Wednesday, August 3, 2011

More on Milk

When I posted why I feel completely safe buying regular milk, I received a request to address the potential use of growth hormones and steroids to make cows produce milk more quickly. So I asked my good friend, who is in the dairy business, if she could please share the truth of what really happens on the dairy farm. I am posting exactly what she shared with me in the interest that it may help all of us make wise, informed consumer choices.

Milk is Milk

I will begin by stating the difference between organic raw milk and regular raw milk. The difference is none other than the price…seriously it is one of the biggest marketing scams.

Why should I have knowledge of this? First off I have lived on a dairy farm for pretty much my whole life. We are a family owned business that has been going on for several generations. This is also true for pretty much all of our neighbors as well. It is also safe to say that 90% of us dairy families drink our own raw milk—straight out of our milk tanks at the barn—and it is not organic. We have never felt any worry about the safeness of drinking our own milk…probably because we are witness to everything that goes into it. It is safe, to say the least. (On a side note: raw milk of any kind can cause digestive issues to those not acclimated to raw milk since it contains high contents of live flora and probiotics.)

One of the first scare tactics the media likes to use against regular milk is the possibility of antibiotics contaminating the milk. To put things into perspective, on our dairy we milk between 2,000-2,200 cows daily. The milk truck comes two times a day to pick up our milk from our 6000 gallon tanks. Each milk truck tests each tank of milk for antibiotics. Before the milk even makes it to the creamery, the result is clear: yes or no. If there are any antibiotics detected, the entire tank is literally dumped down the drain at the barn—nothing can be salvaged. Cows treated for various illnesses and infections with antibiotics are milked separately and none of their milk goes into the tank. There are a certain number of days before that cow is even allowed to be milked again with the rest of the herd. If however, the cow somehow manages to get mixed in with the herd before she has been cleared, the antibiotic detection test will find it in the milk. If even one cow in a herd, in our case out of 2200, has antibiotics in her milk, it will be found out and the entire tank of milk will go down the drain. So as an obvious fact, there are no antibiotics in milk.

For point number two I will address the growth hormone scare issue.

I have read recently a new and very surprising myth relating to dairy cows: that a growth hormone or steroid is used in raising dairy cattle. There is nothing more to say on this point other than it is absolutely not true (I am only speaking for the dairy industry, not the beef, which I do not feel as though I have knowledge in). I can only think that perhaps people are getting mixed up with the natural bst hormone that several years ago was used by many dairy farmers to increase milk production in some cows. The strange thing about the bst hormone was that it already occurs naturally in cows. This hormone is what allows a cow to produce milk. Dairy farmers simply injected more of into some of their cows that fell into a certain category of production. In fact, this bst hormone is so natural that there is no scientist in the world that could distinguish between “bst raw milk” and “organic raw milk.” This comes from over 20 years of extensive milk study. Nevertheless, several years ago, the milk board decided that because of the bad publicity bst (scare tactics!) was getting, it is now near impossible to sell milk that came from cows that had a bst injection. That is why you see most milk in grocery stores with the label of no bst . As a side note, the FDA, American Medical Association, American Cancer Society, National Institutes of Health, US Surgeon General’s Office, and the World Health Organization all have given this milk the ok, but since the paranoia and skewed facts, this type milk has been taken off the market.

Next point is the feed of dairy cattle. In a nutshell, if we humans took as good care of our diets as we dairymen take care of our cows, we would be living in one of the healthiest possible societies ever. Great care and pain is taken to see that our cows are fed the perfect diet—enough of all the essential minerals, proteins, fats, carbs, fiber, etc. Hired nutritionists are often testing cows pH balance (a common practice for cancer surviving people who attempt to control cancer by their diet), noting herd conditions, milk production, and health. All of this data they collect is then transformed into a perfect ration for the ultimate health of the cow (think spinach fruit smoothies for us). This ration is often made up mainly of wheat or corn silage and alfalfa hay along with a list of interesting commodities (no ground up meat or bones!!) to bolster the mineral, proteins, and energy a cow needs.

 I have to stop on this nutrition point to quickly point out the amazing “green-ness” of dairy farms in this respect. Most of these commodities that are added to the cows’ feed: cotton seed, almond hulls, distillers waste (bi-product of ethanol from corn), bakery waste (ground up cookies, cakes, and bread), citrus (the bruised fruit from local orchards), soy meal, and many more similar natural occurring wastes that normally would be simply disposed of in landfills are now being processed by cows to produce milk! So as stated, the cows are fed a very stellar diet that reaches all of their needs to be as healthy as possible.

Organic milk promotes that there are no pesticides in their milk…that is great…but also our “regular” milk also has zero pesticides in it! All milk, whether organically or conventionally produced, must comply with the standards set forth in the federal pasteurized milk ordinance. Milk and dairy products are among the most highly tested and regulated food in the country, therefore making it one of the top safest foods in the USA.

As stated above in the nutrition point, a dairy farmer is always very concerned about the care and well being of his cows. A fact: happy cows produce the most milk. If a cow is stressed, sickly, crowded, weak, tired, or hungry, she will not produce milk at an optimal level. A dairy farmer needs each cow to be at her best production in order to make a profit. The dairy cow is the farmer’s best asset. You cannot force an “unhappy” cow to produce milk in a profitable way. In fact, at milking time, cows are usually huddled by the gate ready and wanting to get milked. When a cow gets sick, has a hoof ailment, or birthing problem antibiotics may be used to treat her. It seems to be a bit inhumane to deny treatment to a suffering animal…but perhaps organic dairy farmers simply beef these down trodden cows. We use antibiotics sparingly as a cow may not be milked with the rest of the herd while she is on medication. In other words, antibiotics are not over used (as they are in our own human medical world). It is against federal regulations to ship milk or beef that has not properly gone through the withdrawal periods, very strict protocols are written on this by our vets and incorporated into our data base to decrease any chance of polluting the milk or beef products with antibiotics.

The care of our animals is the biggest part of our job: we can match up with most zoos on how much we spend on trying to keep our cows healthy and comfortable! One last stress on the safety of our cattle is that we (as most of our dairy farming community does as well) eat our own beef—the beef we use comes from our own herd. I can truthfully say I have never felt worried about cooking it up, and in fact, my family does not like “store bought” meat—only ours. But perhaps this is another chapter for another day. Hopefully this essay has brought to light the skewed facts and myths about milk so that next time you are in a grocery store you will feel confident in your decision about choosing regular milk as a healthy food/drink for your family.


  1. Thank you for sharing! What a wonderful, well-rounded approach to this VERY controversial issue! While we are able to buy raw milk ("since it contains high contents of live flora and probiotics")from a reputable farm in our area, this article will be very helpful for those who are unsure or still "on the fence".
    Thank you again!
    Cheryl, we're both anxiously awaiting our Aug. 13th due date! I'm ready!!!!! :-)

  2. How concerned are you about the recent passing of the Round-up ready Alfalfa onto the market and do you think it will change the diet of your herd?...Also with the current issues coming to light with the long term side effects of the Round-up ready Corn already on the market?

    I am all for milk straight from the cow, shame my tummy just can't take it as I and one of my daughters are lactose intolerant.

    Thank you for sharing your insights straight from the farm.

    Blessings Kelsie

  3. Thank you for writing this (and for posting)! I have since changed to regular milk (when you posted about milk around a month ago). I refuse to buy into the organic milk scam!