Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Just an ordinary day

There are no interesting little stories to tell today.  It was just this side of boring here on the farm, and it is good to have some days like that from time to time.

This seems like a good time to tell a little history.  Why do I have all of these dairy cows here?  Good question.  I started drinking raw milk about seven years ago.  Whether you agree or disagree with the premise that raw milk is better for our health than pasteurized milk, I will attest to the fact that I enjoy extraordinarily good health.  I could not always say that.  Other things have happened in those seven years, including getting out of a high pressure corporate sales job, so I can hardly credit raw milk with ALL of the improvements in my health.  But I will say that I do feel better, rarely get sick, and never get the sinus infections that plagued me in the past.  Yes, it is true that dairy causes some stuffiness, but it is easily combated by drinking more water, and even when I forget the extra water I am not bothered with infections.  I get stuffy, but I don't get sick.

Based on my personal experience, I am a strong proponent of raw milk.  But you have no idea what one has to go through to get it in Indiana - and most states in this country.  We let teenagers drive.  We sell cigarettes and alcohol.  We sell SUGAR!  As if sugar isn't bad enough, we now douse everything with high fructose corn syrup.  Hey, the industry has to do something with the waste products from corn production, right?  But we cannot buy raw milk.  Apparently it is far too dangerous!

In Indiana, you may drink milk from your own cow.  However, you may not sell it.  There are many "cow share" programs around.  You buy a share in a herd and pay board on your cow directionally proportional to how many gallons of milk you pick up.  One could argue that this is just a loophole, but it seems to work for many people, and it is how I initially got my raw milk.  The first place where I had a cow share had trouble with freshness.  The second place packaged in plastic and fed grain.  The third place used glass jars, but again, the farmer fed grain.  So what is the big deal with that?  Because cows are ruminants.  They are not meant to eat grain.  It changes the pH of their stomachs so that they will grow E coli O157:57.  That's the bad stuff.  But the biggest reason for insisting on grass fed is the increase in CLAs in grass fed animals - up to five times as many!  We need CLAs to boost our immune systems, in particular to help us fight the big three - diabetes, chronic heart disease and cancer.  Your store bought milk is from factory farm cows that are fed grain and never get outside.  Sad, but true.

If grain is so bad, why do farmers feed it?  Production, that's why.  Grass fed cows give 30% less milk than the same breed of cow raised under the same conditions save the grain in their diets.  No dairy pays a premium for milk with high CLAs, unfortunately, so it is hard to find a farmer who has grass fed cows.

Much to my surprise, I found that my neighbor had exactly what I was looking for - grass fed, heritage breeds (we will discuss why that is important later), AND certified organic to boot!  He wouldn't sell me a cow share.  He told me he would, however, sell me a cow and let me rent his equipment to milk her.  He probably didn't think I would do that.  A short time later, I was at his door with the money for not one, but two cows, having sold shares to 14 families.  Yes, one cow produces enough milk to feed seven families, even when they are grass fed heritage breed cows that are only milked once a day.

Our arrangement with the neighbor lasted less than a year.  We got in his hair, disrupted his routine, which frankly was NO routine.  He milked one day at 2 pm, another at 5 pm, so it was pretty hard to stay out of his way.  He gave us 30 days to find another home.

We checked here and there, but nobody wanted us.  My farm had lain fallow for five years and organic certification would be no problem.  Obvious answer was that I should bring them here.  I didn't really want to, but it was that or disband.  We had several meetings.  Given that I would have to build a barn, get organic certification, and at least break even, we had to raise our maintenance fee by quite a bit.  I was sure that we would lose shareholders.  Quite the opposite happened - we had to buy a couple more cows to accommodate all of the new shareholders.

This was the first step in my journey from hobby farm to real farm, and it truly was an accident, precipitated by my desire for organic raw milk from grass fed cows.  It's the farmer in my blood.  If you can't get what you want, then you build it yourself.  So I did.  My father would be proud!

