This is a piece I wrote for another blog in July 2009. I am reposting it here because I talk about the raw milk I consume a lot. I suppose my family has had the dairy share for about 3 years now. The quality is still great. They no longer sell yogurt, butter and other products because of questions about if they fell under SB05-055. However I may love our dairy even more now. Great people. Great product. Great safety – we are notified at the hint of anything going wrong with our supply. Every state has different safety/testing requirements and this dairy even exceeds what is needed in our state. If you choose to go raw find what works best for your household.
I have been acquainted with Windsor Dairy since I moved to Colorado last year. They are prominent at the Boulder Farmers’ Market and I saw them at the winter markets in Fort Collins. In Fort Collins I sampled some milk that someone that boards a cow there had with them and it was pretty darn delicious. They don’t sell milk at the dairy, but you can invest in a cow, pay for their board and care, and get the milk the cow produces. Colorado Bill SB05-055 outlines the cow share program so that customers can circumvent the illegal act of buying raw milk in the state and instead invest in a cow and obtain raw milk that the customer-owned cow produces. It is all stated in the boarding contract you sign with the dairy if you choose to buy a cow share.
Why drink raw milk? This is a question I have wrestled with for a while. I come from a culture where we pasteurize everything. And I am at that age where I am considering having offspring myself. Raw milk initially seemed scary to my health, but it also seems natural and healthy to me. It is a contradictory idea I had to research for myself and I am not here to push for you to try raw milk. That will be your own process. I have links to some sites at the bottom of this post if you want to look further into this idea.
My husband and I are considering buying a cow share so we toured the dairy on Friday 3 July. The owners feel strongly that customers tour the facility to learn more about their investment and source of their food supply. When you arrive you see an Organic Valley/Windsor Dairy sign at the entrance to the property. Prior to the 2005 cow share law Windsor Dairy produced products for Organic Valley but that is not the case now. Meg and Arden, the two bovine veterinarians that own Windsor, still retain a relationship with Organic Valley as consultants. The vets are committed to raising healthy animals that produce quality products thus their work with Organic Valley helps increase that knowledge base. The 60-70 cows at Windsor are grass fed and allowed to roam the pastures. Grass fed means that the cows produce dairy products retaining more omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid, vitamins (A, D, and E), beta-carotene, and antioxidants than their grain fed counterparts. In case you don’t know, these are good things to have in your milk. The tour begins with a look out towards the pastures with the cows chewing their grass. Chewing their grass, doing their thing, allowed to be cows.
The next stop on the tour is the calf area. The calves get the colostrum from their mothers, but they are separated very early in the process. The dairy does this because a cow will be more reluctant to enter the facility’s milking area if she is still nursing her own calf. The calf area consists of shade covers each calf is attached to and access to their milk.
Teen calves in staging area.
The milking facility will most likely be wet anytime you go in there. Milking is done twice daily and hosed down after. There is a lot of cleaning going on here for the 12 bays and supporting equipment.
I asked for permission to take pictures and was told to be cautious with the flash so I would not spook the animals. They try to keep the stress minimal in the process. I shot everything sans flash and tried to be more of a fly on the wall during the tour.
The cows walk into the facility and line up in the bays. Their udders are washed in iodine then hooked up to a pump. Milking takes three to five minutes. The milk goes through a maze of tubes and pipes. The cool pipes warm as the 101 degree fluid courses through them. The milk then empties into a vat. It is tested once a week at an off site laboratory for the presence of harmful elements like Listeria and E. coli. Results come back prior to that batch being given to members who pay for cow shares.
There is a lot more than just this simple process. Here are a few factoids I gleamed during the tour:
- The pipe and machinery are flushed with water and disinfectant after each milking.
- Conventional grain-fed operations typically milk a cow for 18 months, they are immediately artificially inseminated after, and cows tend to expire in the second cycle. Windsor cows are milked 10-12 months with a one-month lag time in an isolated pen before they are set to roam in the pasture where there is a bull that can naturally inseminate them. They retire after three cycles.
- Organic grass fed cows produce a fraction of the milk (3.5 gallons/day) as opposed to their BGH infused, grain fed counterparts (>10 gallons/day). The impetus for a dairy to seek the smaller production value is a higher quality product beginning with the health of the animal. Grain fed animals are susceptible to ulcers and acidosis since grains like corn are not part of their natural diet.
- Sun-Wed milking are for the milk cooler
- Thurs-Sat milking are for cream and skim. The skim is fed to the calves and the cream is used for other dairy products.
The tour ends in the dairy store where you can buy dairy products, meat, and eggs. Cow share members receive a reduced rate on products. The meat is from dairy cows that are killed off site. The eggs are from hens who live on site roaming the grounds and residing in large trailers designed for humans. The chickens are livin’ large at Windsor.
Windsor dairy tours are at 3 PM on Fridays and Saturdays. Tours are free. For more information on Windsor Dairy visit their website. Their site provides links to helpful resources as well as information from peer-reviewed journals on the health benefits of what they are doing and the safety of their operation.
For more information on raw milk in Colorado visit the Raw Milk Association of Colorado.
*****Since I wrote this Meg and I have chatted over e-mail and she is really good about verifying information. Here are a few points she wants to clear up.
- Calves are fed whole, raw, warm milk until 4-6 months of age and then pasture fed after that.
- Milk temp coming out of the cow is 101 F
- Testing is done on all fluid milk for the four major food borne pahtogens (E coli 0157H7, Salmonella, Listeria and Campylobacter). To their knowledge they are the only dairy in the country (raw or pasteurized) that uses this standard and they have been doing so for 3 years.
- Life span of their cows is 10+ years
- Cows are bred as they come into heat after calving and have a vacation from milking for at least one month before calving. The calving interval is about year.
- The pasture is 400 acres