Raw Milk Crackdown

Don’t know about the rest of you, but I sure feel safer knowing the Feds are out there working hard to protect us from … Amish famers trafficking in “raw milk in final package form for human consumption.”

“They came in the dark, shining bright flashlights while my family was asleep, keeping me from milking my cows, from my family, from breakfast with my family and from our morning devotions, and alarming my children enough so that the first question they asked my wife was, ‘Is Daddy going to jail?’”

That’s how Amish farmer Dan Allgyer described an early morning visit last week from two FDA agents, two U.S. Marshals, and a Pennsylvania state trooper. Apparently, investigating a single farmer for possibly trafficking raw milk across state lines requires a show of force.

The full story is here:
Raw Milk Crackdown The Daily Caller – Breaking News, Opinion, Research, and Entertainment

Kind of makes you wonder how the human race survived for so many thousands of years, drinking this unpasteurized poison, without an FDA to shield us from it.

And definitely makes me glad we own our own dairy animals.

Too Much Milk

From the Department of Unintended Consequences From Messing With Nature, today’s NY Times reports on a new development in the dairy industry: sexed semen, resulting in…

Three years ago, a technological breakthrough gave dairy farmers the chance to bend a basic rule of nature: no longer would their cows have to give birth to equal numbers of female and male offspring. Instead, using a high-technology method to sort the sperm of dairy bulls, they could produce mostly female calves to be raised into profitable milk producers.

Now the first cows bred with that technology, tens of thousands of them, are entering milking herds across the country — and the timing could hardly be worse.

The dairy industry is in crisis, with prices so low that farmers are selling their milk below production cost. The industry is struggling to cut output. And yet the wave of excess cows is about to start dumping milk into a market that does not need it.

“It’s real simple,” said Tony De Groot, an early adopter of the new breeding technology, who milks 4,200 cows on a farm here in the heart of this state’s struggling dairy region. “We’ve just got too many cattle on hand and too many heifers on hand, and the supply just keeps on coming and coming.”

I personally don’t have a problem with artificial insemination; it can be an excellent tool for improving a herd’s genetics, by bringing in genes that would otherwise be unavailable on a given farm. We know many small breeders who use it for sheep and dairy herds. But I do find it remarkable that no one seemed to see the consequences of widespread adoption of “sexed semen” coming.

Driving around the country here, there are several smallish dairy operations with herds of Holstein cows. And, if you look closely at the other small farms, you’ll often see individual Holstein steer calves being raised for meat. Holsteins are not the most efficient breed for meat, but provide a nice 4-H project for a farm kid and a good amount of beef for the typical rural family. In other words: even though male Holstein calves don’t fetch a lot of money, they do have some value.

If the agricultural sex-selectors really want to make a difference, by eliminating males which have no value at all (and are otherwise immediately exterminated), they ought to focus their energies on the chicken industry. Help the egg producers hatch 90% females in their Leghorn flock, and you’ll have made an enormous contribution. Unlike the situation with cattle, which must be bred (and therefore must continue producing calves) to keep them in milk, if the egg producers managed to hatch 90% females they could simply scale back the total number of eggs incubated. We could get the right number of replacement pullets, without hatching enormous numbers of cockrels which would need to be immediately euthanized.

Or, we could just encourage more yeoman farmers to raise traditional dual-purpose breeds of chickens. But that would be too easy.

How Did the Human Race Survive without the FDA?

Today’s Chicago Tribune brings an excellent (and balanced) story about raw milk, including a graphic showing where it is legal and where it is illegal. The story is especially helpful because it not only quotes Sally Fallon (of the Weston A. Price Foundation, of which we are members), but also gives us this nugget from the other side:

“Raw milk is inherently dangerous, and it should not be consumed by anyone at any time for any reason,” said John Sheehan, director of the FDA’s Office of Plant and Dairy Foods. “There is absolutely nothing to the claims that it is this magical, mystical elixir that cures all.”

Talk about finally showing their true colors! Kind of makes you question how the human race managed to survive for so many centuries, without the “benefits” of a process that cooks milk to death and primarily exists to allow big dairy companies to efficiently combine milk from various mega-herds — and bar entry to craft dairies who might like to compete by offering a healthy alternative to Big Milk. Thank God for the FDA saving us from such a fate.

Raw milk has been a godsend for our family, and our Saanen dairy goats are among the most valuable animals on the farm. Too bad that in order to get raw milk, you pretty much have to own your own dairy animal.

