this post is about why we consume raw dairy for its health benefits, safety & storage, and raising our own dairy animals on the homestead
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This topic is something I get lots of questions about.
Which isn’t surprising for a few reasons. Primarily, people just seem to be getting back into more traditional homegrown foods in general like garden fresh veggies, fresh eggs, meat, and…raw dairy.
I used to share a lot about being personally anti-dairy.
Some of that stemmed from things I’d read about dairy being inflammatory, and it was also partly because I was partnered with a company that encouraged a mostly vegan lifestyle – so, it was kind of my job to not be into dairy.
But when we started building the farmhouse, I was dreaming of getting some chickens, having gardens, and raising more of our own food.
I began noticing that almost all of the homesteading community not only consumed dairy regularly, but also raised dairy animals and talked about how beneficial it was to health. This really intrigued me so I decided to dig into this topic and see if there was more to the story.
Since then, I’ve obviously changed my tune! So I’ll be sharing lots of what I’ve learned and experienced here in this post. I’ll cover two points that I’ve noticed to be big factors in whether we have a good or bad experience with dairy:
- process – raw vs. pasteurized
- type of protein – A1 vs. A2
watch the full video on raw dairy and walk with me to see our dairy cows and goats
Raw vs. Pasteurized Dairy
Raw dairy is simply: any dairy product like milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. that is unpasteurized. Raw dairy is alive, with tons of active, beneficial bacteria and enzymes for digestion, absorption, and gut health.
Pasteurization is a process where milk is heated enough to kill any potentially harmful bacteria before it’s consumed. This is a really great way to make sure commercial dairy is safe. It would be pretty difficult to ensure adequate testing of raw dairy on such a huge scale.
However, pasteurization does more than just kill potentially harmful bacteria. It also kills all the good bacteria, enzymes, and some protein too.
The problem with that, is that our bodies can’t properly digest dairy components or absorb the nutrients without those beneficial bacteria and enzymes present.
Thus, something that in its natural form is healthy and beneficial – now becomes harmful and inflammatory, weakening our immune system and much more.
There is so much information and evidence out there on this topic – it’s a really fun one to dive in and research. And you will find that pasteurization has only been happening for the last 150 years or so. Before that, for all of time people have been consuming raw & fermented dairy for its many health benefits.
After all, God did give man dominion over plants and animals, blessing them to our use and nourishment [Genesis 9:3] – so dairy, in and of itself can’t be bad, right?
Types of dairy – A1 vs. A2 milk
I will try to keep this part really simple. A1 and A2 milk contain different kinds of beta casein protein.
Originally, all dairy animals produced A2 beta-casein milk. But, thousands of years ago there was a mutation that occurred in Europe in the Holstein breed which resulted in the A1 variation.
Peer reviewed research has shown that A1 milk is inflammatory, and linked to digestive conditions, diabetes, heart disease, and more. Almost all baby formula and commercial dairy products are made of A1, pasteurized milk. So its no wonder milk has been labelled as unhealthy and inflammatory.
But, A2 milk isn’t linked to any inflammatory response whatsoever! So this is how many people consume and benefit from dairy – they choose raw, A2 milk. And it’s pretty easy to find if you know where to look. I’ll talk about that in a bit.
I’ve seen the raw, A2 difference in my own family. When we consumed lots of commercial dairy and other processed foods (we just didn’t pay much attention to health at all in the early years together) we were always sick and had lots of minor health issues happening pretty much daily. This led me to go dairy-free for a couple of years. We only used almond milk and I was even buying vegan cheese. I think Big John would count those as our darkest years together – he LOVES cheese. And vegan cheese is just…not.
I’m SO happy to be able to consume lots of our favorite dairy-based foods in a healthy way now!
Safety of consuming raw dairy
When I said I was going to be writing the post – this was one of the most asked questions. Is it safe to consume raw dairy?
Now that I’ve shared the definite risk of consuming pasteurized dairy – I’ll talk a bit about why some believe raw dairy can be dangerous.
Just like anything grown or raised, there is a chance for contamination and the presence of harmful bacteria. How I address that concern here on our homestead for our personal dairy animals is a bit different than the way larger operations ensure their raw dairy is uncontaminated.
First, it’s important to point out that the sale of raw dairy isn’t even legal in every state. This seems pretty strange, but it’s true Check out the list to see where your state falls, and let me know in the comments how you feel about your state’s dairy sale law!
If raw dairy sales are legal in your state, you may be able to purchase it at a store or from a co-op, or farm.
My safety practices for raw dairy on our homestead – I don’t do any kind of testing on my milk because I’m the caretaker for all of my animals and know their health and conditions. We also milk them by hand so I know the cleanliness level of that process is something I’m confident in. I use an oil solution and cloth wipes to clean my animals before milking, and a clean glass jar to collect the milk. Then I strain it to catch any hairs or bits of whatever when I get back to the house. That’s all I do because we don’t sell our milk.
Safety practices for buying raw milk from someone else – I don’t always have fresh milk. I share in my YouTube video how lactation in mammals works and that planning for fresh milk year round takes some time to get in place. So sometimes I get my raw milk from a local farm. They have a pretty big operation and so, they do test their raw milk regularly by sending samples to a lab. And they have certification that it’s clean and safe. I feel this is the best practice for a larger farm selling to multiple customers.
If you plan to buy raw milk from anyone who isn’t a relative or neighbor, it’s probably best to make sure they do regular testing.
