Choosing The Best Milk

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In the Cultured Dairy and Basic Cheese eCourse, you’re going to learn how to make your own cultured dairy and cheese — and in so doing, you’ll maximize the healthfulness of those foods. To make your cultured dairy foods the best they can be, start with the best possible milk.

You might be surprised to learn that the best milk is determined by more than just how the milk is processed. It is also determined by what animal produces the milk and by the animal’s diet.

Overall Milk Choices

Here are the choices of milk, from the best choice to the worst choice.

  1. raw, whole milk from a pastured animal
  2. non-homogenized, pasteurized whole milk from a pastured animal
  3. non-homogenized, pasteurized whole milk from a grain-fed animal
  4. homogenized, pasteurized milk (whole is better than skimmed)
  5. ultra-pasteurized milk (whole or skimmed) — cannot use for culturing at all; so severely denatured it is incapable of supporting a culture

The Animal Breed Matters

Raw, whole milk — with its abundant healthy fat, probiotics, vitamins, minerals and enzymes — is the best choice. It is not processed at all on its way from farm to table, other than milking it out or chilling it. Yet, not all raw, whole milk is created equal. Some of it comes from less desirable breeds. When choosing your raw, whole milk, you actually have two choices:

  1. raw, whole milk from an old-fashioned breed of pastured animal, such as Jersey, Guernsey, Red Devon, or Brown Swiss cows, or goats, or sheep
  2. raw, whole milk from a modern breed of pastured animal, such as the commercial Holstein

What’s wrong with milk from modern breeds of cow? The milk protein suffers a genetic mutation, making it unstable in our digestive tracts. This mutation is linked to serious health issues, such as auto-immune disease, heart disease, type-1 diabetes, autism, and schizophrenia. Source: Keith Woodford’s Devil in the Milk.

Also, the modern Holstein’s milk contains more water and less nutrition ounce for ounce. According to Joann S. Grohman of Keeping a Family Cow, you:

“have to drink one and two-thirds glasses of Holstein milk to receive the nutrients you get from a glass of Jersey milk.”

What are those nutrients? Milkfat, protein, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, vitamins A, D, E and K, and all the other vitamins and minerals typically found in milk.

So if you can get milk from an old-fashioned animal, please do!

The Animal Diet Matters

Now let’s talk diet. The healthiest milk (and meat) animals are raised on rich and diverse pastures offering high-quality grasses and legumes — a natural and diverse environment. They have plenty of sun, room, and favorite foods. These are happy and healthy animals.

Conventional feedlots or dairy farms lure the consumer with cheap and convenient milk and meat, but this scenario breeds problems such as: animal stress and abuse, environmental pollution, rampant use of hormones, antibiotics and other drugs, and food with overall less nutritional value.

The ideal diet for pastured animals is high-quality grasses and legumes. On this diet, the animals feast on rapidly growing pasture, ensuring their fat (both in meat and milk) offers high amounts of vitamin D, along with the other essential fat soluble vitamins (A, E, and K). The fatty acid ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is more likely to remain in its God-given balance of 3 to 1. Essential fatty acids in the right balance are necessary for growth and are found in virtually every cell membrane in the body.

Contrast this natural diet with factory-raised animals, whose diets are designed to boost productivity at lower costs. The animals are fed primarily genetically modified grain and soy, in addition to unhealthful fillers such as garbage and stale food. Their omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio shifts to an unhealthful 20 to 1 in many cases.

When choosing grass-fed dairy from cows, goats, or sheep, look for animals that are raised with abundant access to pasture, and where clean milking conditions are in evidence, such as clean containers, a clean milking area, and healthy looking animals. Some grain offered during milking time is allowable.

The Bottom Line

Make sure your milk is the best you can get. And no matter what: always, always remember that if you’re culturing dairy at home yourself, you’re making whatever milk you get better.

This is a brief excerpt of Lesson 1 (also delivered via video) in the Cultured Dairy and Basic Cheese eCourse. Please join us to learn more, see more, and do more!

This post may contain affiliate links. We only recommend products and services we wholeheartedly endorse. Thank you for supporting Traditional Cooking School by GNOWFGLINS with your purchases. Our family thanks you!

Comments

  1. says

    Interesting- I didn’t realize that different breeds of cows actually produced less nutritious milk! Good to know- although we were planning on a Jersey for our first milk cow anyway- I want all that CREAM! :)

    • says

      Jill — Yay for Jerseys. They’re the best for cream! Although I wouldn’t know, as I’m not getting that much at the moment. ;) It is either because we’re off season (less green outside to eat) or because she’s holding back milk for her calf.

