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How to be sure I'm getting dairy from happy, healthy animals?

 
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So first off, here’s a warning: if this gets heated, offensive or obnoxious I will delete this post. I’m simply asking questions and not looking for anyone to defend their morals or beliefs. Just looking for facts here.

I hunt, fish, raise chickens, love eggs, cheese and yogurt and, until a couple hours ago, thought most reasons for being vegan were not legitimate. I just listened to an angry vegan criticizing the dairy industry and it brought some things to my mind that I had not considered before. Now I’m realizing that I have unanswered questions that may or may not have an effect on whether or not I continue eating dairy products.

Obviously, conventional dairy products are sad garbage, there’s no question there. But I was under the impression that me eating raw dairy products like cheese and yogurt from happy, healthy animals animals who are raised well is just fine for me and them. I know getting stuff as local and unprocessed as possible is also preferable.

I know female animals will lactate after birthing and that something needs to be done with that milk. Obviously, their young drinking it is what its purpose is. I know that male calves are generally slaughtered for veil and female calves are raised into the dairy industry to keep the process going.

I feel like in an ideal world, we could have our milks and cheeses (local, raw, organic and pasture raised) and the mother cows could raise their young naturally with us just taking the excess for ourselves. But this certainly isnt the case. Even if a cow lives a great life, isnt it still standard practice to separate her young from her and siphon off her milk for ourselves? And I’ve read about genetic manipulation and breeding cows to have less mothering instincts and produce more milk. Are these things true?

I really don’t know much about how small scale dairy is produced. Like, if we could have a small herd at home and treat them well, would we get any milk for ourselves, or would the calves drink it all? I know if a calf gets eaten by a predator the cow will still need to be milked and us using that would probably be best. But if we are the predator and are manipulating the entire situation so we can benefit at the animals expense, that doesn’t sit well with me.

What am I missing and can you all help me make sense of this?

Thank you,
-Brody
 
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I cannot speak to large scale dairy as it's not an area I know much about.  

I suggest that it be treated as an entirely different animal than home and small scale dairy.

Something to think about.  My friend had a baby.  She produced milk and the baby drank it.  But she had extra milk each day that she put in the freezer in case she wasn't able to be home at feeding time.  This mythology that dairy animals only produce just enough milk to keep their offspring healthy doesn't hold up when we look at undomesticated mammals.  Healthy mumma mammals naturally produce extra milk.  That milk production can increase dramatically if they are milked more often - like a wet nurse used to provide milk for rich people's babies and even though she had one child of her own, she could produce enough milk for 3 more.  

With dairy animals, we select them for their milk production.  This selection has been happening for thousands of years.  Two girl goats on the farm.  One is a better milk producer than the other, that's the one that is going to get a visit from the boy goat.  Do this for 10,000 plus years and better producers will become the norm.  A domesticated dairy animal produces a great deal more milk than is needed to keep their young healthy.

Diet has a huge influence on milk production.  When my friend was lactating, the doctor gave her a huge list of foods she wasn't to eat and an even longer list of foods to eat.  A farmer that cares for their animal will give a lactating animal the feed it needs to be in top condition.  A lactating animal is usually the healthiest and best-nourished critter on the farm.  A poorly nourished animal produces poor quality or no milk so a dairy animal eats healthy food.  

When my friend was away from her baby, she would have to go into the other room and milk herself because it hurt so much.  I've had animals get ill from their babies not drinking enough milk.  I don't normally milk my sheep, but for this one animal, I had to milk her four times a day so she didn't clog up or get infection.  A dead mummy animal is not good for the baby's health.  Not milking can cause harm to the animal.

One of the fastest ways to kill a young lamb is to let it drink too much milk.  It is important to monitor and limit milk consumption in young if you don't want them to die a painful death.  

If a young animal doesn't get the nutrition it needs, especially during the first few weeks of life, it does not thrive.  It does not grow quickly.  It becomes sickly and catches any illness or parasite that comes near it.  Mostly this is bad because farmers love their animals and want them to be happy and healthy.  But it is also unprofitable to have a sickly animal so care is taken that young animals get enough and the right kind of nutrition.  It is cheaper to give young mummy milk than to buy supplements, so a farmer would never deprive a young animal of needed milk unless it was causing damage for health reasons.

Goats and sheep get several illnesses that are debilitating, painful, and lead to a slow and crippling death.  My mentor was instrumental in discovering that CAE and some of the other illnesses are passed from mother to baby through the milk.  By taking the milk from the mum, pasteurizing it, then bottle feeding the lamb or kid, the chain of illness is broken and the farmer can better monitor the amount of milk consumption to keep the young at the healthiest level. There are times when bottle-feeding young reduce suffering.  This happens more often than you think.

That's what life is like on a small (aka, 2 to 200 dairy animal) farm.  



 
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Maybe the possible transmission of some diseases is typical for goats or sheep, I have not heard about it for cows.

