June 19, 2009

This week has been insanely busy. I'm going to leave most of the details alone. Offering only this food for thought. I met a third generation dairy farmer today. For three generations, her family has owned the same dairy farm. They milk 150 Holsteins a day, every day. She riveted my attention and I had 150 questions for her. Do they keep bulls? No. Would her husband offer a class on artificial insemination? No. Do they drink their own milk? No. Wait, back up, maybe I misunderstood. You buy the milk you drink? That's right. They buy the milk they drink from the local grocery.

There is no way for me to compute this. I stand there with my jaw waggling on its silent blond hinge. My face must betray me, though I promise I was trying to look neutral. So she said, "Our milk is too high fat. And raw milk spoils so fast, because its not pasteurized, you know."

Later I overheard her saying to another mother, "I could never homeschool my children." And I am not proud to admit this but I thought to myself, No, I reckon you couldn't. There are so many possible implications to a dairy farm that doesn't drink their own milk, it honestly scares me.

I mean, if you grow up on a dairy farm and you don't know how to skim for butter... I find myself speechless. If the milk you produce is so dirty that it spoils in a day... I find myself speechless. Thinking this is the milk being sold for the general public... I find myself speechless.

But you know what I suspect is going on here? People believe what they are taught. And we are all taught that milk must come from a market, government processed and graded. Just as we are taught our children must come through the school system, government processed and graded. Most people believe that. I find myself speechless.


MOM #1 said...

I'm speechless too. Wow. I have a bunch more I think I want to say, but I'll just leave it at that.

Amy said...

My grandparents were dairy farmers. They drank their own milk, though they low temp pasteurized it. They used to drink raw milk until once (in the 1960's) the entire family got extremely ill and the bacteria making them sick was found in their milk. They had to spend several weeks in the hospital recovering. It was just an isolated incident, since everyone drank raw milk for years and years prior with no issue.

When I was a kid they had a large herd of Holsteins. The cows were brought in to be milked in the milking parlor (that's what they call it there...) and then the rest of their time was spent in the fields. They had an entire process they had to follow to ensure clean milk. First the cow would walk into the stall, then the udders would be wiped off with a paper towel. Next the udders would be misted with some blue spray. Then they would be wiped dry, and the little hoses would get attached to milk them. The milk went through pipes and into a huge stainless steel holding tank until the milk truck came each morning. The milk man reached into a little doggy door type thing with a long hook and pulled a hose out to attach to his truck. We used to think that the milk man was captian hook. We would hide in the barn behind the milk tank to spy on him. The milk was tested each day, and if the milk had too much bacteria it would be sent to make cheese and they would get less money for it, so they always wanted to be sure it was all as sanitary as possible.

Some years, for whatever reason, they would have sickly calves that couldn't nurse and I would get to bottle feed them around the clock. It was exhausting but fun. I don't think people realize how intelligent and sweet cows can be. They are so aware of their surroundings.

I think it's sad that a dairy farmer wouldn't drink their own milk. It shows how removed they are from their own farm. It's a business for them and not a lifestyle, I guess. Knowing cows, and understanding how a dairy farm works, I honestly can't imagine how disgusting it must be to be around one of those gigantic feed lot farms where the cows are not out in fields...

Diane McKenzie said...

I am also speechless! Talk about being divorced from your own life.

Anonymous said...

The problem with cows is that they can look healthy and be carrying disease; you wouldn't know it until they were on death's door. It is important to pasteurise milk before hand. They may not have the means to do so. I hear what you're saying, but I think you're being quite hard on them (maybe because of her comment about homeschooling?) You don't know the ins and outs of dairy farming, just as she doesn't know the ins and outs of homeschooling.

Katherine said...

Dear Anonymous,

I have a policy here. Your name is the price of your opinion. But I'll let that slide this one time, in order to point out that anyone with a kitchen can pasteurize milk. Anyone who can make oatmeal or grits or coffee can pasteurize milk.