  2. Denise M. says

    What can you tell me, if anything, do you know of feeding the Jersey cow cottonseed meal? I interviewed our farmers recently to ask these types of questions. That and Aramison Crumbles are the two things that I can’t figure out what they are exactly. In our part of the country, there is no grass. They feed mostly hay, but supplement during milking time.

    • says

      Denise — I looked up cottonseed meal in Keeping a Family Cow. She says it is a low-calcium, high protein feed that is notoriously ridden with pesticides. Those are three mentions I put together in one sentence. :) Whether the pesticide levels apply to your farmers’ feed, I don’t know. I got the idea that is a common plant source of protein in feed. I can’t find any mention of the Aramison Crumbles — is that a dairy mix?

      Very tough not to have grass. :( But feeding mostly hay is very good. :)

  3. says

    Wardee baby! this is sooo true! We get amazing organic raw dairy raised traditionally on grass from our Amish Dairy Club and it is the BEST milk I have EVER tasted. Jerseys, Guernseys and Ayrshire mixes along with some strange looking heritage breeds, but the milk and all the dairy products are divine! The cream I get is so thick and yellow it comes in a yogurt container and when you turn it over NOTHING comes out it is that thick! Once you go raw, you never go back!

    By the way, I heard from my friend and she says congrats on your Jersey baby! She said in the summer its all grass and alfalfa, in the winter hay and alfalfa pellets. She says sometimes she feeds a small amount of grain as a milking TREAT to get the cow to stand still but says that alfalfa pellets would work just as well. Hope that helps! :) HUGS! Alex

  4. Adrienne says

    Hi Wardee! Currently a good friend of mine has Jerseys, but they are grain fed. The milk is delicious of course. This is the only access we have to raw milk at the moment. The milk is raw and is not homogenized nor pasteurized. Are we getting any benefits since they are grain fed? I’ve often wondered. I have a four year old and need to change course now if this is not beneficial.

    Thanks so much for your knowledge.

    • says

      Adrienne — Certainly you are! It is a scale of best to worst, with good qualities in between. Are they grain fed just at milking time? That’s allowable, definitely within reason. If they’re primarily on pasture, that milk is definitely at the top of the list. If not, keep on the lookout for grass-fed someday. But I wouldn’t worry!

  5. sharla says

    In my area of Northwest Kansas I have not been able to find a source of raw milk. I have searched the internet and Great Bend KS is the closest place. Can raw milk be frozen or dried? I would be able to drive the distance with a friend and share the expense. Otherwise its only Wal Mart and ultra pastueized milk for me.
    Thanks,
    Sharla

    • says

      Sharla — Dried or frozen milk doesn’t behave well for cheese. Though you are welcome to try how it works for other cultured dairy such as buttermilk, yogurt, and kefir. I can’t say one way or the other. How far away is it? If it is a good, clean source, you could even keep it in the refrigerator for a week or two and expect fresh milk (not sour). I hope you can figure something out.

      Oh — just remembered. I have a friend who uses powdered goat milk during the winter when milk is low. She kefirs it and it works fine. I don’t know how you’d dry your own milk, though.

      • Gracia H. says

        Sharla – I have frozen raw milk with good success for the last 2 winters while we dried up our Jersey. Skim the cream off and freeze separate. (You can freeze with the cream, but the texture changes a bit, not bad, just different.) We have also made cultured butter milk with success after it has been thawed. Hope this helps!
        -Gracia

        P.s. I’m sure your familiar with this web site already, but if not, look it over and maybe one of these farms would know a small family dairy in your area that may have a cow or two that you could get milk from. It also doesn’t hurt to ask a local vet if they know of farm with a milking cow! http://realmilk.com/where2.html#ks

        • sharla says

          Gracie,
          Thanks so much for the info. I will definitely call our vet and ask about this. Actually this is rather a funny situation, we ourselves have 50 cows out on pasture only, except for a month or so in the heavy snow. But, they are red angus/black angus. Wonder how their milk would be??? Any thoughts on that?
          And, I do plan on driving to buy milk and will freeze what we don’t use it in a timely manner.

          Wardee,
          I know you are right, culturing is so much better than not doing anything.
          I am excited to get started. I ordered some dry goats milk from Amazon-:)

          Sharla

          • Gracia H. says

            Hi Sharla,

            As far as your red/black angus cow’s milk goes I’m not sure what all the differences are, but I’m quite sure the nutrition is not the same as milk from a Jersey. If you do a little google search you should be able to pull up the difference.

