Friday, July 27, 2012

A Day of Raw Milk

A few months ago there was an outbreak of E.Coli 0157:H7 in raw milk that was sold on a family farm not far from me... Farming was their business, and it seems that they tried their best to produce clean milk. But after many were sickened from contaminated milk, their story got ugly...

After that outbreak, the big dairy farmers quietly began working towards banning raw milk in the state of Oregon. The State officials planned a get together to talk about this new law and guess who wasn't invited: consumers, and the raw milk producers. That's you, and that's me. Feel left out?

An interesting thing happened though, when the news of the ban filtered into the public. A handful of passionate, determined, raw milk producers got together and created something that had never been seen in this state before. It was a group that could hold it's own against the government if it had to, and it now goes by the name of the 'Oregon Raw Milk Producers Association'. Spearheaded by the amazing Charlotte Smith who runs Champoeg Creamery, and further bolstered by Mark McAfee, the ORMPA is an organization meant to help raw milk farmers produce the cleanest, safest, healthiest milk possible. Dreaming big, Charlotte planned a training day at her farm in which she hoped many raw milk producers would come and learn just how to go about our business in the best possible way. 

I'm not kidding when I say Charlotte was dreaming big. It's pretty rare to see two or three raw milk producers in the same room. We hide in the woodwork, unsure as to how much we should expose ourselves and our livelihood; trying to get as many producers in the same room just might take a miracle.

But miracle or no, I knew that I HAD to go to this event. I had no idea how I would get there, but I would walk the 34 miles to Charlotte's farm if I had to. Thankfully, two friends offered to take me there so after some hectic planning on figuring out who I was going with, I found myself situated in a friend's truck early Monday morning and headed for a day of raw milk.

Charlotte's farm is a lovely place that is both clean and tidy; I honestly wondered at first if she actually kept her three Jersey cows on her own property, the place was so nice. As we pulled up to the farm, a young lad (I'm guessing Charlotte's son) hailed us down and asked us if we were here for the conference. Oh dear... I had an extremely strong urge to tell him no, we were here to go buffalo hunting and knew nothing about a raw milk conference. ;) I suppressed the urge just enough to only say the words loud enough for my friend to hear, but now I wish that I had indeed said it; just to see what the boy's expression would have been. Yeah, I'm so naughty.

At the house, waiting to greet everyone was Mark McAfee himself. A bear of a man with a smile and a laugh as big as himself, Mark had flown his private plane up from CA, just for this occasion and I was looking forward to hearing him speak.

People slowly started filtering in as time ticked away, and it amazed me to see how many people were travelling to come to this event. Alas, we got a late start to the day as Mark found that he needed to park his plane in a different spot over at the airport. Hehe, can I have a plane of my own someday??

So, sitting in the world's most uncomfortable chair (wooden! Aargh!) I spent my morning listening and learning about things I knew, things I didn't know, things I was really excited to know... The first half of the presentation was wonderfully applicable as Mark went over handling milk, chilling milk, testing milk, caring for milking machines (and apparently he had never heard of a surge bucket milker, which is what I have!), caring for cows (goat people just had to imagine the word "goat" instead of "cow" that day), and I'm sure I'm forgetting some topics. My appreciation for chair cushions increased many times over in that span of time as I sat in my chair.

Lunch break allowed me some much needed stand-up time as well as giving me a chance to see who all had continued to sneak in during the presentation. I think I heard there was a head count of 50 people!?!? And of course, I was still the youngest person in attendance there. Sigh. Sometimes I feel like I'm never going to grow up. While at the conference, everyone had to wear name tags which was handy when I wanted to know who was who; but boy howdy did it give me a start every time when people would suddenly call me by name! "Who are you and how do you know what my name is?!?" I had numerous "Duh" moments as I remembered that my name was emblazoned on my shirt. My excuse is that I was a little sleep deprived and not feeling all that great that day.

