WHAT MAKES OUR “WHOLE” MILK BETTER?
I have had people say to me, “Man, your milk is expensive. I can get raw milk from the Amish for $4/gallon. Sure, I have to drive 4 hours to get it each week, but it’s ‘cheaper.'” I’ve also had people proudly declare that they drink Certified Organic milk from Costco, or, that they love the Shatto milk because it is local and comes in a glass bottle.
There are a lot of buzz words out there with regard to milk. As a consumer, it is important to understand that all milk is not created equal. In terms of improved milk quality, there are a couple of key factors to consider.
#1. Is it raw or is it pasteurized/homogenized?
#2. Are the cows allowed to graze? What percentage of their diet is from LIVING, GREEN grass in the form of pasture or fodder?
#3. How much grain are the cows fed, and what kind of grain is it? There is a range here that GREATLY affects the quality and the price of the milk.
- Cows fed LARGE volumes of GMO corn, soy, and “distillers grain” which is a corn bi-product after it has been used to make ethanol. (This is most milk available at stores.)
- Cows fed relatively small volumes (i.e. 5-10 lbs or less per day.) of GMO corn, soy and “distillers grain.” (THIS IS THE CASE WITH MOST SMALL FARMS SELLING RAW MILK IN MO and KS.) Even just feeding 5-10 lbs of these high calorie, grains causes a cow to produce more milk and stay in good “condition” (i.e.have some fat on her so she doesn’t get so thin that she won’t breed back.) This is the kind of feed readily available at local feed stores and co-ops, so it is easily accessible and cheaper than any other form of supplementation.
- Cows fed large or small volumes of organic corn or soy. (VERY difficult to impossible to acquire organic corn and soy at all in MO, let alone at a reasonable price as a small farmer.)
- Cows fed grains other than corn or soy. (VERY difficult to acquire alternative grains at a reasonable price as a small farmer. When we first started buying barley for fodder, we paid about $22 per bushel for organic barley that we had to buy 2- 4 pallets at a time to justify the freight charges to ship it from Iowa. GMO Corn was running around $6-$7 per bushel. Buying whole grains requires you either own a mill or that you sprout your grain, so it doesn’t go straight through the cow.)
- I know of some cows being supplemented with coconut bi-products and other non-grain supplements, but these are also non-grass supplements.
#4 If the cow is 100% grass-fed, what is it supplemented with? Unless the cows have excellent grass-based genetics (rare in dairy cows) and are EXCELLENT fescue-free pasture (not generally the case in Northern MO or KS) the cows will generally HAVE to be supplemented with something or they will produce only small volumes of milk and won’t breed back. So, these are the options:
- Cows fed supplemental dry GMO alfalfa hay. Did you know that most of the alfalfa sold on the market now is also GMO?
- Cows fed non-GMO dry alfalfa hay.
- Cows fed LIVING FODDER (i.e. hydroponically sprouted grasses grown from barley, wheat, triticale, rye, or other seeds). I know of NO other raw milk dairy in the area going to the extra effort in infrastructure, labor, and lengths to acquire and store local barley in order to produce and feed fodder for their dairy cows. Fodder-fed cows produce milk that is generally a high-brix milk–meaning it is more nutrient dense and has a sweeter flavor (not contributed by molasses mix with the grain feed like most cows) and is more “satisfying.” You can drink less of it and feel more nourished. Read more about fodder on our fodder page. (Once I get it up 😉
#5 Other things to consider when determining who you will buy your milk from might be:
- Are the cows supplemented with high quality, bio-available, well-balanced mineral and vitamins to ensure animal health, and nutrient dense milk?
- Breed of the cow and genetics (Holstein VS heritage breeds that tend to have higher butterfat and protein solids. A1 or A2 Genetics, etc.)
- Container the milk is bottled in. (Plastic vs. Glass. Glass bottles make the milk taste better and I think stay fresh longer, minimizing the amount of plastic in landfills, but they also require man-power and infrastructure to clean/sanitize them.)
- Do milk sales contribute to some other social good? (Be Whole Again Farm exists not only to produce food, but to create the environment and experiences used by Kid Teachers to educate local youth and provide them with entrepreneurial internships, to teach Whole Farm Club sustainable farming classes, for Be Whole Again emotional healing and life coaching, and as part of our future residential program for troubled teenage girls that will be housed in Lathrop, MO.)
- Are the cows raised humanly? (Our cows are allowed to nurse their own calves 50% of the day!)