            Best wishes!
            -Gracia

  6. sharla says

    Ok, so I read my post above and found out I am not so good at this, but am going to try and explain a little more about my situation. It’s about 2 1/2 hours to Great Bend, a friend and I can drive together but not very often. It would help if we could freeze the milk. I have a dehydrator and have dried eggs successfully and am willing to try drying milk also. I have checked out Colo. and Nebr. but we are so far away from any source of anything organic/natural/real, its really not practical to travel to and from any source of good milk.
    Any ideas/suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
    Sharla
    Rexford, Kansas

    • says

      Oh, I see you answered my distance question. :)

      I will be praying for you. You can’t find regular pasteurized milk? EVERYTHING is ultra-pasteurized? Short of driving that far, having enough fridge space to store two weeks’ worth of milk, and hoping it is a clean enough source to stay fresh that long, I think finding regular pasteurized milk is your best option.

      Remember, when you culture it, you make it better.

  7. says

    Hi Wardee,

    Today I was at the market picking up milk (I just moved across the country and so my food sources are still getting figured out).

    My options were:

    1. grass-fed, homogenized, pasteurized
    2. organic grain-fed, NON-homogenized, pasteurized

    Which would you have chosen?

    • says

      Oh, dear! I hate these quandries. Both of those involve a sacrifice to the milkfat, which is arguably one of the most important components in milk.

      With grass-fed you’ll get the better omega 6 : omega 3 ratio, however the homogenization is so damaging to the butter solids.

      The non-homogenized means the butter solids stay intact, however the grain feeding tips the scales to a higher omega 6 : omega 3 ratio.

      On the grain-fed option — how much grain? Is the cow mostly pastured and receives grain at milking time? That would be my best choice if so. A little grain is allowable if the bulk of the diet is pasture/silage/hay.

      • says

        I wish I knew how much grain. I ended up choosing the grass fed. I like my omega 3s. ;)

        Don’t get me started on the availability of RAW milk in my new area! It’s available but I’ve got to do a dance and wave a flag to get it. Grrr….

  8. Kim says

    After reading all the great benefits of raw milk, we are looking to get a Jersey cow and start rasing some of our own milk. My initial looking is indicating that finding a pasture raised and/or organic Jersey cow is going to be very difficult. Does anyone know what the effects would be if I bought any old Jersey and started feeding her grass, hay and alfalfa? How long would it take to balance out the Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio? Also, are there good blood lines to look for? I am currently reading Keeping a Family Cow, but haven’t found this addressed yet.

    Thanks
    Kim

    • Sally McD says

      The cow gives milk from what she eats recently. A lot has to do with genetics, but if a cow gobbles up wild onions you might notice!
      The problem with “any old Jersey cow” from a dairy is more likely to be a disease. Be sure that your cow is free of disease, Johnes Disease is very common and very bad.
      Also if the A2 gene is important, have her tested by sending in 30-40 tail hairs with the roots to the Genetics lab at UC Davis.

      Have your cow tested by a vet and get a health cert before purchase. Check to make sure that she did not almost die with milk fever at her last freshening, that is way more important then worrying about weather she had a little grain or not!

  9. Carol Bahr says

    I attached a good article on the a1/a2 issue. After reading this and a few other articles on this topic I asked my milk farmer about the cows we get our milk from. They are Jerseys, but she hasn’t had the cows tested. I am probably going to switch to goat’s milk this spring when they are milking again to be on the safe side. Thanks for bringing this issue to light.

    http://thebovine.wordpress.com/2009/03/20/the-devil-in-the-milk-dr-thomas-cowan-on-how-a2-milk-is-the-answer-to-the-mystery-of-why-even-raw-milk-sometimes-does-not-seem-to-be-enough-of-an-improvement-over-store-bought/

  10. penny thompson says

    I have found some milk at Vitamin Cottage. It comes from small farms in Iowa.The company’s name is Kalona Super Natural . It is organic whole milk with cream on top. It is non-homogenized, grass fed, no added hormones, vat- pasteurized at 145 F. It has been the best in our area. There are some farms with raw milk but are not very close to where I live. I have a 11 year young man who raises chickens. When they are laying I buy my eggs from him. He has had to rebuild his flock with younger hens. Where would this come in on the list of best to worse on milk. Love your ministry in helping others eat better. God bless you and your family.

    • says

      That sounds like a wonderful choice, Penny. I’d put it up there at #2. The only thing you didn’t mention was the breed of the cow — if it is a traditional breed it is even better. I’m really happy that you found a good choice in your area!

