Cow Comfort and Raw Milk
I was recently a guest of the Missouri Farm Bureau, (find out more about the organization here ) on their fall farm tour and had the opportunity to visit a beef cattle farm, a row crop farm and an independent dairy farm. I would guess that most Americans have never been on a working farm before (if you don’t count the pumpkin patch or the Christmas tree farm). I’ve been on a hog, corn and soybean farm many times as I have relatives that farm in Nebraska. I’d never been on a dairy farm and I have to admit that some of the images I had in my head weren’t very accurate. This dairy milked between 110 and 150 cows and also grows many of the food components that feed their herd. It was fascinating to see the different components that went in to the TMR (Total Mixed Ration). I’ve started to see “grass fed” dairy products showing up in the natural food stores and I realized that I really didn’t know what was fed to cows that were not grass fed. I had this picture of “grain fed” in my imagination of a cow in a narrow stall with a trough of dried corn rather than a combination of grain, hay, corn byproducts and other components. This is what total mixed ration really looks like:
These farmers said that they do use GMO crops to produce components for their feed. You can find out more about feed components here.
These farmers used a precise combination of silage, ground corn, alfalfa, vitamin pellet, distillers grains (corn byproduct from ethanol), and sometimes cotton seed or corn gluten. All these ingredients were weighed and mixed in a giant mixer.
The taste of milk is affected by the feed and consistent feed produces a consistent taste. When I was very young, we had milk delivered to the back door in glass bottles. the cream rose to the top and was poured off. In the spring, especially, the taste of the milk was different.
The cow area (sorry I can’t think a better descriptor because it wasn’t exactly a barn) was a concrete area adjacent to a shed with stalls. The cows were free to mosey over to the feed trough and eat as much as they wanted or to hang out in what ever stall they chose.
Some of the stalls even had water beds. Seriously, they did. Twice a day the cows went up to the milking barn. The milk was kept in a large chilled vat and the temperature was precisely monitored. There is a strict cleaning and sanitizing routine for all the equipment. While on the farm we learned that they do not use antibiotics. Their view on rBST (Bovine Somatatropin also known as rBGH-recombant bovine growth hormone) was that it was just a man made duplicate of a hormone that cows made naturally and it kept them producing milk longer when their milk production started to decline. Here is one view in favor of rBST and another against. Just do an interent search for rBST and you’ll find a number of articles. In any case, I believe these guys said that they do not use the artificial growth hormones.
Regulation of milk is very, very strict. As each farm’s milk is picked up by a tanker a sample is taken from the individual farm’s milk. The tanker stops at multiple farms to pick up milk and if the milk in the tank does not pass the test for antibiotics and other contaminants, they will pull and test each farm’s samples. The rejected milk is sent back to the farm that caused the problem. That farm has to dispose of the milk and pay for entire batch (this is according to our host farmers). It was obvious that farmers are motivated to provide milk that meets regulations and these cows seemed very content and comfortable on their water beds from what I could tell.
I have to admit that cow comfort is not my top issue. I hate to see animals abused, but I also see farm animals as food and their purpose is to feed people. The issues for me have to do with quality of milk: growth hormones, changes in nutrition based on grain or grass feed, organic vs non organic, and ultra pasteurization. There isn’t one answer to all these issues, rather there are choices. I’ll talk more about those issues in my next post but I can’t end without telling you that I was really excited that we had an opportunity to taste raw milk. This milk is filtered, chilled and constantly stirred in a large vat to keep the cream from separating. I have read articles and testimonies from farms that produce and sell raw milk and they say it is much more nutritious and tastes very different. Again, I was expecting something different, stronger maybe? I thought the raw milk was fantastic! Even though it was whole milk, it didn’t have that thick taste that whole milk from the store seems to have.
All opinions in this post are my own. I want to thank the Missouri Farm Bureau for this opportunity. I learned a lot from this tour.