If you would like to comment again, you'll need to get yourself a name.

Amy, thank you for your comment. I think its so cool that you got to grow up on a dairy farm! I'm jealous. I realized why I always ask farmers if they drink their milk. I hadn't really noticed the question, before yesterday. I only ask, to get to the second question, which of course is, do you pasteurize? I've never met anyone who says yes. And I've only ever heard of one other farmer getting sick from his own milk. He lived in the 50s in Puerto Rico and his cow had Brucellosis, which is not a big concern in the United States these days.

Amy said...

Katherine, I am on the fence about drinking raw milk now. On one hand I fully understand the health benefits, and I have tasted it and it is delicious. But low temp pasteurized milk is also delicious and still retains some healthy bacteria while killing off the scariest things. And you're right--you don't often hear of people getting sick from raw dairy products. More people seem to get sick from contaminated processed foods! If we are ever lucky enough to own a few cows I might feel comfortable enough to drink the milk raw, but I wouldn't drink raw milk from a regular large scale dairy because who knows what's breeding in those barns, yuck!

The milk we drink now comes from a dairy farm a couple hours from here. Whole Foods stocks it, and it goes from the cow to the shelf in less than 48 hours! It tastes exactly like the fresh milk I drank as a kid. It's heated to a low temperature for only a few minutes.

Anonymous said...

Ok, how about Bob? Or Bill? Or Mike? Or Janet? This is the internet, we can be whoever we want to be and 'names' mean little.

I don't care if my comment is published or not. I simply wanted to point out that you came down pretty hard on them without really knowing them, just as they made a snap judgement about homeschooling. They can't be blamed for the conditioning they've received (if that is, in fact, the case here. You don't really know, you've just assumed) and they're not all as enlightened as you. The whole 'Oh, my God, can you believe it?' attitude is juvenile and is nearly as bad for society as the conditioning. Maybe they have been conditioned, but ridiculing them doesn't help anything.


Katherine said...

Emma, thank you, I so prefer to speak to someone who is brave enough to offer a name. You are correct that I have no control over liars. They make their own bed, and I wish them well in it.

You assume a lot yourself. You assume I don't know about the dairy industry. (I do. I even own my own cow. And I've done my homework.) You assume I took her comment about homeschooling personally. (I didn't. Her comment is nearly universal. Its what almost everyone says. I don't even think she intended it to be personal. I don't even think she knows I heard it.)

And finally, with regard to juvenile attitudes, meh. This is my blog. Talking is what I do here. If you don't like it, don't read it. If you think I'm judgmental, that's ok with me. Maybe I'm not writing well enough for you to understand me? That's ok with me. Enough people seem to understand me well enough, that I'll just keep doing what I do here.

Amy, I think about raw vs. pasteurized a lot. I'm on the fence as well. Which is why I ask every farmer I meet about it. Right now, we drink it raw, from a small farm down the road. But I would never drink raw milk from a commercial dairy. For many reason, many of which have to do with industrial strength E coli. Grain fed cows are one of the biggest problems. And I use the word grain, here, very loosely.

Most of our grandparents drank raw milk from family cows. If raw milk were the danger that the dairy industry would have us believe, none of us would be here. And what about Europe? They don't look so sickly to me, yet raw milk isn't even considered controversial in Germany or France, as I understand it. It's just what people with their own dairy animals drink. That gives me pause.

I am VERY SUSPICIOUS of Industrial Food when big money is on the line. Big money has everything to gain and nothing to lose, if folks are afraid to grow their own.

Oooo, just like our educational system...ooops! What's happening here in our country? And that Emma, is what I'm really trying to talk about.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Emma that most people aren't to blame for the conditioning they receive. What they ARE to blame for is the fact that they aren't willing to see beyond the conditioning. Happy with pablum, they tend to stay in the status quo comfort zone. Which in of itself is just fine and dandy as that's what keeps Big Businesses Happy. I don't mind if people don't agree with what is on the other side of their conditioning, but they SHOULD know about that other side. They should be informed about it. Perhaps what Katherine is railing against is that very inability to see both sides of the coin that said dairy farmer seemed to have. Here is a woman who for three generations has been "in touch" with the land and supposedly feeding our nation. Yet she seems out of touch a bit.

