Monday, January 7, 2013

Raw Milk in 2013. Past and Present

Thanks to Joel McNair of Graze Magazine, I'll be able to once again express my opinion on the issue of raw milk sales off the small family farm, and the real kicker is...I get paid to do so. Yowza. My article will be out in late January.

In the meantime, we just keep on doing what we're doing but hopefully with improvement. I've heard some farmers just do grain, or hogs, or beef or dairy. Yes, I envy them. Imagine waking up focused every single day.

But, not us, we're still twirling about in that diversification tornado , keeping most of our eggs out of one basket, instead spreading them all over the farm. The last couple months I included you, my faithful followers, in our financial thoughts and plans regarding the sales of  Beef . Soon I'll share more about pork in 2013 but today you get dairy.

Our milk parlor (above) is small. The metal stanchions which gently hold the cows head in place while Keith applies the milking claws (gentle suction cups, don't let the word "claw" scare you) are from the the old dairy barn that stood on our place years ago. The barn original to our property was not salvageable but other parts were. So, Keith milks in the same fashion as many dairy farmers did in the 1950's. For the first 10 years our dairy was operational we were licensed Grade A by the public Health Department. When we decided to stop selling raw milk to a conventional buyer but only direct to the consumer on our farm, IDPH said we no longer needed a license and in fact refused to firther ackknowledge our existence.
You can read all about THAT sequence of events HERE and HERE.
He milks four cows at a time and with our milking herd now reduced to just 9, (in 2008 we milked 3 times as many) actual milking time is about an hour. Each cow has a name, a number and a distinct personality. Cows teats are well washed, tipped in NOP (National Organic Program) approved teat pre wash and dried.  The milk goes from the cow into a glass pipe line and directly into a large stainless steel bulk milk tank. There it is cooled to 40 degrees.
Several times during the day our milk customers come into our milk room,wash their hands, turn a lever at the bottom of the tank and fill their own vessels (glass, plastic, clay urns whatever) with cold fresh RAW milk. Never pasteurized, never homogenized, always yummy.
We currently sell our certified organic milk for $6 a gallon.  According to NODPA in Sept of 2012, the national weighted average advertised price of organic milk half gallons was  $3.91, or $7.82 a gallon. The comparison is a bit apples to kiwi since organic milk in Illinois Grocery Stores  is not raw but it's easy to see our milk is a good deal.
Granted, folks have to drive to get to our farm thus the reason we have our farm store with frozen meat for sale to help make it worth the consumers time to road trip it to a tiny farm in Livingston County, Illinois.
In 2011 our raw milk sales were 64 % over sales in 2009. Part of that is an increase from $5 a gallon to $6 a gallon while the rest is just overall increase in number of customers. We still average 100 different customers each month. Some have been getting their milk from us for years, others for months and we have two new customers expected later today. The average person buys 2 gallons at a times and comes weekly.
Many have young families who consume our product and are extremely well read about all the pros and cons in regards to drinking raw milk. But we also have a fair share of retired individuals who grew up on raw milk, have never read a single study about its value but drinks it because it tastes good. Then there are the serious cheese and yogurt makers. It takes all kinds and for all those kinds we are grateful.
Any leftover milk at the end of the day is fed to our hogs, who scream bloody murder when they see Keith coming with the milk buckets. Nothing makes our hogs happier than raw milk. The end product, a tasty healthy pork chop or plate of bacon makes us very happy too.
In the next couple Posts I'll be more specific with you about our costs for producing milk, our dairy herds diet, our pasture practices, herd health care, milk testing and our dairy goals for 2013. Stay tuned. Not all of it will be seen through rose colored teats.


  1. My dad loved raw milk. My mom would pull faces but then they never could see eye to eye on things.

  2. I look forward to hearing all about it.

    Personally, I like a diversified farm--we are diversified as well. I think the whole POINT of a farm is to produce food--of all kinds, since we all eat all kinds of food. The more you can produce for yourself, the better.

  3. Judie, raised in Chicago I never tasted raw milk until I married Keith at age 33. Store milk now tastes like thinned down paint to me. I saw "fat free" skim milk the other day and it was light blue in color. Yuck

    Jocelyn, farms like ours are so rare but thanks to groups like Farm Begginnings in Bloomington Illinois, more and more are learning HOW to make a living on a small farm

  4. I'm feeling delusional...I'm visiting a place that doesn't exist? ;-)

  5. Diversification usually equates with good land management. Single crop prairie farming usually ends up with soil destruction.

  6. Doug, yes, we here at SPR are just a figment of your imagination. But the monopoly money you keep leaving has got to go.

  7. Cro. So very true. So very very very true

  8. Your puppy is a delight,! They do grow on you don't they?

  9. I've never liked the taste of milk, and in my early 20's found i really couldn't digest it anymore unless it was in very small amounts (1 cup or less), although fermented dairy products were okay.

    There is one type of muesli i like to make that uses milk or yoghurt. I prefer the taste with milk, and was disheartened when my system could no longer handle the 1/3 cup of milk in each serving. I lived in PA then, which tends to be more friendly towards raw milk producers (friendly being very much a relative term) and found an Amish farmer that had raw milk for sale. I bought some, just to see if my system could tolerate it. Yep. Without a problem.

    Himself, junk food king that he is, scoffed saying there's no taste difference, and he couldn't see why i bothered. If he had my stomach cramps from trying to digest pasteurized milk, he'd sing a different tune. Anyhow, i buy a quart at a time, as i don't need a lot for my muesli, and in short order i'm buying half gallons because Himself is suddenly drinking loads more milk than heretofore.

    At my current location, i have two stores where i can get raw milk and one farm where i can buy direct. The farmer has taken to homogenizing the milk, which makes me sad. I like to see the cream separate.

    I still don't use a lot of milk, but i let everyone know the benefits of raw milk every chance i get.

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  11. I didn't know you grew up in Chicago. I grew up in Lombard. :)

    Of course we are raw milk lovers, but goat milk of course, because that's what we have. I'm curious about your set-up for your customers. Doesn't the cream start to separate before they've all gotten some?

  12. Megan, great comments. We often have folks come to our farm who have had digestive issues with pasteurized milk and then find the raw milk works well for them. We make no health claims other than after drinking it for two decades we're still here!

  13. John, yes our puppy has grown on us, so much so I have spent more time potty training him than I ever did my four kids. Bad mommy or excellent pet owner? I'll leave that judgement up to Himself.

  14. Leigh, yup, North Ashland Ave and then HS at Joliet East. Class of 1976's Mispent Youth. As far as cream goes, we have an automatic agitator that stirs the milk in our bulk tank several times a day so folks get their fair share of the cream.