Storing raw milk
Another FAQ – how to store raw milk. You can make lots of things from your milk like cheese, butter, kefir, ice cream….and the storage times and methods for those things will vary. But for now, I’ll just cover the milk.
Storing in the fridge – you can store raw milk in the fridge for 7-10 days. It’s best to store it in a glass or stainless container in the coldest part of your fridge, so not in the door.
Storing in the freezer – if you have your own goat or cow, you will likely have more milk than you can come close to using in a day. So freezing is a really good option for storage. But don’t freeze your milk in glass jars! They can shatter and break, then your milk is gone. Freezing in plastic or stainless is best. When I buy milk from the local farm/co-op, I get several gallons, about a month’s worth, in plastic jugs and freeze them. Then I just set one on the counter to thaw at room temp when I need it.
Choosing a dairy animal for your homestead
I’m going to stick with what I know here – and that’s goats and cows. Although, I did see camel milk for sale on Amazon last week – so there’s that.
I started my dairy herd with just goats. My husband is the practical one (thank goodness) and wanted me to ease into it to see if I actually liked the whole daily milking thing. It turns out I love it, and it’s easy for me to incorporate into our routine. So I added a couple of Jersey heifers to our herd and now we have dairy goats and cows.
While there are many breeds of each, I’m not going to break it down breed by breed. But rather, talk about some general dairy farming stuff and raising goats vs. cows.
What makes dairy breeds different?
All mammals produce milk. So technically, all mammals are dairy animals. But, some produce much higher volumes of milk which makes them more suitable for milking. Because they have plenty leftover even after nursing their babes.
If we classified humans as dairy vs. non-dairy breeds, I would be a Holstein. I produced 5 pounds of milk a day after I had my first baby. Probably because I thought I needed to pump after every feeding. I learned different the second and third times around and had a more appropriate supply!
That brings me to an important point –
just because an animal is a “dairy breed” doesn’t mean they spontaneously produce milk. Like humans, they have to have a baby first in order to lactate (produce milk).
Planning for fresh milk year round
So you can see, it takes some planning to make sure you always have an animal that’s “fresh” or in milk. If you want fresh milk year round, you will need 2 or 3 of whatever your raise so you can rotate their pregnancies.
This isn’t to say you couldn’t breed a goat or cow soon after they have a baby and keep milking them while they are pregnant. However, most will dry up during pregnancy. And honestly, it’s just not healthy for them to never get a break from being pregnant. This is why I’m set up to rotate. So my animals can have a good quality of life and their babies can self- wean.
I currently have a goat kid who’s still nursing off her mama daily and she’s 8 months old. I trust nature to handle the weaning process.
There are many reasons why goats may be the best choice for you. They’re smaller than cows, they eat less, and aren’t as picky. Plus, all goats produce A2 milk.
Goat milk differs by breed, but it’s all naturally homogenized, meaning its one consistency and doesn’t separate as much in the fridge like cows milk.
Goats milk is also lower in lactose content. Very few people are actually lactose intolerant. Many times, those who believe they can’t tolerate lactose or dairy who switch to raw, A2 milk – no longer have problems digesting it.
However, for someone who believes they have a true lactose intolerance, maybe raw goats milk would be something to try.
Goats are hilarious. I love them and their playful personalities. I don’t keep a buck, though. So I don’t have much to say about that. I just borrow one when breeding time comes.
Part of their playful behavior does involve jumping, though. As in jumping fences. Goats are notorious for this, so we have an electric wire around the inside perimeter of our fence to keep them from jumping. It works great.
I will mention, goats milk has a very distinct taste. I don’t like it at all. However, my Nubian (below) Sofie’s milk doesn’t taste goaty. It tastes like cows milk. I’m not sure if thats true for all Nubians though.
If you’re wanting a smaller amount of milk daily – maybe a gallon or less, and a smaller animals to keep and feed, then a goat will be perfect for you!
Just like goats, different breeds of cows will produce milk with different qualities. I had my Jersey heifers Sally & Mary blood tested to make sure they produced A2 milk only, and they do.
Some produce several gallons a day, while others produce maybe just a couple. Jersey milk in particular has a very high butterfat content. Lot’s of thick, rich cream that separates in the fridge. This is exactly what I wanted.
Cows can be grazed on pasture and fed some grain and hay as well. We’re still getting a good dietary routine down for our girls – but one thing is for sure: they always have lots of fresh pasture space and clean water.
Cows are a more expensive investment from the get go, but as I mentioned they will produce a lot more milk. So the return could be worth it if you found a few steady customers to purchase your excess milk.
I plan to supplement and finish our pork on cows milk as well as give some to our chickens, so having extra is the perfect setup for us.
I mentioned in the video that we don’t actually drink milk as a beverage – weird, I know, to have 7 dairy animals and not drink milk. But we are just water drinkers by nature. I do use it in so many other ways, though. To make smoothies, kefir, yogurt, cheese, ice cream, cook with, the list goes on.
Since we have the space and reason to use a few gallons of milk day – jersey cows are perfect for us. You can ready more about our girls in this post.
I’ve made quite the transformation when it comes to our diet over the years. But I can truly say this way of life – just trusting God’s creation of plant and animal foods to sustain us is the easiest and most beneficial I have found. We don’t “diet” or track our intake. We just raise as much as we can and source the rest locally when possible.
Then, when life is crazy busy and we have to pick up a frozen pizza or drive thru somewhere for dinner – I don’t sweat it because I know the bulk of what we eat is nourishing and natural. That’s good enough for me!
I hope this post was helpful to you and I’d love to hear any additional questions or comments you have in the comments section below!
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