Building the Case for Raw Milk
At Brookford Farm in Canterbury, the cows are treated like family members.
The farm’s 600 acres of lush green pastures, home to the roaming herd, unfold at the bottom of a steep winding lane. Located a half-mile off route 93 just north of Concord, the farm supports a mixed but amicable gang of breeds like Jerseys, Guernseys, Brown Swiss, and the spotted Normande.
The cows are bright-eyed and curious, belting out a symphony of baritone moos to passersby. Each has a name, like Betsy Ross and Bumblebee, using the same first letter as their mom. On this particular day, they amble about their roomy winter pen, mooing and munching their cold-weather diet of hay, grass silage, root vegetables like beets and carrots, and small quantities of kelp, salt, barley and flax seed.
With the arrival of first grasses in May and early June, the cows move out to pasture, grazing on grasses and clover. Grazing offers a varied and healthful diet for the cows, and also distributes mineralrich manure that feeds the soil. Before the Mahoneys moved up from Rollinsford in 2012, the farm produced sod, which stripped the soil of valuable nutrients, something the cows are helping to replenish over time.
When not grazing, the cows are often queued up for their other important job: milking. According to Catarina, all 70 or so lactating cows are milked twice a day, a two hour job for two farmers, producing somewhere between 180 to 200 gallons of milk. The ivory liquid slides through a pipe into a stainless steel bulk tank where it is quickly chilled to 38 to 40 degrees F, measured out into glass bottles, capped, and sold as heavy cream and whole and low-fat milk.
Absent from this process is pasteurization.
Though the FDA website warns that “raw, unpasteurized milk can carry dangerous bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria,” the Mahoneys stand firm. “I drank it throughout my pregnancies,” says Catarina, who cares for the couple’s four healthy boys and runs the cheese program at Brookford Farm. As if on cue, their two youngest tumble in from an outdoor forest adventure, grab a package of frozen strawberries from the farm’s CSA share, and beg their mom to make smoothies.
Pasteurization, or heating milk to high temperatures to destroy harmful bacteria, began as a way to increase the shelf life of milk. Then it became the safest way to go with the rise of anonymous, industrial farms. At Brookford Farm, the cows are treated as well as most children; they’re fed a varied organic diet, hormone- and antibiotic-free, supplemented with minerals like organic kelp meal that they can eat at will. Sick cows are selected out and treated with herbal and homeopathic remedies, and the Mahoneys practice sound udder hygiene, cleaning them well before and after milking.
Taking these precautions makes the Mahoneys comfortable with avoiding pasteurization, which means they don’t have to destroy the beneficial bacteria that aid in digestion and absorption, or the delicate seasonal terroir characteristic of milk from grass-fed cows. In late winter the ivory-colored milk tastes earthy and a little sweet and in the spring, it takes on a golden yellow hue with a distinct grassy flavor.
As conscientious small farmers continue to localize dairy production, might it be time to revisit our stance on raw milk?
For the Mahoney family, it’s a no-brainer.