Is raw milk safe? A question we have been asked more than once. In fact, it is a question that keeps the argument over raw milk sales going. What we say is, “we’ve been milking and drinking raw milk for over 9 years”. We gave it to my husband 100 year old gram without any harmful effects. We’ve hear about every comment, technique, and handling method used by people and some have been quite shocking!
Let’s be honest though, the MAJORITY of people we know do everything they can to practice safe raw milk handling and wouldn’t dream of risking themselves or anyone else if they thought it wasn’t safe.
Montana is very strict on raw milk usage. It is legal for personal use ONLY and only among ‘close’ family members (meaning members living in your home). Raw milk is illegal to transfer to another for human consumption. Pet milk is illegal, goat shares aren’t legal, etc. Though technically, goat shares are not considered legal, the State of Montana has never taken anyone to court over goat shares. Strict right? Yes, but many of us still want raw milk and our only legal option is to have goats.
So this blog is about how we handle raw milk and some of the things you should think about before you get raw milk from anyone. Again, most of the people we know personally do everything in their power to keep their milk safe…..but there is always one out there that doesn’t.
Keep the chance of contamination minimal.
This can be by having a separate milking room; having a way to keep the other goats away while you milk; having an area that is easy to clean or by cleaning it daily. Use glass or stainless steel – far easier to sterilize using multiple methods.
What we do: We clean out the area around the milking stand each day. One at a time we bring our girls to get milked. They gladly jump up for their grain ration as we close the gate to keep everyone else out. We give them their grain ration.
Keep it clean
This step you can brush their does bellies; clean their hooves; wipe or wash the teats and your hands; squirt the first squirt of milk away - this is because if there are any germs in the tip of the teat openings from laying down they will be in the opening of the teat. This is also a good way to look for signs of trouble. Many people look to see if there is any chunks, discoloration, etc.; use sterile/clean stainless steel pans/buckets; cover milk containers with lids or by other means to keep out dust/dirt and bugs, etc.
What we do: We keep it simple and clean……we do brush their bellies to remove loose hair, dirt, etc. that they picked up when laying down. We wipe our hands with sterile wipes; we than wipe the does teats and their lower udder. We throw away the ‘first’ squirt. We than grab our bucket and milk away! Once we’re done, we use a sterile wipe to clean the doe’s teats before they get off the stand.
Keep it protected until you’re done
If you have more than one doe, you have to keep the milk safe from one doe to the next. You should keep it covered to prevent dust, dirt, hair, etc. from getting into the milk. There are many ways you can do this.
What we do: We measure our milk from each doe and pour it into a stainless steel milk tote with a cover. During summer when flies are bad, we use a wet paper towel to cover our measuring cup between does and also use sterile cheese cloth to cover the milk bucket between does. We like keeping their milk separate as we milk each one because we want to check for off odors or off colors while we milk. We also want to know how much milk each doe gives us. As long as it looks safe, we pour it into the milk tote.
Strain it and chill the milk FAST!
Straining the milk is done to remove any possible hairs, dust, etc prior to chilling – many people use milk filters, coffee filters, fine mess strainers, etc. This next step is an important one. Most studies recommend that your milk is chilled to less than 40 degrees within 30 minutes. The faster you chill the milk, the better. Many people use different methods, ice bath, freezer, etc. Some combine two methods – ice bath than freezer.
What we do: When we bring the milk in, we strain it through milk filters designed especially for milk. We than place the milk in glass quart jars. We place the jars in a bucket; add ice to cover the milk, than add cold water to the level of the milk in the jars. Once the milk is chilled to less than 40 degrees, we put it into ½ gallon glass containers and place them in our small refrigerator we have just for our milk.
Now, here is where different methods produce different results.
For this blog we tested the milk we brought in, it was around 80 degrees. We took 5 quarts and used our ice bath method and one quart we used for the freezer. We set a timer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes we used a thermometer to see what temps we got. Using our ice bath method, we got the milk to 39 degrees in 30 minutes.