Tonight, there are 15 chickens, 3 calves and 1 cat.  :)


  1. Great story, thanks Susan.

    I've been having some health concerns and they initially seemed ominously cardiac in nature. I eat a diet FULL of dairy so I figured the news from the Doctors wouldn't be good and drastic changes would be recommended. Off for a more-than-full-physical-exam I went just two weeks ago.

    When I spoke with the Doctor after all the test results were in, she said, "your cholesterol numbers are AWESOME!"

    I told my friends and family: "I use ample half & half in my two cups of coffee each morning; I usually have another latte in the afternoon; We only allow real butter in our house; I probably eat cheese of some sort every day (esp. if you count cream cheese on half a bagel); we have 30 chickens and I LOVE eggs; I will only eat real Mayonnaise..." the list could keep going. And the doctor tells me my Cholesterol levels are impressive. Go figure...

    Another stake in the heart of the processed foods biz it seems.

    Thanks for the quick primer on Raw Milk. Got me interested in CLA's etc. Food for thought...

  2. As you can see, Mark, I am just going through posts and looking at comments. I hope your health concerns are getting addressed. I certainly agree with your diet. Seems very healthy to me. We do not get enough saturated fat in our diets. It is a fallacy that eating them elevated cholesterol levels, and I guess you have found that out first hand.

    So what kind of chickens do you have? 30 of them! Plenty of eggs, hey? I'm still waiting for the first one here.

  3. Hi, we live in Western MT @ 4,000 feet in elevation so chickens that handle winter are my priority. We kept chickens when we lived in CA for almost 7 years but never this many and the climate was so mild that we could just pick-up any-old-chick from the feed store and it didn't matter. Here, it matters of course.

    Wyandottes (Winnebagoes) seem to do well here. But I've become interested in some of the rare 'Heritage Breeds' so this past Spring we got a full order of 25 Chanteclers from a breeder over in Iowa. The true white Chanteclers weren't hatching well for them this year so we got a mix of Buff and Partridge Chanteclers. We also inherited a couple other various chicks about the same time. Just about the time a couple of them started to lay, that very wintery weather hit in early October and seemed to shut everyone down for awhile. So we're only getting 3 or 4 eggs a day right now. I'd expect the flood gates to open a bit come late Winter.

    The heirloom breeder over in IA only ships straight-runs so I'm just getting ready to cull some Roosters out (I'm a fly fisherman so the cocks feathers are of value to me so I skin them). That'll make room for the next batch of chicks I already have on order for Spring! A mix of Dorkings. The one's with combs appropriate for our climate. The breeder tells me they've seen the Dorkings lay well in 20 below temps in Winter. We'll see about that...hard to believe so I've got to give it a shot next year.

    You've got me starting to research dairy cows a bit. I think I'm gonna raise our own beef next year and if that and the two new sheep goes well for me, maybe I'll wanna take the dairy-cow plunge in 2011.

    Your "voice" and personality come-through very well in this blog. Keep it up!

  4. Hey, Mark, I will have to do a little research on Dorkings. I am so enamored of these Campines, but they are really not the best choice for very cold weather. We will see how they do this year. All indications say this is going to be another cold one. We had 26 below on the coldest morning last January. I am still intrigued by Buckeyes, in part because they are the only breed that was fully developed and marketed by a women, but also because they are very cold-hardy.

  5. Further feedback on the Chateclers: Most of them seem to have started laying in the past week and now I'm seeing that we're getting quite small eggs. Although, we might be making-up for it with the quality. Some of the brightest burnt-orange (almost red) yolks I've ever seen and whites that stand-up and salute you! We're getting half-a-dozen eggs a day right now from a total of 17 hens. So some of them haven't quite begun laying yet or the weather and lack of daylight has them slowed-down a bit.

    I'm gonna go read-up on Campines and Buckeyes.