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Cowshare Programs: Frequently Asked Questions

I wrote this FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) for a cowshare program we helped set up. After I re-wrote it in “generic” form, the Weston A. Price Foundation posted it on their “campaign for real milk” site. It is available both there and here to inform readers about cowshares and how they work; and may be used and adapted freely in cowshare programs.

REAL MILK FARM COWSHARE FAQ SHEET

In an attempt to answer most of the questions you might have about your cowshare at Real Milk Farm and about the uses of high quality raw milk, we are providing this sheet of frequently asked questions. Please let us know if you need more information.

1. How is the cowshare with Real Milk Farm set up?
2. Are cowshares legal?
3. How are the cows milked at Real Milk Farm?
4. Is the milk ever tested for ecoli or other bacteria?
5. How should I handle the milk that is supplied to me?
6. How long will raw milk keep?
7. How can I tell if raw milk is spoiled?
8. What should I do if the milk smells bad after only a couple of days?
9. What should I do with milk that is more than a week old?
10. Why does a large layer of cream form on top of the milk?
11. Can I use the cream separately?
12. Can I make my own butter from the cream?
13. Are there other ways to use raw milk?
14. What happens in the milk during the culturing process; and why should I bother?
15. Can the milk be frozen?
16. Why is the milk so yellow?
17. Can the milk be pasteurized on the stove top?
18. Tell us more about our cows at Real Milk Farm!
19. Are the cows tested for disease?
20. Are the cows ever treated for worms?
21. What do the cows eat?
22. How much milk do the cows give?
23. What is done with the extra milk not needed for the cowshare program?
24. Will the births of the calves have an impact on milk supply available to cowshare owners?
25. What will happen to the calves?
26. As a cowshare owner, will I have a share in the calves?
27. What are good sources for more information about raw milk and its uses?
28. What are sources for milk cultures?




1. How is the cowshare with Real Milk Farm set up?

You make a one-time payment of $80 to buy a share in one of Real Milk Farm's Jersey cows for the lifetime of the cow. From that point on you actually own a share of that cow. In addition, you pay a $20 boarding fee each month for the feeding and care of your cow. Your share entitles you to one gallon of milk each week. Note that you may sell your cowshare to a third party. It cannot be sold back to Real Milk Farm, however.

2. Are cowshares legal?

Yes, they are. It is not legal in this state to sell raw (unpasteurized) milk to the public. However, you may use as much raw milk as you wish from your own cow. Since you own a share in one of Real Milk Farm's cows, you may legally use the milk from your share in any way you see fit. During the past two years or so, several cowshare programs have been implemented in this state, and have been functioning well with no problems.

Real Milk Farm has consulted with its lawyer in setting up its cowshare program. (You will be asked to sign a contract for your cowshare at the time of its purchase.) Also, Real Milk Farm works with the state Department of Agriculture; and has obtained its approval in setting up this cowshare program.

3. How are the cows milked at Real Milk Farm?

The cows are milked in the dairy barn after the goats, at 7:00 a.m. and at 5:00 p.m. Please note that the cows are milked with a separate machine from the goats; and that their milk is kept separate from the goats' milk. Our cows are milked using a closed-bucket system. That is, the milk is drawn from the cow's udder using a suction device and a set of tubes that empty the milk into a sealed stainless steel container. Since there is no exposure to air at any point, the most scrupulous level of sanitation is assured.

4. Is the milk ever tested for ecoli or other bacteria?

Yes, the milk is tested by the same lab that tests all our cheeses.

5. How should I handle the milk that is supplied to me?

The milk supplied will be raw--that is, it is not heat-treated or pasteurized. It will be chilled; and you should take care that it remains so until you can get it home and into your refrigerator. If you have some distance to drive or stops to make before you arrive home, it is imperative that you make provision with insulated containers and ice or chillers to keep the milk at refrigerator temperature until you return home. When you come to pick up your milk, please bring a jar or jars with your name on the lid(s) for the following week's milk. It is essential that both jar and lid be scrupulously clean and thoroughly dry. Whenever cleaning containers for milk, start by rinsing away the old milk with water that is lukewarm. (Either hot or cold water can cause a deposit of milk solids--"milkstone"--to remain on the surface of the container.) Then wash thoroughly with soap and hot water, rinse well, and dry completely before putting on the lid.

6. How long will raw milk keep?

If you handle as above, the milk will easily keep a week with no change at all in quality. Indeed, we have kept raw milk in the refrigerator for as long as fifteen days, and it was still sweet and good. It is very good practice to date your milk as soon as it is received.