The following spreadsheet gives you some comparisons of our milk vs others.
|Be Whole Again Farm||Most Small Raw Milk Farms in MO||Big “Organic” Dairies||Big Dairy|
|Receive Government Subsidies||None||Only in the form of cheaper corn and soy if they feed them.||YES||YES|
|Pateurized & Homogenized milk||RAW||RAW||YES||YES|
|Glass bottles||YES||usually||none in MO that I’m aware of||only Shatto in this area|
|Convenient Delivery Locations||YES! We deliver throughout the greater Kansas City area!||Not very many||No||No|
|Produced Locally||YES! In Excelsior Springs, MO.||Yes||NOT that I know of.||Only Shatto and Hiland Dairy as far as I know have farms within 100 miles of Kansas City|
|ANTIBIOTICS & HORMONES|
|Routine Antibiotics at dry-off with “long-acting” antibiotics to prevent mastitis at freshening||Never||?||No||YES|
|Frequent Mastitis treated with antibiotics||Because our calves get to nurse, mastitis is extremely rare on our farm. If a cow does get mastitis, her calf is kept on her 24X7, plus we milk 2-3 times a day, rubbing the udder with hot compresses. If that doesn’t kick it, we use Silver Biotics, peppermint oil, garlic and cayenne. Repeat offenders with resistant strains of bacteria are sold or butchered.||? Most treat with antibiotics, but keep the cow out of the milk string for the required 7-21 days to clear the medicine from their system||Often they have to treat with antibiotics, then they have to sell the cow.||YES|
|rBST Hormones to increase production||NEVER||No||No||Today, most milk for drinking is from cows NOT treate with rBST, but MANY cheeses are made from rBST-using farms. (Visit this site to see which cheese companies use milk from rBST cows http://cleaneatingintexas.wordpress.com/2012/08/08/is-your-cheese-full-of-hormones/)|
|Administer oxytocin hormones to trigger let-down in slow cows||No. Our calves are brought in to trigger let-down due to maternal instinct||?||No||YES|
|GMO Corn and Soy dominated diet||NEVER||Usually cows are fed 5-15 lbs per day.||NO||YES|
|Non-GMO organic Corn and Soy-fed||NO||Not Likely||Probably||NO|
|Get to graze||Our cows always have access to pasture. Feeding fodder is “pasture” in the trough too!||Usually||Depends on the dairy. But generally, they do have access to pasture.||Not very often|
|GMO alfalfa fed||NO||Probably||No||Possibly|
|non-GMO alfalfa fed||We buy only non-GMO alfalfa, but feed very little due to feeding LIVING fodder instead of dry alfalfa.||Most alfalfa in the area is GMO, so it is hard for farms to find.||Often||Not likely|
|COMPLETELY GRAIN-FREE||Due to an increase in our herd size, we maxed out our fodder system production. As soon as we expand our Fodder system, we will once again be 100% grain-free. As of 12/15/2013 we are feeding less than 5lbs of unsprouted rye per cow to keep them from losing weight. We hope to be completely grain free again by 1/15/2013||Extremely Rare||EXTREMELY RARE||NEVER|
|Cows Fed LIVING, GREEN barley fodder||YES!! Each cow gets 15-30 lbs per day of hydroponic barley grass.||**We know of NO OTHER dairies in Missouri feeding fodder. We believe we are the ONLY ones.**||EXTREMELY RARE||NEVER|
|Cows Fed LIVING, GREEN barley fodder from ORGANIC grain||The price difference between non-organic and organic barley seed is 57% from our local suppliers. If there is enough demand for a 100% organic feed (by people willing to pay a higher price) we can switch to organic barley||No||EXTREMELY RARE||No|
|Cows get to nurse their own calf||YES!! We milk in the morning and the calves get to nurse all day. Our calves consume almost 1/2 of our milk production each day until they are weaned at 10 months old.||Most calves are bottle fed formula. Some will raise their calves on nurse cows.||Most calves are bottle or bucket-fed formula. Some will raise their calves on nurse cows.||NEVER. Calves are not allowed to nurse, but are immediately pulled from the cow and fed colostrum in a bottle. Then they are switched to a soy-based formula. Sometimes dairy bull-calves are killed the day they are born. Most times calves are separated into individual pens with no social interaction.|
|Cows Confined to a barn||Our cows always have access to shelter if they choose, but they spent most of their time on pasture.||Usually have access to pasture||Sometimes (But have access to pasture too)||YES|
|BREEDING AND GENETICS|
|A2/A2 Genetics||We have not yet tested our cows due to the cost. Older Jersey genetics tend to have a high liklihood of A2/A2 genes. We plan to test in 2014 and begin to breed in more A2/A2 genes in the future.||Most haven’t tested.||NO||NO|
|High Production Holstein Cows||Mostly Jersey and Jersey Crosses. We are breeding in more Normande genetics for added milk protein and dual-purpose grass-based genetics.||? (Often they are Jersey, Guernsey, or Brown Swiss.)||Yes||Yes|