Here in Germany there is a movement to allow the mother cow and calf some time together. It is said that cows cry for their young ones if separated.
In Southern Germany there is a seal/label from one of the strictest organizations monitoring organic farming (Demeter), here is a link:
https://www.demeter.de/biodynamisches/landwirtschaft/tiere/muttergebundene-kaelberaufzucht
... and in Northern Germany around Hamburg there is another initiative. This type of milk is of course far more expensive as you can get none (or less) milk during a certain time.

On this map you can see where such farms exist as of today:
https://welttierschutz.org/hofliste-mit-mutter-oder-ammengebundener-kaelberaufzucht/

I have not seen those labels in supermarkets, I normally get my milk either from the conventional small-scale farmer of my village who treats his animals well (e.g. the cows decide when it is time to get milked and enter the milk stand on their own account) or from another organic farmer (even smaller) where I also have a good feeling.
If I don't have time for some reason or another to buy raw milk I choose one where I know that the farmer is paid a decent price (this is a critical topic here, many small farmers have to give up their dairy cows and only those with massive amounts of cows can survive, very sad. In my village at least 2-3 tiny dairy farms have closed in the last 20 years).
By supporting tiny family-run farms I indirectly support those who personally care for each of their animals.
 
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We don't live in a perfect world. When I buy from local farmers, most of them are far from my permie ideals. I still love to support them, and a lot of what they do is good.

If you do have a choice between your local farmers, choose the ones who raise older, multi-purpose breeds. In the past, there were no different breeds of cows for different uses. Today we have cows bred to produce lots of milk, and cows selected to produce lots of meat. They are as far from resembling their ancestors, as fancy dogs and cats.
However, there is also a movement to protect biodiversity and older, healthier types of animals, and small scale natural farmers provide great environment for them. If a cow is bred to produce both milk and meat, and also to resist different weather conditions, which allows for giving her a more natural lifestyle outside, her features will not be so exaggerated. She will also have better instincts, knowing how to protect herself, how to care for her young, how to avoid dangerous plants and choose the healthy ones.
Such animals are not useful on industrial farms which only look at profits from one product.
 
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Every extra small dairy production I've seen kept calves/kids with their moms until they were a fair bit older unless they were otherwise rejected or unwell. Certainly plenty of people milk and then bottle feed kids/calves that are doing poorly but that's more a matter of keeping their stock well.

Certainly standardizing care with bottles is easier on a big farm, but on a small farm? What good does that do? You can either let the baby take its milk from mom... Or you can milk mom and then put it in a bottle and then spend a while feeding it out and sterilizing all the bottle gear after? That's just extra steps... It's a lot less work to keep the kids with mom if they're drinking the right amount on their own.

But cows also produce milk in excess of what the babies need. What most of the people I know did/do was keep the calf separated overnight in an immediately adjacent stall (mom and calf can still see each other/touch noses, but kid can't nurse), milked mom in the morning, then put them together for the rest of the day. You get less milk in the morning this way but baby gets to nurse for most of the day and you get the milk from overnight and mom gets a break from suckling overnight. Win-win.

And then after some months, they wean. There's humane weaning methods out there like nose-to-nose weaning or just using a plastic weaning ring for cows. And then you get another few to several months of milk as long as you keep milking. None of that would go into the calf even in nature.

Honestly, domestics are so far separated from their wild counterparts it doesn't do to compare the two imo. Modern cows produce so much more milk than their wild counterparts ever could and for much, much longer. They could never live in the wild. Like how a chicken lays an egg a day - FAR more than it could ever use to reproduce... Or the sheep you see that get stuck in the wild sometimes and show up years later with so much wool they can barely move. Domestics need human intervention because we've bred them to produce more than they can use on their own.
 
r ranson
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Let's think some more about humans.  Humans are mammals.  Mumma humans make milk.  Humans are not bred specifically for increased milk production so we have here a mammal that is more or less in its natural state.  

A Mumma human can produce milk for more than just her offspring.  As we saw in the example of the wet nurse.  I had one friend that sold her extra milk.  The more she milked herself, the more she produced.  Just like how it is with livestock.  But she had a bit of trouble as she wasn't changing her nutrition to match the increased production, so she had to stop selling after 4 months.  

A baby human needs milk for X number of months before their digestion adapts to solid food (X depends more on culture more than biology).  A Mumma human can produce milk for over 6 years!  

I've known goats that produce milk for 10 years after kidding (making babby goat).  The goats were very healthy and better fed and caird for than their famer.  

Again, the mythology that mumma animals can only produce a tiny amount of milk - just barely enough to feed their young - doesn't hold up when you look at actual mammals.  

I don't understand where that myth came from.  I wish it would stop coming back.  
 
Brody Ekberg
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Thank you all for your quick and insightful responses! I’m not going to reply to them all individually because I think we’re all on the same page for the most part.

I consider conventional dairy (and all conventional animal “husbandry” practices) to be a very real form of hell, and ethical, sustainable small farm practices are so vastly different that it’s like comparing apples to zebras.

I’m very happy and excited to hear that there are a lot of changes happening and awareness of these animal welfare issues that don’t revolve around veganism. I hope that the US, and particularly local farms near me, start to adopt some of these practices if they aren’t already.

