Sunday, November 13, 2011

Getting established

I'm delighted and amazed at the underworld of raw foods. But it's frustrating to me that I must act like I'm trying to buy illegal drugs or smuggle laundered money just to feed myself and my family healthy food.

Let me tell you the story of my first real milk purchase without naming names or giving too many details about who and where. What I have done and they have done, is, in fact, illegal in Virginia.

After returning from WAP Foundation Conference in Philly last year, I went on a quest to find a source for real, raw milk with a feasible price tag and within a reasonable driving distance from my home. The price of gas, being as high as it is, must be factored into the cost of everything now. At one of the Farmer's Markets I had met a lady who was selling pastured beef. I love her beef and I knew her prices were very good. When I visited her farm not long after my trip to Philly, I asked if she knew of anyone selling raw milk. She sent me home with a quart of her own goat's milk, which was very good, but not what I was looking for and I knew I would also need and want larger quantities. I did some internet research and found some folks who were doing goat shares and cow shares, but the driving was clearly going to be overwhelming. In one case, the prices were just off the chart.

I did some research and some math to figure out what it actually costs to raise a dairy cow, maintain optimum pastures, buy hay for winter feeding, milk it for five to seven years, breed her regularly, deal with down time before and after the calf is born and maintain shelters, supplies and fencing.  The initial investment is huge unless you already have land and fencing and a shelter of some sort on hand. Ignoring that just for the sake of argument, your cow is going to run you somewhere around $1,000. Equipment like milk pails, halters, etc, aren't too much until you invest in machinery. Hand milking, while not as efficient, is far less expensive. And it must be done every single day.

And dairy cows don't do daylight savings. If you milk at 6 a..m. all summer, you will be milking at 5 a.m. all winter. There are no sick days, snow days or family vacations when your girl is in milk. She just won't release the milk for strangers to come in who are "cow sitting". And if she doesn't let the milk out, she will suffer terribly. Just ask any mother who has breastfed a child. When that baby balks, or she is late getting home to nurse, she is in pain!

Failing to keep a regular milking schedule and working with the cow to make sure she has released all of her milk can also lead to mastitis and if that doesn't kill her outright, it can damage a quarter of her udder to the point she cannot produce milk there again.

It requires dedication, faith and a whole lot of work to raise a milking cow. But everyone I've met who does it (even the commercial guys) can't imagine not doing it. They love these animals. There is a bond.

So what is real milk worth? Worth more than I can actually afford. But I don't think I can afford not to have it.

When I drink real milk I do not get indigestion. I feel satisfied. I don't have gut problems. And the stuff is just good! When I drink pasteurized and homogenized milk (the only milk I can legally purchase in Virginia), I have terrible stomach aches, indigestion and it simply does not satisfy. As a compromise, I can culture store bought organic milk and make yogurt (which I can eat and water down to drink), but I've had no luck making kefir or buttermilk with the ultrapasturized, homogenized crap sold for milk in the stores.

Anyway, when I first came home I did find someone who was willing to share some of milk but the milk was not from a pastured cow. It was a cow who was fed commercial feed, was milked twice a day and who did not give a lot of cream.

I learned from this person that milk in dairy operations is taken to a creamery every other day or so, the cream is separated from the milk and both are pasteurized. Some of the cream is them put back into the milk. If they want whole milk, they put back in enough cream to bring the cream level up to 3%. Mind you, when it comes out of the cow, it's about 5% cream. Two percent milk is 2% cream per in the milk gallon and skim is just the milk liquid without the cream. Skimmed is about as close to whey as you get without actually souring or culturing the milk. Unfortunately, pasteurizing destroys the enzymes in real milk that makes it possible for humans to digest the milk easily without breaking down the lactose using a culture. Pasteurizing also destroys real milk's natural ability to clabber or sour without molding. If your store bought pasteurized milk has past its expiration date, there is a good chance it has molded and become contaminated with outside bacteria that make it dangerous to drink. Real milk will eventually reach a point of being undrinkable, but even with a little souring, it's still perfectly safe. And even if you don't want to drink this sour milk, you can at least still cook with real sour milk.

This cow owner was very nervous about sharing the milk, although the price was very low, and feared that the government would come and shut down the operation. This person was very kind for several months, however, and let me get milk for my animals. I did not like making this person nervous, so I looked elsewhere for milk.

So, via another friend, I was referred to someone whose daughter had a Jersey cow who had just had a calf. I was at the point of believing I would need to find a way to raise a cow myself in order to have really fresh, wholesome real milk. I thought I could talk to her about how to do this on a shoe string budget. What I did learn is that I will really need about 3 acres of land in decent pasture and a shelter of some sort, but I already have electric fencing and cows can live quite well with sheep. Since I already have sheep and an electric fence, that will enclose an acre, I could do this if I could find three acres of  land and just move the fence every day or ever other day.

The owner of said cow, however,  does not want to sell the baby, but she has been willing to share the milk with me.

I still want a cow of my own and land to raise her on.

I love my little sheep and do not intend to eat them, but I have found a source for pastured lamb meat which I will tell you about later. I have also now found a source for pastured pigs and pastured beef. My sister and I plan to go in together to purchase half a hog. I plan to purchase another lamb. And I also plan to purchase half a steer for beef.

As of this weekend, I may have found a source for pastured chickens and another source for eggs. So, after a year of searching, researching and making friends; I think I may finally have everything together. Now to just keep it affordable.

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