Raw Milk: How To Set Up a Herdshare, and How To Evaluate a Dairy Farmer’s Herdshare Program

Herdshare Classes at Farm-to-Consumer FoundationOne of the more delicious ways to eat locally is to drink local milk. For most of us, this means raw (unpasteurized) milk. Unfortunately, raw milk is illegal to buy or sell in many U.S. states.

But often there’s a way around it: A herdshare program. Drinking raw milk from a cow you own is not illegal. When a milk drinker joins a herdshare, he’s buying a part of a cow β€” usually 1/25th of a cow β€” and paying each month a fee for that partial-cow’s board and care.

I own 3/25ths of a cow (a Jersey named Cinnamon), which I purchased from a local dairy farmer for $50 per share. (If I ever decide to sell my shares, the farmer will buy them back from me for the same price I paid.) Each month, I pay my farmer $22 per share for my portion of the costs of Cinnamon’s care, and each week I drive out to the farm (in Ohio, it’s illegal for my farmer to deliver my milk to me) and pick up 3 gallons of beautiful whole unpasteurized milk. It works out to $5.08 per gallon, which just a few months ago might have seemed like a lot to pay for milk. It was worth it to me because I wanted to buy my milk from a local farmer raising cows on pasture without rBGH β€” cows living the way cows are supposed to live β€” and in my area that means raw milk. It’s worth it to others because they want raw milk in particular.

A lot of folks would like to investigate finding local milk in their area but are a little worried by dire warnings from various government bodies β€” who, influenced by wealthy conventional dairy industry lobbying groups, completely ignore the difference between milk purposefully produced to be consumed raw and conventional dairy farm milk, which is produced with the intention that it be pasteurized before consumption (note: pdf file) β€” about the dangers of drinking raw milk. But raw milk is as safe as any other unprocessed traditional food as long as the dairy farmer knows what she’s doing. (I wouldn’t recommend drinking raw milk from a dairy farm that isn’t set up specifically to produce raw milk; milk from a conventional dairy farm is not intended to be consumed unpasteurized, and the sanitation requirements are profoundly different.)

Here’s a great way for would-be raw milk drinkers to find out whether a herdshare they’re considering is run by a knowledgeable farmer.

The Farm-to-Consumer Foundation is offering a series of classes on setting up, maintaining, and upgrading a cow- or goat-share operation, appropriate both for farmers at all levels of experience and for consumers interested in the finding out more about joining a herdshare. Classes are conducted via conference call; attendees phone in from their location to join the class. There are three classes to choose from:

  • Cow/goat shares 101 (Basic Operation & Legal Issues) This class in particular would be also be appropriate for consumers interested in raw milk.
  • Cow/goat shares 102 (Intermediate Operation)
  • Cow/goat shares 103 (Advanced Operation & Legal Issues)

Each hour-and-a-half class is available several times throughout September, October, and November. Attendees can pick and choose the classes most appropriate for their needs and select a date for each class that is most convenient for them. All classes are held Thursdays 1:00 – 2:30 Eastern.

If you’re interested, don’t dawdle. Each class is limited to 25 attendees. But if the classes prove popular and you miss your chance, I’m sure they’ll be offered again.

Related posts about local milk and sustainable dairy farming:

3 thoughts on “Raw Milk: How To Set Up a Herdshare, and How To Evaluate a Dairy Farmer’s Herdshare Program”

  1. Richard Popovich

    When I lived in New York for the first thirty-two years of my life, I began buying fresh raw milk from a friend who owned a herd of cows. We used it for at least ten years and it has a taste that is out of this world. Of course almost a fourth of the stuff is cream, so you have to make sure to pour some of it off so you don’t end up looking like a cow yourself! It is rich in butterfat and will pack on the pounds if you are not careful. (Set some of the cream aside and make your own butter.)

    We never had any problems with raw milk. As long as the dairy that it comes from sanitizes all of the milking equipment, plumbing, pumps and holding tank(s), and do not mix milk from a sick cow with the healthy ones, it never causes problems. If you do buy milk directly from a farmer, just be sure you can trust him to keep everything clean. That is the key to buying good raw milk.

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