When we found out we were moving to Oregon, one of the first things I did was start looking for a raw milk dairy near our new home. In Oregon, just like in Colorado, it's illegal to sell raw milk, but you can own a share of a cow, and receive your own milk from a dairy that cares for your cow for you. So our family owns 1/25th of a sweet Jersey cow who lives about 30 miles away (and they have a drop-off site in the nearest town!)
The kids and I went to go meet our cows on Saturday. It was a perfect, sunny day (the last sunny day for a while, I think...), and we got to tromp around the farm, see the 8 cows rambling around in their pasture (they have names like Marla, Daisy, and Grandma - very cute!), visit the milking area, and see where the milk is bottled.
You may be wondering, in this age of rampant pasteurization, why in the world would we want to drink raw milk? Here are the basics:
1. It's from grassfed cows:
Even the best organic milk generally has no guarantee of being grass-fed, for the simple reason that grain is cheap (especially when it's subsidized by the government). Since we know where our cows live, and we know their farmers personally, we know exactly what they're eating, and we're happy with it. Also, the hay that they're fed during the winter is all local, not grain shipped in from who knows where. Research has shown that ruminants (cud-chewing animals) are healthier when they're fed grass, not grain. That means their grass-fed milk will be healthier too.
2. It's alive!
Raw milk retains all kinds of beneficial enzymes and bacteria like lactobacilli (that pasteurization destroys). These bacteria not only kill pathogens that could be present in the milk, they also help prevent pathogen absorption through the intestine wall and strengthen the immune system.
3. It's easier to digest.
Did you know that in the last 20 years, pasteurized milk sales have declined about 1% per year (in spite of rapidly rising population)? More and more people are abandoning pasteurized milk because it's so difficult to digest and has been linked to all kinds of problems like lactose intolerance, asthma, allergies, frequent ear infections, gastro-intestinal problems, and constipation. In contrast, raw milk still contains all the enzymes necessary for proper digestion (like lactase, which breaks down lactose). In one survey, 80% of lactose intolerant patients could digest raw milk just fine!
4. It's fat-full.
The cream in raw milk is full of fat-soluble vitamins and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which is known for its cancer and body fat-fighting properties.
5. It encourages responsible animal care.
As opposed to the standard Holsteins, who have been bred over the decades to produce maximum amounts of milk, not necessarily for their own health, many raw milk dairies use other traditional dairy breeds like Jerseys, Ayrshire, Swiss, and Gurnsey. This not only encourages genetic diversity in the dairy cow population, it also provides for excellent milk (Jerseys like ours are known for their milk's extra-high butterfat content...excellent!) Also, obviously, if milk is not going to be pasteurized, it has to come from animals in excellent health in order to be safe. Farmers have extra incentive to practice ideal herd-management techniques to keep their cows in peak health.
6. It's not as "risky" as we've been told.
This was a key factor in our decision to switch to raw milk. Many of the stats for milk contamination come from testing of "factory-farmed" milk that was intended for pasteurization. In contrast, milk from grass-fed animals, collected using the latest sterile milking and cleaning, herd testing, and refrigeration technology, is much less likely to be contaminated. In fact, raw milk is 10 times less likely to cause illness than deli meats, per serving! Just like any food, it can be contaminated if it is not handled correctly, but I've done enough investigation and statistics-reading to be convinced that raw milk is safe for my family.
If you are at all interested in raw milk, are wondering about some of these claims, or would like to see some data for yourself, please visit RealMilk.com for pages and pages of extensive research, analysis, and statistics.