"I could never homeschool." Absolutely this woman CAN homeschool. Anyone can. But it's the inability to see beyond the conditioning that say's she CAN'T. If she can see beyond that conditioning and then say "I don't WANT to homeschool" it's a different story. If her response to Katherines question about raw milk had been... "Oh, I know many people DO drink raw milk, and my grandparents certainly did, and I understand both sides of the story, but for my family this is what we've chosen." But then again,maybe I'm assuming this dairy farmer doesn't know both sides of the coin. Maybe she didn't want to deal with the issue and gave Katherine the quick version of her answer. Who knows...

Meanwhile, when I lived with my grandparents on their farm (also generations of Wisconsin farmers behind them) we drank raw milk. Skimmed it. I hated it as a child. I had only had grocery store milk! I can't remember my mother ever telling me they got sick, as she grew up drinking raw milk. At least if they did it wasn't dire.

Sarah said...

My husband grew up on a dairy and they drank the milk their cows produced. Once my husband left home, however, and his little brothers and then his father were in charge of milking, he stopped drinking the milk from there because he didn't trust the cleanliness.

They get bacteria counts from the company that buys their milk and it's truly disgusting how high the bacteria count is allowed to be on milk that is headed to be pasteurized. It's high enough that you do not want to drink it raw, so his parents now sell that (dirty but not too dirty) milk and buy milk at the store. Their bacteria count (they have a small fifty cow dairy) is still lower than a factory-farm dairy that produces 90% of the milk in the stores.

What amazes me is that my SIL asked me why that made me shudder (the bacteria count). I explained to her that even if the bacteria were killed in pasteurization, they were still floating around in the milk. Nasty, even if it's not harmful. I would just prefer to drink milk that was handled so well that it didn't *need* to be pasteurized. To her, that thought is more shudder-inducing than filthy milk that has been pasteurized. Go figure.

Katherine said...

So that is two farmers who sell their dairy and then buy more at the store? That is so difficult for me to wrap my brain around.

Why do they think the milk they are buying is any different from the milk they are selling? And why, on this huge green earth, would they be willing to pay for the cost of keeping cows and the mark up on milk?

Do y'all know that cows who are named, produce more milk?

Anonymous said...


Since I check in and read your lovely blog, I'll take the time to make a brief comment and post something that may be of interest to you.
Interesting that I'm reading about milk on the two blogs that I consistently check in on.

While visiting with my Dad yesterday I got him talking about growing up on their farm in rural NC. He laughed when I mentioned if they pasturerized their milk. They had a cow, would milk, skim, make butter.
I'm envious of your cow....no local dairies around here.

Here's the post that is discussing milk, small farms.


And I wish you thank you for the series of posts by Diane Mckenzie, and thank her for them also.


Anonymous said...


So why isn't that link working?

I'll give it another try


Katherine said...

Lisa, thank you! That article is fantastic.

Wendell Berry. Sigh. Do you know his poetry?

Anonymous said...

My relatives drink their milk. It's as simple as dipping a clean jar in and walking back to the house. Plus it's good. love, V

Annie said...

Wow. Powerful post Katherine. I'm just as shocked that dairy farmers wouldn't drink their own milk. That seems crazy to me!

Some great comments and then there are others.... I always chuckle when I read "You're so judgemental!" type comments people can make. Why is the irony in this lost on some? Blogs are all about making observations, judgements, sharing ideas and opinions.

Magic and Mayhem said...

Great post. It's sad how willing people are to swallow the idea that they're incompetent and need "experts" and the government to process our food, raise our kids and fix our problems. And it doesn't even work well!