Real Milk 101

My grandpa was a dairy farmer.  To this day, I can still remember that very specific smell in the milking parlor, and the excitement as a child of lifting the big lid on the bulk tank to see the all of the beautiful, fresh milk stirring around in there.

I was still relatively young when my grandpa stopped milking and transitioned his farm over to beef cattle, so I never really had the opportunity to ask a lot of questions at the time.  And as I grew older, I never really considered it.

I saw where our milk came from.  I watched the process. I knew that it was then sold to a plant or factory of some form.  The milk was processed and packaged, and eventually we had our final product, the milk we bought at stores.

In fact, up until four years ago, I never questioned any of it.

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Your story may sound similar.  You may not have had a grandpa who owned a dairy farm, but chances are good that you grew up drinking conventional store bought milk - and probably still do.

Conventional Dairy

Anytime, we as humans consume an animal by-product, we are also consuming what the animal consumed. This is one of the reasons, that dairy farms have strict regulations in terms of how milk is tested and handled. Cows are treated with antibiotics as needed, cows may eat GMO products, and (though not common) cows may be supplemented with growth hormones.  It is understood that through testing the cows, none of these products reach or effect human intake. In addition, on many dairy farms cows consume approximately 100 pounds of feed (hay, grain, corn silage, and soy protein) per day.

The above paragraph is a perfect example of dairy production on a mass scale.  Ohio, where I live is home to approximately 2,200 dairy farms. Overall, there are 40,000 dairy farms in the United States.

With dairy constantly being produced and consumed in such a large-scale manner and with rigorous standards, we as the consumer hardly question it.

Kenna’s Story

As a family, we drank store bought 2% milk growing up.  We liked the taste, and we were reducing our overall fat intake as generally recommended.  

It wasn’t until I was married that I started purchasing whole milk, and only at the request of my husband. To be honest, for a short time, I was still purchasing 2% milk for me and whole milk for him! I finally caved and made our home a whole milk home several months into our marriage.

When our daughter was a year old, I was eager to introduce dairy into her diet and to supplement the whole foods we had already started.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go exactly as expected.  Within several weeks of introducing milk into Kenna’s diet, I started to notice a severe diaper rash.  It was persistent and despite my best efforts, I was having a hard time clearing it up. Within several days, Kenna was obviously uncomfortable.  She was having a hard time falling asleep at night due to belly aches, and her diaper rash was becoming increasingly worse.

One evening her upset stomach occurred immediately after giving her a bottle of milk.  It was so severe that I started to question milk and feared she might be lactose intolerant.  We talked it over with her doctor, at which point it was recommended to remove dairy from her diet and introduce Almond milk.  He feared that she had a bovine protein allergy, “common” in younger children and assured us it was something that she would outgrow around the age of 3-4.  

Thankfully, Kenna’s stomach problems did resolve almost immediately.  And so I assumed this would be our future for the next several years.

But as time went on I had an unsettling feeling… I felt certain that dairy could be healthy for her diet.  It’s just the obvious was proving otherwise. It wasn’t until one evening when a family friend stopped over and were discussing the dairy to almond milk switch, that he mentioned  trying RAW goats milk.

The goat’s milk would have a different protein and RAW milk was accessible at small, local farms.  

I knew goats milk would be extreme transition in terms of flavor, but RAW milk in general was something I had never considered before, or even realized was an option to be honest.   

RAW, Grass-Fed Dairy

Cows by nature are herbivores, an animal that feeds on plants.  However, it isn’t until more recently that more people are starting to question Grass VS. Grains for cows.  As mentioned above, with conventional, factory farming, cows are provided a high grain, corn and soy diet.

The diet of a cow, has an impact on the cow’s health and the health of those who eat the cow.  When cows have access to a well-maintained pasture in summer months and are able to winter graze or consume hay in the colder months, they are consuming a diet as nature intended.  

In contrast, when cows are primarily fed a grain, corn and soy based diet, it can present several issues.  It can cause physical issues with the cattle, resulting in more infections, and more antibiotic use. It affects the cows body profile, increasing the fat in their meat and decreasing the conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in their milk, an acid found in fat from grass-fed cattle that is believed to help lower human body fat and cardiac risk.

