If you’ve been to Ben & Jerry’s, you might get the impression that Vermont is dominated, border to border, by black and white dairy cows. However, Vermont actually ranks 17th in the country for dairy output. Vermont has around 132,000 dairy cows which produce over 300 million gallons of milk each year. Large dairy farms, milking more than 200 cows, account for more than 60 percent of all the dairy cows in Vermont. The greater number of dairy farmers, however, milk less than 50 cows. These small farms differ in many ways from larger commercial operations.
On most small farms, cows are rotationally grazed in green pastures during the summer and generally fed hay with very little grain during the winter. Many of these farms are also certified organic. On commercial dairy farms, there is not enough land to graze the large number of cows, so feed is primarily grain. Heavy grain diets change the composition of the milk and hinder production of its natural antibiotic properties. In addition, in large operations where there isn’t enough pasture land to graze the herd, animals are often confined in manure-laden pens. This does not pose a problem if the milk is eventually pasteurized, as the process kills any harmful bacteria. But milk from cows kept in this manner should never be consumed raw.
But why consume raw milk at all? Isn’t it dangerous?
Early American life was farm-based and raw milk was ingested by everyone with few negative effects. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution and the growth of cities that milk got the reputation of being a disease carrier. Because cows were kept in dirty pens within the city and fed unhealthy diets which included the leftover swill from distilleries, the milk produced caused widespread disease especially in infants and children. Large campaigns were undertaken to promote pasteurization as the only way to provide safe milk.
Today, the milk from small, organic farms comes from cows which are healthier. They are grass-fed and are not administered drugs to increase milk production. In addition, cows which are grass-fed offer a better digestive environment for “good” bacteria which can actually limit or kill “bad” bacteria in the milk.
What are the benefits of raw milk over pasteurized milk?
In addition to killing pathogens in milk, pasteurization also reduces the nutritional quality of milk. For example, a substantial portion of vitamin C is destroyed. There is also a decrease in a number of minerals and bioactivitiy of B6 is impaired which is essential in intestinal absorption of vitamin A. Naturally-occurring beneficial bacteria are destroyed and residual antibiotics (used to treat the cow for infections brought on by its diet and environment) may remain.
Raw milk, on the other hand, is a complete and properly balanced food. Humans could actually live on it and nothing else. Some of the benefits come from lack of pasteurization and some from the cow’s grass-fed diet. One example is CLA, conjugated linoleic acid, abundant in milk from grass-fed cows. This polyunsaturated, Omega-6 fatty acid offers many benefits: raises metabolic rate, helps remove abdominal fat, boosts muscle growth, reduces resistance to insulin, strengthens the immune system and lowers food allergy reactions. And, grass-fed raw milk has 3-5 times more than milk from grain-fed cows.
Where can I find raw milk?
This question brings us back to where we started – the Vermont dairy farms. Many of those small farms with under 50 cows grass-feed their herds. And, many offer raw milk for sale. (Sales of raw milk directly from farms are legal in Vermont.) They are also happy to talk with you about their operation and may even offer you a tour. That is the easiest way to assure yourself that the milk you will be purchasing is safe. For a list of farms offering raw milk, you can refer to the listing compiled by the Weston A. Price Foundation, A Campaign for Real Milk.
Photo: Family Cow Farmstead, Hinesburg, VT
Want to purchase raw milk in another state? Check the online information on the same “Real Milk” website.
Burlington Free Press, June 9, 2016, “With fewer cows, Vermont milk output increases,” Art Woolf
Weston A. Price Foundation, A Campaign for Real Milk, https://www.realmilk.com/