied to small producers as well.

The first question you should ask is about the basic organic standards that the dairy should be following. One hundred percent grass fed is ideal, but many farmers must supplement their cows’ diets with grains at various points in the year. Find out if the feed is organic, if the farmer feeds the cows soy, and if the animals are given antibiotics.

If the cows’ diets are truly 100% grass based, ask the farmer to explain to you how he or she accomplishes this challenge. If the animals do eat grains, find out what portion of diet comes from grains or legumes, as well as dry grasses like hay or alfalfa.

This number should vary based on the season.

Another important factor in a raw dairy operation is the number of cows per acre, and whether or not the lactating cows have adequate access to pasture. Find out how many acres the farm has, and how many of the acres are dedicated to lactating cows. Ideally, this number should be between one and two cows per acre; more than that means the animal does not have adequate pasture to feed on.

Product safety testing is obviously a vital component to minimizing the risk of contamination at a raw dairy. Find out how often your farmer tests the milk, as well as the types of tests used and the specific pathogens being tested. A farmer should also have a plan of action if contamination is discovered. Thorough testing is a sign that a farmer is concerned with the safety of his or her product.

On-farm safety checks should also be a standard practice at a raw dairy facility. Farmer Tim Wightman has developed a handbook designed for producers that includes an excellent description of safety measures a farmer should take in producing raw milk. Some of these guidelines include: using an impermeable material (i.e. concrete) for the floor of the milking room, taking steps to control flies, using a hand-wash sink separate from wash vats of the milking system, and more. This guide gives both farmers and consumers a standard of cleanliness that they should expect for optimum safety of the unpasteurized  product.

Find out how your farmer stores and transports his dairy products. Maintaining a cold temperature is critical for the quality and safety of raw milk, and the milk should be cooled as quickly as possible and kept cold during transport and storage. Herd testing and closed-herd breeding practices are also an important part of a safe raw dairy infrastructure. Find out what your farmer’s breeding practices are, and whether or not he tests new additions to his herd for certain diseases that can be passed into the milk.

Finding a local raw dairy provider

Now that you know how to assess a raw dairy’s safety, you probably want to know how to go about finding a raw dairy farmer in your local area. The best way to do this is to contact your local Weston A. Price Foundation Chapter leader. They will likely be able to direct you to raw dairy producers in the area. You can alternatively visit the “Where” list at Realmilk.com.

Finding raw milk may be quite challenging in states where the sale and distribution of raw dairy is illegal, but you may be able to participate in a herdshare or buying club.

After learning about the risks, benefits, and procedures of buying unpasteurized milk, it’s up to you to decide if raw milk is a food that you want to obtain for you and your family. While not essential by any means, I believe raw milk can be a wonderful, nourishing (not to mention delicious!) component of a healthy diet.

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Join the conversation

  1. We keep a list on our website (cheesemaking.com) called the Good Milk List (for cheese makers). It’s fairly comprehensive and might prove useful to you. It’s in the “Resources” section.

  2. Sorry about my last post type-o’s…….. Darn autocorrect and fat fingers hitting the wrong keys. Hope you can read between the lines. I meant to type that I know in the winter dairy cows may not have access to grass and need to eat dried hay and alfalfa but should not be fed grains. Also at the end of the post I was asking for help in finding a local Bay Area, non-grain ( no wheat, corn or soy ) supplemented raw dairy farm as a source to get my raw milk.

  3. Where can I find 100% grass fed and finished with no grains fed raw milk? I live it the San Francisco Bay Area of Concord. The only sources of grass fed raw milk I can get access to also feeds the cows grains supplement. All these farms claim that in order for cows to produce milk they must be fed grains. I understand in wi fed they may bed toffees gay and alfalfa but I’m talking about wheat grain and or soy or corn. I bought organic pastures farms brand raw cream from sprout grocery store to make my own raw butter. It came out white with not a hint of yellow and had no butter flavor, it was almost tasteless. In my reasearch, it’s my understanding that cows eating grass should result in a deep yellow to orange color butter not pure white. Is this white color because of the grains fed as a suplement? Im desperate to find a grain free raw milk in my area. I really hope so done can help because nothing has come up in my internet searches.

    • Have you found a source for your milk? I’m also in Concord and I’m looking too. I also made butter from organic pastured and It turned out the same as yours, I thought I made it wrong.

      • Doreen,
        Sorry about the typing mistakes, sometimes I hate autocorrect. Hahaha
        The only raw milk that I have found that is close to what I’m looking for is Claravale and at the moment is only available at a few Healthfood stores. It only comes in quarts and is expensive. It is from Jersey cows which is better than Hoilstiens which is what The brand from Sprouts grocery store carries called Organic Pastures. I find it odd that the raw butter from organic pastured they sell at Sprouts is yellow yet when I bought the raw cream to make my own butter the butter was white. I emailed Organic Pastures about this and they would not respond to my email. I wish Claravale sold cream so I could try making butter with theirs.
        I know that organic pastures uses milk from different farms and Claravale has their own cows and don’t sorce-out to other farms. Claravale does use supplemental feed but I don’t think it has soy in the feed and it uses organic supplemental feed. I asked Grub Market if they would carry Claravale raw milk because the brand of raw milk they currently carry is from Hoilstiens and they use a soy supplemental feed. They responded that they are in negotiations to carry Claravale raw milk soon. That would be great since its home delivery. If you want to chat you can email me at [email protected]

  4. Just visited a farmers market in town here in the UK and it highlighted the problem with buying raw milk. There was a stall selling it advertising all the health benefits. When I asked how the cows were kept I was told in a yard. When I asked what are they fed I was told Silage. I was hoping they were free range grass fed but no chance. So consuming this raw milk means you are consuming whatever the cow ate.