With a few tips from having run a cow share program from my childhood farm, I hope to dash your dairy doubts by the end of this article!
Do Your Homework
Before you start getting raw milk you will have to research laws and get familiar with the regulations and loopholes set up for raw milk in your state or country. Can you outright purchase it? Is it available at a store? Can you buy it if you bottle it yourself? Is there a drop-off point near your home? Can you participate in a cow share program? Is there a nearby state line that is more lenient in the sale of raw milk? Here is a great tool from the Weston A Price Foundation for published published raw milk sources near you!
Take a Drive
After answering some or all of these questions it’s time to go for a drive. Go hunting for dairy farms or look up the addresses of dairy farms in your area and pay them a visit to see if raw milk is available for sale. This is a crucial step in choosing where to get your raw milk from. If you just call, you don’t know what the farm looks like, you don’t know what the farmer looks like and you don’t know what the cows look like.
If the farmer seems paranoid at your curiosity, he may just be unsure of your innocent motives. Raw milk gets a bad rap from everyone these days and a farmer can’t be too cautious. Don’t be too pushy, but ask if you can watch a milking or walk around the barn or parlor. Observe how equipment and the animals are taken care of. If you step on a place and see some practices that make you question the cleanliness and precision of milk handling, you should continue on to the next farm.
Don’t Be Bashful!
Ask questions! What do the cows eat? How is the milk cooled? What temperature is the milk kept at? How do they strain the milk? Where do the cows get milked? Do the cows go out on pasture? Who milks the cows? These are all questions that will help you decide if you trust consuming raw milk from the farm.
Once you find a farm you are comfortable drinking raw milk from, you have to get some glass or stainless steel containers to hold the milk and some sort of crate or carrier for your vehicle. [Plastic and aluminum leech and make the milk taste gross after a day.] I personally use glass gallon pickle jars for filling out of bottom spouts on a milk tank and a stainless steel milk jug for dipping in the top. A great place to find pickle jars is restaurants. They usually throw them out, so just ask back in the kitchen if they would save you a few!
Be Practical and Plan Ahead for Getting Raw Milk
In my vehicle, I keep an ice cream bucket on the floor to set my gallon of milk in. For larger quantities and long distances, an ice chest works great. As you empty, wash and dry each jug, you can just store it in the cooler until your next milk run.
Another thing you will have to plan ahead for is exact change. Nobody wants the hassle of having to deposit a million checks. Keep a stash of milk money in singles and some coins (depending on the price of a gallon) so that you can just grab it and go. Better yet, when you refill your stash each week, place it in a baggie right in the cooler! Most of the places you will be getting milk will be on the honor system so there won’t be a cash register or credit card machine.
Figure out where you are going to store the milk. If the milk is cooled properly and your containers are clean, milk can stay fresh from 10 to 14 days. Do you have room in your current fridge? Do you need a second smaller fridge just for milk? How many gallons can you get at a time?
Finally you are ready to get your first raw milk! Call ahead to the farm you have chosen and set up a time when someone will be around to show you the ropes. You want to know your way around the milk house if you are getting your own. If it is a store front, find out what forms of payment they accept. If it is pre-bottled milk, find out if there is a deposit on the container and what the cleaning specifications are. Some farmers only want milk customers on certain days or at certain times. Find out if you and your family can visit the cows while you are there. As you can tell, this is a relationship not just a shopping trip!
Now that you know how to get your own milk, work it into your schedule. Is the farm in a general direction of another weekly commitment? Do you have time to run and grab it after work? What times work on Saturdays or Sundays? If it is a long drive, pack up the family and let them see the cows and farm that make their milk! Do you have friends who buy raw milk, too? Join with them and take turns driving so you can get milk for each other.
Keep in mind that raw milk is a living food still. So even after it goes sour, there are still multiple ways to use it up.
Getting your own raw milk can be a big adjustment. It’s like having to stop at an extra grocery store…in the next town…or the next state! Be easy on yourself. Slowly work it into your schedule. Maybe hire someone to go get it for you if you see its too much stress on your family.
Have you found a raw milk source yet?