7. How can I tell if raw milk is spoiled?

Most of us grew up with pasteurized milk; and thus are not familiar with the pleasant sour or tangy tastes and smells that develop in cultured dairy products. As you experiment with such cultured milk foods you will come to appreciate those new smells and tastes. (More about that below.) When milk is actually spoiled, however, it will smell quite unpleasant. Discard the milk if it has developed an unpleasant smell.

8. What should I do if the milk smells bad after only a couple of days?

Discard it. Please let us know right away, and we will investigate. If no one else had a problem--or if you find that only one of your jars did, while the others were okay--there was likely a problem with the sanitation of that particular jar. You should review your cleaning procedures.

9. What should I do with milk that is more than a week old?

As long as the milk still smells and tastes sweet and good to you, it is fine to use it. However, you will be getting milk each week. So, if you find you are consistently having extra milk, try making some of the fine cultured milk and cream products from it. For example, when you get your milk home you could refrigerate two quarts for drinking as "sweet milk;" and skim the cream off the rest for making butter or pima cream. The milk that has been skimmed (nothing at all like commercial "skim milk") could then be used to make cultured milk products such as clabber, kefir, etc. (See below.) And remember, your pets will enjoy and benefit from any leftovers!

10. Why does a large layer of cream form on top of the milk?

The milk Real Milk Farm supplies is not only raw (unpasteurized); it is not homogenized. That is, the butterfat has not been emulsified to force it to remain in solution. Therefore this butterfat, or cream--being lighter than the other liquid components of the milk--rises to the top. Real Milk Farm's cows are Jerseys, whose milk is unusually rich in butterfat. For drinking or cooking with the whole milk, you should shake the container well before pouring, so that the cream is again dispersed into the milk.

11. Can I use the cream separately?

Yes, you can. It is very easy, after the milk has sat overnight in the refrigerator, to skim off most of the cream. The remaining milk is nothing like the "skim milk" you would buy in the supermarket: It is still a rich, full-bodied milk for drinking, cooking, or even making fresh cheeses. (More below.) The cream you have taken off can be whipped for desert toppings or cultured for "sour cream" or "pima cream."

12. Can I make my own butter from the cream?

It is easy to make your own butter from the cream, using appliances you probably already have in your kitchen. Note that you can make your butter either from the sweet or the cultured cream. See which flavor you and your family prefer!

13. Are there other ways to use raw milk?

As mentioned above, you should keep your milk refrigerated for normal beverage and cooking use. However, if you wish to experiment with the many forms of cultured milk and farm cheeses, it is easy to do so with raw milk (unlike pasteurized milk). For example, you can allow the milk to come to room temperature and simply sit overnight or longer until it partially solidifies like yogurt and develops a pleasant sour smell. When you culture the milk naturally this way it is called "clabber," and may be used just like yogurt. If you strain the whey (liquid) away from the solid portion using cheesecloth and add a little salt to the resulting "curd," you will have a tasty, incredibly easy to make fresh cheese. Cultures are also available for stirring into the milk to make other versions of cultured milk--kefir, mjolk, etc. Once your batch of cultured milk has reached the desired stage (more or less solid, more or less tangy--depending on ambient temperature and the time it has sat out), you should then return it to the refrigerator in order to prolong the time during which it can be used.

14. What happens in the milk during the culturing process; and why should I bother?

There are benign, even beneficial bacteria in whole natural milk. When these bacteria are able to multiply--as in milk which is allowed to sit at room temperature for awhile--they colonize the entire medium (the milk) and make it inhospitable to decay organisms, effectively preserving it from spoilage for several days or weeks. Some of those bacteria will continue to live in the gastrointestinal tract when consumed, boosting the multitude of intestinal bacteria, and contributing to more efficient digestion and elimination. Also, the bacteria active in milk cultures help break down or pre-digest both milk sugar (lactose) and milk protein (casein), making these components easier to digest. Indeed, some individuals with an intolerance of milk are able to digest cultured milks with no problem. Please note that traditional dairy cultures the world over have used various culturing techniques to make milk foods for thousands of years, long before mechanical refrigeration or pasteurization were ever dreamed of.

15. Can the milk be frozen?

Yes, but the butterfat from raw milk will separate out as flakes and will not blend in again when thawed. It may be used for some cooking purposes, however.

16. Why is the milk so yellow?

Cows eating high quality hay or fresh pasture grasses will give milk with a high beta-carotene content. The beta-carotene gives a slightly yellow color to the cream. As spring comes on and the grass gets more lush and green, the milk becomes an even richer color. You should know that cows eating a lot of high-quality forage give milk that is higher in Vitamin A, CLA, and other fat-soluble nutrients.