The jar in the freezer only got to 54 degrees. We reset the timer for an additional 15 minutes, after which the milk in the ice bath was 37 degrees and the jar in the freezer was only 56 degrees.
We’ve tried larger containers and found quarts work best. After a full hour the quart jar in the freezer was finally around 40 degrees.
It’s recommended that you use only stainless steel or glass when handling raw milk. We’ve found personally, when we used aluminum or tin, the raw milk would react causing off flavor in the milk. Using plastic isn’t recommended because the plastic will absorb some of the milk residue, is harder to clean, and is harder to sterilize. Though we do use ½ gallon plastic containers to freeze our milk, we buy new from a local dairy for 30 cents and can be disposed of when necessary.
Also, when using stainless steel make sure you don’t have seems or ridges exposed to the milk. This is because the seams can get milk under them and tarnish the containers and later contaminate your milk.
Think before you drink…….
Do they vaccinate their does?
Many vaccinate with CD&T 1 month prior to their does kidding, we don’t but it is something to think about before your drink milk.
What is their worming program or process?
Some people worm on a planned schedule, twice a year or like us, only absolutely when needed.
What wormer do they use?
Some wormers have a withhold time – meaning some you can’t drink the milk for a period of time after worming.
What do they feed their goats?
This is important to know, especially if you have food sensitivities’ or dyes and preservatives like us. If they only feed forage and hay, their goats may not be as healthy as you think. But what commercial minerals or feed do they get? 95% of our girls’ diet is organic, grown by us when possible. Hay and Alfalfa are from a farmer we’ve known for years. He doesn’t spray, use GMO seeds or fertilize. We find weeds in our hay and yes sometimes mold when our summers were too wet to dry the hay perfectly, but its beautiful hay and alfalfa! We recently found out that some growers will actually spray their hay with a drying agent!! This is why you need to ask all those questions.
How does the person milk their goats?
How they milk is as important as what they milk. We knew one individual who would use the milk even if their goat put their hoof in the milk bucket! That was one of the reasons we choose to get goats.
We also know of someone who reused their milk filters from the morning milking for their evening milking.
We’ve personally seen a herd with CL & CAE selling raw milk, letting their chickens play on the milking stand and poop in the cheap baby wipes they used for their does teats…..see why we got into goats?
How do they handle it & chill it?
Remember there is a difference between one method and another. How they answer this question will tell you a lot about the milk you will or won’t drink.
Do they use commercial minerals or organic?
This is the one area we are still working on. Our girls have a 95% organic diet. Why is our girls diet only 95% organic? It comes down to our herds health…..milking does and growing kids need 16% protein, we just haven’t been able to come up with a grain mix to do that….but we still do at least half organic grain we mix ourselves.
We’re trying foraging options to up their protein but living in Montana it limits our outdoor foraging ability for at least 6 months out of the year…unless you want to come shovel four feet of snow out of our pastures, don’t judge ok. Our girls are still fat, sassy, happy, and per our vet – very, very healthy.
All their minerals are organic, free choice, or organically grown by us……it’s what we’ve chosen to do, again our herds overall health is the most important thing for us.
All we know is, since going organic, growing and raising our own food, we haven’t had a cold or flu in more years than we can count….what does that say about our country’s food standards and regulations? Our view is, natural, God made food isn’t as bad as our government makes it out to be…..When was the last time you heard about a commercial food recall? Last week? Yesterday? The only raw milk that made anyone sick was raw milk that wasn’t handled right, or by that one person who didn’t care if their goat put a hoof in the bucket…..it isn’t raw milk that isn’t safe, its people who don’t care.
The raw milk debate will continue regardless of what we say…..but you, you can make your own choices for you and your family….just educate yourself, ask the right questions…..think about where you food comes from and how its processed, or not processed. Only you have the right to make that decision for yourself.
So you tell me, is raw milk safe?