But for those contemplating a move to the country, and who might be wondering what kind of business to go into: Note that the Illinois raw milk producer quoted in the story gets TWELVE DOLLARS a gallon. With limited supply, prices skyrocket. Dairy is a tough business, because the schedule is so unforgiving: those animals must be milked twice a day, at particular times, and the milk must be handled with great care. It’s no day at the beach, and you don’t get days off. But the potential rewards for niche markets such as raw milk can be substantial.

You Go, Goat Girl!

With both of our yearling does now in milk, and with each needing to supply milk for only a single kid, we began setting up to resume regular milkings. Last week, Mrs Yeoman Farmer and I moved some straw bales and rolls of fencing materials, and then brought both our milking stanchions into the barn from the garage. We covered them with tarps, to make sure the chickens didn’t roost on them and foul them up. Then, with me back today from a weekend-long retreat, MYF decided that today was the day to start milking.

MYF spent quite a bit of time this morning preparing for the big event. She dug out the nice stainless steel milking pail (with lid), washed it, and soaked it in an acid wash solution. She cleared and scrubbed a designated counter space in the kitchen, and set all the milking supplies up on it. By the time I came in for lunch, we were ready to roll.

I helped get the first doe out of the makeshift kidding pen, and together we led her to the stanchion. It was a struggle getting her in, but the grain served as an effective enticement. As MYF washed the goat’s udder and then settled in to milk, I went off to gather eggs.

When I returned, less than five minutes later, MYF was already nearly finished — but we weren’t going to be enjoying any milk anytime soon. The goat had smashed her foot into the milking pail, easily knocking off the half-lid. Frustrating, but it happens. We set the pail down, and Scooter the Amazing Sheepherding Wizard Wonderdog polished all the milk off by the time we got Doe #2 into the stanchion. She was just as much of a kicker, (and given Doe #1’s filthy feet, we couldn’t have used Doe #2’s milk anyhow unless we washed and sanitized the pail…something we had no time for). Again, Scooter got to feast as we led Doe #2 back to the pen.

Suddenly, an obvious point occurred to me, which I mentioned to MYF: This is the first time we’ve tried to milk a goat for the first time. Both of our other milking does had been milked by their previous owners, and had been comfortable with the routine. It simply didn’t occur to us to expect different behavior from these two. One of those things that’s obvious in retrospect, but didn’t cross our minds beforehand.

I thanked MYF for “giving it the old college try there, Goat Girl.” And hopefully tomorrow we’ll be better able to anticipate (and redirect) the does’ kicks. If not…at least Scooter will be pleased.

Craft Dairy

Excellent piece in the NY Times about a movement among small, independent dairies to sell craft products directly to the public:

More and more people across the country are being treated to the same aha experience as they find a burgeoning variety of fresh dairy products made in small batches on little farms and in small creameries. And it’s worth the extra money.

These artisanal operations are turning cow, goat or sheep milk into simple, straightforward foods like crème fraîche, butter, buttermilk, ice cream, puddings, custards, yogurt, yogurt-based sauces and yogurt drinks. Many of these dairies also sell unhomogenized, and in a few cases even unpasteurized, milk with an old-fashioned farmhouse flavor.

The movement is, in some ways, an offshoot of the American cheesemaking revival that began 15 to 20 years ago, and some of the creameries make fresh cheeses like mascarpone, mozzarella and ricotta that let the quality of the milk speak for itself.

Chalk it up to a lucky confluence of events. Most small dairy farmers cannot keep afloat selling milk to large processors at commodity prices, so those who are trying to survive are looking for alternatives. At the same time there is an increasingly sophisticated public that appreciates the difference between mass-produced dumbed-down food and the handiwork of a small dairy that has learned to produce exceptional butter or yogurt or ice cream by doing it the way it was done before World War II, when there was a creamery in every town.

World’s Easiest Cheese

We’ve been separating the goat kids from their mother at night, as a means of beginning the weaning process. For the last week, we’ve locked them in a separate stall in the evening, to allow Queen Anne’s Lace The Goat to build up a full udder of milk overnight. We milk her first thing in the morning, and then allow the kids to nurse at will all day. Even with just that one milking, we’re getting nearly a quart and a half from her.

We strain the milk through a paper filter, but do not pasteurize it. There is nothing quite as creamy and delicious as raw milk, and it’s a shame that the stuff is nearly impossibly to purchase legally. If you want it, you pretty much need your own dairy animal…or find a sympathetic small-scale farmer who’s willing to sell a little on the side. The big producers will not even consider selling raw milk, because of the web of regulations prohibiting it.

With the long layoff, the fil mjolk culture my wife had been using spoiled some time ago. Now that we again have a regular supply of milk, she has re-ordered a fresh culture (our kids can only drink milk that has been cultured into something like fil mjolk or keefir). But until that starter gets here, the milk is all mine.

