Do Your Own Vetting, and Quit Throwing Out the Baby With the Bathwater
arning! Rant ahead! My friend said I should write this post after a conversation we had, and after spending the afternoon with my cows, I talked myself out of it, until I read a comment about me growing a Monsanto tomato. So remember, this is just my opinion and a post about how I make my personal decisions on what to eat, grow, and imbibe among other things. You need to make your own choices, and if they are bad, you need to deal with it. “Bad” things I have been accused of lately, and they are all true. Drinking milk from the store, feeding my A1 cow grain, eating at a fast food restaurant, drinking too much coffee, raising Cornish Cross, feeding commodity feed to my chickens, eating white bread, driving too big of vehicle, using sheep to mow my lawn, washing my salad greens, baking pie, eating a cheap candy bar, burning wood, drying my clothes on a rack, building a greenhouse…the list could go on forever, but my point is that you can’t please everyone and you should please yourself first. And do your homework, don’t expect anyone else to do it for you, or to keep you safe. If I die from eating white bread or drinking raw milk, so be it, it’s not anyone’s fault but mine, I assess the risks and make a decision.
After another article about raw milk appeared in the O yesterday, my phone was abuzz with calls. “Did you see that, she uses a machine to keep her milk clean!” Of course, I had to go out and get the paper then. Front page, hmmm. I knew this article was coming out, and that people were being interviewed and people had declined interviews, or had just plain laid low wanting the whole E. coli mess to blow over. First thing I saw was the manure on the cow, and when I looked at the photo shoot accompanying the article I saw the manure was still on the cow’s hock during milking. I know the whole glass house thing too, at paddock shift for Jane yesterday, I wanted to take her monthly pre-calving photos, and sure enough, a nice, big ‘ol “grass” stain on her side. As I have said before, $hit happens. Especially with cows. An animal that poops and pees out 50 pounds a day is sure to get some manure on them from time to time. In the barn, in the pasture or just because. Most of the time it is because they don’t have a choice; too small of quarters, in the stable or in the pasture or lot, not enough bedding, and sometimes they don’t feel good and don’t care. Unfortunately many milk cows don’t feel good, a sub-clinical infection can be the blame, or sometimes it just may be the cow isn’t getting enough groceries to replace the ample amounts of milk she is giving. Take for instance the current grass-fed milk movement. I’m writing a post on that, so stay tuned.
Anyway, in a conversation with that friend yesterday, we both wondered (being former 4-H kids), why in the heck if a reporter was coming to your farm, the cows weren’t spiffed up. Maybe not bathed, but curried for sure. We both decided we would have brushed our cow before a photo shoot. And then we pondered the idea of putting your best foot forward, or just “keeping it real” as Pioneer Woman says. We decided we would both go with the putting our best foot forward and brush the dang cow. My friend’s cow is newly freshened and she wants to possibly sell some milk, so we have been poring over our milking procedures, ad infinitum for some time. I’m careful with my milking procedures, but there are days when the cow is DIRTY! On those days I don’t keep the milk. If I was selling my milk, I would be tempted to salvage that milk, and you see everyone doing the math. “Okay, the cow gives 4 gallons a day, 7 days a week; that’s 28 gallons I can sell. I don’t want to short my customers…and to try to educate them, I need the money.” Okay, the money is great, as long as everything goes perfect, but it’s like counting your eggs before the pullet ever lays the first one.
Herein the rub lies. The consumers have the farmer over a barrel. The hypocrisy drives me crazy. But as a consumer myself, I see where we really have been trained to expect everything from the store on any day of the week. Having a party? Want some strawberries in January? Go to the store. Now people are demanding seasonal products all year round. Never mind that milk, eggs, fruit, and vegetables are seasonal products. Add in local, organic, natural, cage-free, and free-range and you’ve got a problem. And if you don’t supply it, you’ve got a tantrum on your hands or a threat that the consumer (chef, foodie, immune impaired…) will go elsewhere and get their “seasonal,” local, organic, pink slime-free, grass-fed whatever, somewhere else. So the farmer is badgered into providing just that. Milk in January, well why not? Some cow is producing milk somewhere, or it wouldn’t be in the store, right? Well, duh, I get that. But let’s back up a bit here; aren’t we trying to sell raw milk that is healthy? It’s real hard on a cow to calve late in the year and then go into heavy production on dry feed. Cows are hard workers, they are for most of their lives, pregnant and giving milk at the same time. That is normal for them, but once you start
hacking chipping away at them with all your demands – milk every month of the year, dry feed, less-than-quality feed, calves taken away, mud lots, quasi-rotational grazing, ramped-up production, to name a few – the cow house of cards starts to crumble. Metabolic disorders, sub-clinical infections, low production, skinny cows, reproduction problems, and pretty soon your “healthy” milk isn’t so different from the commodity store stuff that is supposed to be so bad. So, as the small farmer you now are in the same boat as the big farmer who milks year round and brings in feed to do so. Couple that with a lack of husbandry experience, you may be in big trouble. I know the big mega-dairies get all the press, but I suspect that most of the milk is produced by small family dairies just like the cow/calf beef growers, and they are doing a good job. And, you know what is great about these small to medium-sized dairies? Most are family run with a knowledgeable staff that they have raised themselves. Meaning their kids have been steeped in cow knowledge, and can see an “off” cow a mile away. Longtime farmers are good trouble shooters and they have fledgling trouble-shooters at their hip most days. They didn’t read the book, they lived it. It’s not so simple as reading a book, buying land and purchasing a milking machine to go with your new milk cow.
How do I vet my life? I read everything I can get my hands on and I try not to throw the baby out with the bath water. That means I read conventional farm journals, as well as organic and sustainable publications and papers. There are good as well as bad ideas and methods in both, and lots of overlap. For too long food as been relegated to the back burner in people’s minds. We want someone else to grow it, pack it, and cook it for us. Just like fast food, throw money in one window and grab food out of the next window, scarf it down and you’re off to the next item on your busy schedule. Who has time to cook? Let alone worry about going to see how your food is produced. The other mindset almost as troubling are the simplistic views like, if the milk is raw it automatically means that it is better, if the cow is A2 that it is better, or the cow only eats grass so the milk will be better. It’s simply not true. You can have raw milk from a grass-fed A2 cow and it may or may not be good milk, or you can have raw milk from an a grass-fed A1 cow that may or may not be good. There are many factors involved in producing all food and there is no one simple answer or method.
As I said in an earlier post about milk, I don’t think we need to make everything illegal, but the other side of the coin is that we do have to make informed choices and it’s up to us to inform ourselves. I personally don’t care if pink slime is still made, but it should be labeled as what it is, a product or filler made of by-products, not called a fancy name like lean finely textured beef. A local (now national) talk show host was saying that pink slime was the same as stretching your meatloaf with celery and crackers and I heartily disagree; both celery and crackers are foods that would stand alone. I also don’t think we need to be warned to death about things like cigarettes, booze, drugs, sugar, bad boys, and a myriad of other things that we are constantly being scolded about. Me and my husband both devoured candy cigarettes as kids and neither of us smoke; likewise, I loved candy necklaces and I haven’t felt the need to go to Jared, ever.
That being said, find out about the food you’re eating and how it is grown or made, if you want, but if you don’t, then be prepared to deal with the consequences, and don’t expect someone to bail you out.