The Small-Scale Dairy: The Complete Guide to Milk Production for the Home and Market
by Gianaclis Caldwell
Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014
This how-to book starts off with a short history that explains how milk came by its reputation as a killer. When cows are fed garbage from distilleries, as they were in the nineteenth century, it should not come as a big surprise that trouble would follow. Infant deaths in the 1880s numbered around ninety-five thousand per year in the U.S. Like any other food, milk, when mishandled or incorrectly produced, can be dangerous.
Intelligent solutions to the dilemma were recognized at the time and even implemented for a while, but as big industry began to dominate the industry in the 20th century, intelligent solutions were displaced by corporate sledgehammer approaches. The intelligent solution is to feed and treat cows properly and handle the milk in clean, sanitary and hygienic ways. Large corporations prefer not to do that and mask the resulting toxic swill with pasteurization. Before pasteurization, things like formaldehyde and boric acid were tried. Anything to avoid immediate, unpleasant consequences like death, even if those consequences are only delayed. Many others have repeated before me that murder in this country is legal if you do it slowly enough.
The rest of the book helps potential small dairy operators think through the decisions that need to be made before you get yourself in trouble. Are you planning to produce milk just for yourself, for your neighbors, or the local community? What kind of animals do you want to work with—cows, goats, sheep, camel, yak? Those last two aren’t very popular here but camel milk does exist in the United States. Different animals have different advantages and disadvantages. How much land do you have? How much help will you have? What are you going to do with excess animals? Caldwell covers business plans and the importance of an exit strategy. This is not something you can just drop in a dumpster and walk away from.
There is an entire chapter on the microbiology of milk for understanding the necessary safety and handling protocols for milk production. Understanding the nature of microbes in milk explains why it needs to be cooled quickly and kept cold and what happens if you don’t keep it cold. Environment, treatment, stress, and nutrition can all affect microbial composition and therefore the quality of the milk. After that comes advice on barn and shelter design, pasture layout and fencing. Barns need good ventilation and clean air. Keeping fences well-maintained is a job that never ends. Water must be kept clean.
Follow-up chapters highlight milking parlor setup and equipment. The milking parlor, especially the areas where the final stages of packaging the milk are done, must be clean and easy to clean. Backup equipment is a must. Sooner or later, things break and you will lose a lot of milk if you are disrupted for a long time trying to fix or replace something.
Caldwell carefully discusses testing and risk reduction, which are important topics. Some people casually read our information about the safety track record of raw milk and get the impression that if you sneeze in the milk or some of the equipment isn’t quite clean, that’s okay. No, it’s not. There is potential risk with any food including milk if not handled carefully. The fact that raw milk is a controversial subject makes it even more critical not to give the enemies of real milk or real food any ammunition.
The ubiquitous Diet Dictocrats will be stressed about all this raw dairy but a little cod liver oil and a few spoonfuls of butter should make them feel much better. The thumb is UP.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2014