I use the half-quart on cereal. But that still leaves a full quart, which is way too much for me to drink. The best use I’ve found for that extra milk is to make a basic “farmer cheese.” The process is about as simple as it gets: fill a clean mason jar nearly to the top with filtered raw milk, screw the lid in place, and leave the jar on the counter at room temperature. After a day or two, the solids begin separating from the liquid. By the end of a week or so, the curds and whey are completely separate. Here are the most recent five quarts of milk, in various stages of separation — from freshly-milked (on the far left) to completely finished (far right):

The liquid (whey) can be poured off into another container, through a strainer, and fed to the chickens by mixing with their usual feed. After sitting in the strainer for a couple of hours, to ensure all the whey has drained, the curds are put in a plastic food container and stored in the refrigerator. And that’s literally all it takes. In this picture, the bowl on the left has the fully-strained cheese; the liquid has been poured off to the bowl on the right, to be fed to chickens.

The milk doesn’t spoil on the counter because it hasn’t been pasteurized. Pasteurization kills any harmful microorganisms, and gives the milk a longer shelf life in the fridge, but it also kills all the good and healthy bacteria. It is those good bacteria which naturally culture the milk into cheese; if you were to try making my “farmer cheese” with pasteurized milk from the store, it would simply go rancid.

We don’t need to pasteurize our milk because we take care to milk the goats in clean conditions and wash their udders thoroughly before milking. And before milking out what we’re going to keep, we squirt the first teaspoon or so of milk straight out onto the stanchion. That way, any bacteria that might be there in the teat, from the kids’ nursing or whatever, don’t go into the pail with the milk we’re keeping.

Things don’t always go perfectly, though. On occasion, some bad bacteria gets into the milk and spoils it. For that reason, before straining the cheese, we make sure to smell it. It’s always very obvious if it’s gone bad; in that case, we simply discard it.

This soft goat cheese is wonderful for nearly everything. I put it on tacos, eat it with corn chips as an appetizer, spread it on bagels in place of cream cheese, and add it to egg dishes. Just this morning, I made an omelet with three freshly-laid duck eggs some of that soft goat cheese. Wow. Only thing missing was a fresh tomato from my wife’s garden.

Summer can’t get here fast enough.

Balance

The goat kids are now over a week old, and I’ve begun trying to milk Queen Anne’s Lace The Goat again. The results have been mixed: the first time, I got a few squirts. The next time, her udder was like a basketball; I got nearly three cups, and my hands were sore by the time I finished. Yesterday, it was less than a cup. This morning, a little over two cups. My goal is to accumulate enough to make a batch of fil mjolk for our children, who haven’t had any cultured dairy products since the goat dried up in late January. I expressed my frustration this morning that I haven’t been able to get more milk.

My wife’s response was interesting, and helped put things back in perspective. According to our goat book, each of the kids should be nursing over a quart of milk per day. Soon, they’ll each be nursing two quarts per day. Multiply by two, and that’s a gallon of milk, just for the kids. “Queen Anne’s Lace is a good dairy goat,” my wife reminded me, “but she’s not a cow. You can’t expect to consistently get five or six quarts a day from her.” Not to mention that just a week and a half ago, she was dry.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that today. For the next few weeks, anyway, the goat kids need her milk. I suppose we could separate them from her and put them on milk replacer, and take a gallon of fresh goat milk for ourselves each day. But, besides being incredibly labor intensive (both in bottle-feeding the kids and milking out two quarts of milk twice a day), and besides not being as healthy for these growing kids, it would disrupt the whole natural order of things. Yes, we need to manage our animals effectively. But we do not want to exploit the animals. Sometimes there is a fine line between management and exploitation, and that line is something we try to think about a lot and make sure we don’t cross. I resolved to continue milking what I could from Queen Anne’s Lace The Goat, trusting that the extra demand on her udder — and the good grain we’re giving her at each milking — will gradually increase her milk supply enough. She is starting from zero, after all. That’s management without exploitation.

Another example of good management that is not exploitative: in the winter months, we leave a light on in the hen house at night, to stimulate the hens enough to keep laying eggs. Without that light, we would have no eggs for many months at a time.

But back to the goat. In a few weeks, the kids will be able to start eating some hay and grain, to supplement the milk. At that point, we will begin separating them from their mother at night. We’ll milk Queen Anne’s Lace The Goat in the morning, then put her back with the kids all day. At eight weeks or so, we’ll wean the kids entirely, milk her twice a day, and hopefully start getting that whole gallon for our own children. That’s the balance I need to remember.