17. Can the milk be pasteurized on the stove top?

You can pasteurize your own milk if you wish. For example, the milkcan be heated to 145 degrees and held at that temperature for 30 minutes. Alternatively, the milk can be heated to a higher temperature but for a shorter length of time. However, we cannot give a detailed prescription for the process here; and urge you to consult a reliable source of information on the subject. (E.g., The Joy of Cooking, by Rombauer and Becker; and The New Putting Food By, by Hertzberg, Vaughan, and Greene. Both sources suffer from common misapprehensions about pasteurization and milk safety.) It is important to stress that pasteurization should not be done in a haphazard way. You should use a good thermometer and monitor the process precisely. However, there are many advantages to using milk raw, both nutritionally and in terms of its versatility, referred to above. Given the care Real Milk Farm takes for the health of its cows and the scrupulous hygiene of its milk, we feel you can be confident in using this high quality milk just as it comes from the cow.

18. Tell us more about our cows at Real Milk Farm!

Both cows are Jerseys, a breed known for excellent milk with high butterfat content. Matilda is five years old; Ruby is three. They spend their days together out on a large pasture with plenty of excellent grazing. Matilda is pregnant now, due the end of October. We're not sure yet about Ruby. We will pregnancy-test her in April, and breed her in May if she is still not bred.

19. Are the cows tested for disease?

Yes, our veterinarian has tested both cows for TB (tuberculosis), brucellosis, and Johne's disease. Real Milk Farm maintains records of our testing program.

20. Are the cows ever treated for worms?

When necessary, yes. Following treatment, there is a "withdrawal" period while the medication is clearing the cow's system. You can be assured that no milk will be supplied to you from a cow in the withdrawal period.

21. What do the cows eat?

The most important part of their diet is the pasture grass they graze themselves all day (and, in the winter, high quality hay which we make ourselves on the farm). High quality forage produces the very best milk. Note that the pastures here are not fertilized with sludge or any chemical fertilizer. While being milked, the cows eat a little all natural grain supplement made from barley and oats (16% protein). They also receive mineral supplement free choice (available at all times).

22. How much milk do the cows give?

In contrast to more typical dairy breeds, Jersey cows give a smaller amount of milk which is higher in butterfat. Our cows are giving about three gallons each, per day. Please note that milk production varies with the season, the weather, the quality of the forage available; and the normal curve of the cow's lactation cycle.

23. What is done with the extra milk not needed for the cowshare program?

We make cheese with this extra milk.

24. Will the births of the calves have an impact on milk supply available to cowshare owners?

Yes, they might; and you should keep this in mind as we approach the fall. During the final month of a cow's pregnancy, she should be allowed to be "dry" (not being milked) because she is putting so much of her body's resources into growing the calf. Also, after the birth, the calf will be nursing its mother until it is weaned. During the calving season, there may well be times when we cannot supply you with milk in the normal amounts or on the usual schedule. We will do our very best to supply you then; and ask your understanding and cooperation. In this first year of ownership of our cows, we did not have complete control over the schedule on which they were bred. In future years, however, we will schedule the breedings so that at least one cow is producing milk at all times, and any impact on supply for our cowshares will be minimized.

25. What will happen to the calves?

That depends on the gender of the calf. Bull (male) calves will be raised for meat. Heifer (female) calves will be kept as replacement cows or to be sold to others seeking good Jersey cows.

26. As a cowshare owner, will I have a share in the calves?

No, the ownership of all calves born to the cows will revert to Real Milk Farm.

27. What are good sources for more information about raw milk and its uses?

We give our highest possible recommendation to the book Nourishing Traditions, written by Sally Fallon of the Weston A. Price Foundation. This book goes well beyond the conventional cookbook. It is a comprehensive compendium of information about food and health issues, with a focus on the whole, natural foods emphasized by traditional cultures throughout thousands of years. It is a book that may revolutionize all your thinking about diet and health. There are two chapters of particular interest to those interested in or starting to use whole natural milk: "Milk and Milk Products" and "Cultured Dairy Products," with guidance and recipes for making many of the cultured milk products mentioned above. The Untold Story of Milk, by Ron Schmid, is also highly recommended. Our own reading of this book revealed that almost all of what we thought we "knew" about the history of and the "need" for pasteurization was completely inaccurate. Chapters reassessing our ideas about milk as a vector for the transmission of disease; the nutritional qualities of raw milk as opposed to heat-treated milk; and the results of the industrialization of the dairy process--all are essential reading.

28. What are sources for milk cultures?

Pima culture is available from: Pima, P O Box 2614, La Mesa CA 91943 G.E.M. Cultures: www.gemcultures.com Lehmans: www.lehmans.com Hoeggers: www.hoeggergoatsupply.com New England Cheesemaking Supply: www.cheesemaking.com Body Ecology: www.bodyecologydiet.com If you need more information about the cowshare program, or advice or guidance in using your milk for a variety of wonderful dairy foods, please get in touch.