      I love it, too, that you can support your 11-year old friend in his farm venture. :)

  11. Beth says

    So, I finally found a source of raw milk, but it’s from Holsteins–should I buy it? It’s a great price of $4/gal from a small, local farm. Otherwise we’re drinking a mix of VAT milk ($7.38/gal) from mostly grass fed cows; organic past. milk; or regular store milk, depending on the budget. Ack!! I was so happy to find a source and now I don’t know what to do.

    • says

      Is this raw milk from (mostly) pasture-fed Holsteins? If so, it is a step up from what you’ve been drinking and I say go for it. :)

      • Beth says

        Yes! :) And it’s local and they deliver it to my door (seriously:) I think we’re going to try a gallon next week and if we like it, I want to arrange a visit to the actual farm to see for myself that the animals are clean etc.

        I just hooked up with a coop, so maybe someone will have a lead to Jersey milk.

  12. says

    I’m so excited to find your website! We just moved to MD (husband work transfer) where it’s illegal to sell raw milk, so we bought a family cow! After much prayer, we jumped into this adventure knowing very little about cows. I was sure I wanted to feed only grass/hay/alfalfa, but I’m not finding anything about how to do this and make sure she’s getting a balanced diet. All the advice seems to rely so heavily on commercial grain feeds! I want to make sure she’s healthy and getting all the nutrients she needs. Molly, our new guernsey, came from a group of family owned show cows and was on pasture, hay, and COB (corn, oat, barley) supplement. Right now, I’m feeding her soaked beet pulp with a little 16% dairy feed and a bit of alfalfa while I milk, and she gets grass and hay the rest of the day. What are your thoughts? I’d like to eliminate the grain feed, but concerned she won’t be getting all she needs. She’s currently giving almost 4 gallons a day if it helps to know that. I appreciate your advice.

  13. Noemi Waller says

    Oh, dear! Molly, our new guernsey, came from a group of family owned show cows and was on pasture, hay, and COB (corn, oat, barley) supplement. What are your thoughts? Are we getting any benefits since they are grain fed?

    • says

      Noemi — With plenty of pasture and good hay for the primary diet, a little grain-feeding is okay in my opinion. It is often necessary so the cows don’t waste away or lose condition.

    • Sally McD says

      Your Guernsey will give excellent milk. Feed her well, you must give her the best hay possible if the pasture is not lush with grasses and legumes. If she starts getting thin, then you must feed her “what ever good feed you can” to insure that she stays in top condition. COB is a good choice, it will not hurt at all. I feel that the milk is actually much better when the cow is in ideal condition.
      The Guernsey for sale at the nearby Holstein dairy is way too thin. She is a cow who puts so much into her milk that she needs extra feed. She is in Millville Pensylvania and I will help someone find her if they promise to feed her and not starve her by refusing to feed her grains. She needs them, period.

  14. Sally McD says

    There is a first lactation Guernsey cow for sale in Millville Pennsylvania who gives 30#/day and is a gentle spirit. She is 2 and a half yrs old and would be an ideal family milk cow. When he came to get a tractor fixed, the dairyman told us (at Precision Millwright & Fabricating Service) that he wanted to cull this cow because she doesn’t give as much milk as a Holstein. Call us if you are looking for a Guernsey, as we want to save this cow.

  15. says

    Hi Wardee,

    Now I am really confused! I just found a raw milk source that will deliver to our door. I was pretty excited until I tried to make butter with the cream on top and realized it was really white and the milk seemed kind of watery. I did some more research and found that the milk is from Holsteins with a few jersey cows. They are not pasture fed but fed grains and hay that are grown on the dairy farm. They are also housed in large pens that are very clean and are well taken care of but I don’t know how often they are out in the sun. I cannot find any other sources close enough to me for raw milk from Traditional cows. Is it better to get the pasteurized non-homogenized milk from grass-fed jerseys at my local store or to continue getting milk from this grade A dairy? Here’s the website: http://www.idahofarmfresh.com/Our-Dairy.html

    • says

      Hannah,

      That’s a tough call. I’d probably pray a lot, try both out, and try to decide. From what you described, I’m almost tempted to say go for the pasteurized Jersey milk. But it is a tough call…

  16. says

    Prayer worked! After months of searching, I thought I had found all of my options but after prayer, and an afternoon of phone calls and searching, another option presented itself. Grass-fed, raw Jersey/Brown Swiss Milk only 15 mins. away! Thanks Wardee.

  17. Cena says

    In my city , Great Falls, Mt. I have not been able to find organic milk that is not ultra pasteurized. I used it because that is all I could find for my kefir grains and it worked fine. I have done 5 batches now. I was surprised.

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