So what else makes RAW, grass-fed dairy different?

Aside from the fact that the dairy is nutrient dense from pasture raised cattle, it’s also non-pasteurized and non-homogenized.

Pasteurization: A process in which products are processed with mild to high-heat to reduce pathogens and extend shelf life

Homogenization: A process of reducing a substance, such as the fat globules in milk, to extremely small particles and distributing it uniformly throughout a fluid

While pasteurization of milk is designed to reduce food-borne illness, there have been more food-borne illnesses from shellfish, produce, and poultry than RAW milk alone in the past 20 years.

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What To Look For When Purchasing Dairy

So where does all of this leave us as the consumer?

Just as it is with any food we consume, it’s important to weigh the pro’s/con’s and to do our own research.  

I knew, for my family, we had to change the dairy products we were consuming.  It was obvious that conventional dairy, was not working well in my family. However, I wasn’t sure that I was quite ready to make the leap to 100% RAW milk without doing some more of my own research.

I do fully support the benefits of grass-fed cattle, and dairy products and I believed that would be a great place to start.

1) RAW or Low Pasteurized

I will never encourage you to purchase a food product out of fear or guilt. If you consume all conventional dairy products, then you’re in the majority.

However, if you’re interested in doing further research about less conventional dairy products, great!  The best we can do is learn, understand the foods that we eat, and be responsible for our food choices and impact that they have.

Low Pasteurized milk avoids heating milk to such extremes that important enzymes are killed, as is typical with most farm factory produced milk. Lactase, the enzyme that assimilates lactose into sugar for easy digestion, is one of these important enzymes

RAW milk is straight out of the cow, zero processing milk.  

2) Non-Homogenized

You know how milk used to have cream on the top? That is non-homogenized milk.  This means butterfat molecules in milk are not processed down and are left in their natural state. These relatively large milk-fat globules bind with nutrients (like vitamins A & D) found in the liquid portion of the milk. These fat-globules are then able to be properly digested and release nutrients for the body.  Milk fat, in its natural state, is much easier for the body to process and digest.

3) Find a Local Farm

Initially, I wanted to introduce RAW milk into our diet. However, I was concerned that our stomachs were not yet re-colonized with enough healthy bacteria, and we had not reduced processed foods long enough to tolerate milk in it’s completely natural state.

Unfortunately, the sale of RAW milk is only legal in Ohio through herd shares. Read here to find out more about the sale of RAW milk in all 50 states.

Further, I knew that if I was consuming RAW dairy, it would be from a farm that was clean, and where the cow’s only purpose was for the production of RAW, sanitary dairy.  I also knew, that I would feel the MOST comfortable consuming dairy if we had our own cow. However, that is not currently an option.

That’s when I found Hartzler dairy.  Someday, I know that we’ll continue to expand our “homesteading lifestyle” dream and I will have all the RAW dairy I can consume.  For now, I’m more than happy to purchased our milk from a trusted source that appreciates dairy in it’s most natural state.

“Some of our best days at Hartzler Dairy is when we receive a letter, email or phone call from someone thanking us because they can once again enjoy a cold glass of milk! So many people have been told that they are allergic or have sensitivities to milk, and many suffer painful gastric distress from being lactose intolerant. So why can so many of these people drink Hartzler milk without problems?

The answer is in the way we produce our milk. Hartzler's Dairy processes milk as little as allowable in order to avoid changing its molecular structure and prevent the elimination of valuable nutrients and enzymes found naturally in milk. All this is possible due to a combination of our Low-Temperature Vat Pasteurization technique and the fact that our milk is Non-Homogenized.”

Hartzler Dairy

4) Ask Questions
If you’re still unsure, ask questions!

  • Do your research.  

  • Visit local farms.  

  • Build connections in the natural farming community.

There are SO many benefits of returning to a more natural state of farming and consuming animal products.  Benefits for the animals, for the economy, for the land, for our health.

I’ve been consuming low pasteurized, non-homogenized for almost four years now.  As my family continues to learn, grow and expand the way that we obtain and consume real, whole foods, I know that RAW milk will be a part of our future.

But it starts with that first step.