To help wear lunch off, everyone got a tour of Charlotte's farm/creamery and I must say I was very impressed with everything. Her milking stanchion is to die for! When my money tree sprouts (ha) I am going to have to build one like her's. What amazed me the most though, was how simple everything was in the end. I'm sure Charlotte put a lot of time, money, and energy into building everything but I was tickled to see that it wasn't some fancy concrete/stainless steel/highly expensive area that would cost a fortune to re-recreate. It was small, it was simple, it was clean. I loved it. I got so many ideas on how to alter my farming/milking methods and I think I'm going to have to start implementing some of them.

By the time the second half of the presentation started, I was tuckered out. Still feeling the effects from the milk allergy (or whatever it was/is), I hadn't eaten in days and my brain was beginning to get foggy. I did my best at listening though, not wanting to miss out on anything and learned about the different harmful bacteria's to watch for in milk (campylobactor, e.coli, listeria, etc.), how to keep them OUT of the milk, how to test for their presence, and what to do if you find that some got in the milk. We also went over customer loyalty, building a customer base, what is in raw milk that makes it so good for you, and we looked at some awesome slides of raw milk, pasteurized milk, and human blood from beneath a microscope. I was all for raw milk before I came to the conference; seeing those slides confirmed it. I will never touch pasteurized milk again if I can help it!

My friend and I had to slip away from the conference a little bit early (I think there were only 10 minutes left) so I would get home on time and I was okay with that. I had just had an information overload and I was ready to rest and ruminate on what I had learned.

So, take away points?

  • Pasteurization is harmful to milk and makes it harmful to humans. Don't drink it.
  • We live in an era in which we can easily keep things clean! Therefore, keep the milk clean!
  • Keep hot, hot; Cold, cold; Clean, clean; and Green, green. Which means, if it's supposed to be hot, then keep it hot. If it's supposed to be cold, then keep it cold! If it's supposed to be clean, then keep it clean! And if it's supposed to be green (think pastures), then keep it green!
  • If you need a path to your milking parlor in the winter time, consider laying down a few inches of gravel and laying rubber mats over it (broken conveyor belts from logging mills work great). This keeps the cows out of the mud on their way to be milked.
  • If you have mud, then something is wrong. Fix problem.
  • For a grass-based dairy, you want a medium producing cow; somewhere between 3 and 5 gallons per day should be good. If you have a cow like mine (Mattie) who milks 8 gallons a day, be prepared to coddle them with grain!
  • Raw goat milk can legally be sold in retail stores here in Oregon; you just have to have a license and grade A facility! (bummer!) Raw cow milk is still considered bootlegger.
  • If you have a customer base for your milk and you find you need money to upgrade something, just ask for it. Often times, folks will donate to help a cause that is near and dear to them (in this case, it's their raw milk!).
  • Contaminated milk is a real happening and is scary. Do absolute best to keep your treasured milk clean!!
  • Enjoy raw milk!
The second ORMPA meeting is being planned already and I'm hearing whispers about it being held in September. Rest assured I will be going to that one too!

Charlottle blogged about the day over at her website and the first picture is a group shot of all of us. Can you find me in there? ;)


Charlotte Smith said...

Thank you for the wonderful and kind words!! Loved having you!! Let's be sure to keep in touch.

Goat Song said...

Indeed! :) I have some cow related questions that I've been wanting to ask you, so I need to see about shooting you an email with those...
Thank you again for hosting the Training Day!

Lindsey said...

Oh good, I was waiting for your recap from the day. Sounds like a lot of good info! Mark McAfee is a good man, I respect him and his dairy operation. Have you ever seen the interview Dr. Mercola did with him? It's on YouTube.

And I spotted you in two pictures! ;)

Lindsey said...

Make that 4. :D Heh, it's kinda like playing "Where's Waldo?"

Goat Song said...

^Bwahahaha! I love 'Where's Waldo'! ;) Good job finding me! LOL.

Oh, and I will have to mosey over and watch the Youtube you mentioned... I haven't seen that one yet!