I’ve been digging into this topic a bit since posting this yesterday and came across The Ethical Dairy (somewhere in the UK I believe) and they really seem to be practicing the type of operation that I was doubting to even be possible. Here’s a quote from their website:

“ All human food systems are imperfect. Plant based systems, particularly monoculture, also have negative impacts on wildlife, biodiversity, deforestation, diffuse pollution, social deprivation etc.  It is well documented that the impact of rising global demand for avocados, almonds and other out of season fruit and veg is now having damaging environmental repercussions, this is particularly acute for pollinators and wildlife, including small mammals and birds.

So if all food systems are problematic, what is the answer?

For us ecological farming systems seem the best approach for the land we farm; low-impact livestock farming complementing arable farming.  These models look at ways animals can complement a plant-based food system to utilise co-products, by-products, food waste and grasslands while adding fertility to the soils. In an ecologically based food system meat and dairy production would fall from current levels but total global food production would, in fact, be greater than from crops alone. The release of arable land from the production of animal feed would allow low-impact, plant-based systems to produce the balance of our food requirements for the foreseeable future.  These low-impact, regenerative, pasture-based farming models would be ecologically driven and move towards a closed-loop (waste-free) system.  This is the model we are following.

Any form of farming will involve compromise but this model can potentially deliver adequate amounts of affordable food while also delivering substantial public benefits and not necessarily at any extra cost to society.

Our overall goal is to produce food better and more sustainably.  We seek to reduce the impact our system has on animals’ sentient behaviour, but it will never be perfect. Our ethical farming model is designed to produce nutrient rich food using methods that support human and animal health, while actively improving soil and water quality and increasing biodiversity.”

This encapsulates pretty much all angles of the topic, at least that I can think of. This has been enlightening and definitely gave me more clarity on the topic of ethical dairy, and all animal products for that matter.

Another quote I came across seemed quite fitting:
“It’s only ethical if you don’t know the downsides.” I believe this is usually true, but when you become aware of the downsides and incorporate them into a thriving, sustainable system, are they even really downsides anymore?

Thanks again!
 
r ranson
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There is a lot of "information" out there on this topic.  Much of this information comes from people who have never met a cow.  The internet is very lopsided on this topic because most people raising animals are too busy to post opinions online.  You're lucky you caught me on a week where I'm dedicated to answering questions on permies otherwise I would be out there with my sheep.

If you have concerns, the best thing you can do is to find a local farm and visit.  See for YOURSELF if the farming practices meet your ethics.  

 
Anita Martin
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Brody, I agree with you.

It is very difficult to get the perfect balance in our diet with ethics, health, sustainability, taste/preferences and availability (in your region or for your purse).

I deeply respect people who choose a vegan lifestyle, but in many (some?) cases their way is not sustainable, eating lots of avocado, almonds, chia, tofu etc. of which only a fraction (soy beans) can be sourced locally here in my region.
Or importing maple syrup or special sweeteners just to avoid honey (which in my eyes can be produced ethically and sustainably).

My way is to eat little meat (always ethical and organic) and if possible dairy with the same criteria.

As said in the beginning, there might be conflicts with the other factors but we should at least try.

Edited to add as r ranson made a post in the meantime: Exactly, have a look yourself. Some people are very detached from the source of their foods and have no idea how animals are raised or crops are planted. It is easy to feel smug about your choices if you are shopping in the organic supermarket, but it is a different story on the producer's end.
 
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My dairy/fiber goats are(at least theoretically) getting ready to kid, soon. One should kid late this month, the other next month. As with other mammals, the first few days, the 'milk' isn't even milk, but colostrum. It's sticky, thick, like a heavy ointment, and unpalatable to my human tongue. So much so, that I'll ensure nary a drop will come into the kitchen - unless there is medical need on their part. Typically, left to their own devices, goat kids will frequently hound their dams far more than they actually need to - some to the exclusion of eating anything else, even after they should be completely weaned.

Not only does separation become necessary for their nutritional benefit, but bucklings can be fertile and raring to go, between 4 and 8 weeks old. They have no concept of 'nope - not with mama', and will absolutely breed their own dam. Regardless of how a human feels about 'line-breeding', a doe, though in some cases may be *capable* of immediate breeding, is not well served, health wise, in stacked pregnancies, nor is the health of any doeling well-served by it, and it can kill them. For many, an apron (that shields the male genitalia) can be an easy answer - but sometimes, not the best one.

I plan to share milk with our goat kids, if possible. But, what that looks like will depend first on their health concerns. In the meantime, we buy our whole, raw milk directly from a local Mennonite farmer, and draw it directly from his chill tanks, ourselves, just hours after it's pulled. We get to see the grass-fed, pastured cows, pet them, if they're close, and ask all the question we want. I truly wish everyone could do the same!
 
Brody Ekberg
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r ranson wrote:There is a lot of "information" out there on this topic.  Much of this information comes from people who have never met a cow.  The internet is very lopsided on this topic because most people raising animals are too busy to post opinions online.  You're lucky you caught me on a week where I'm dedicated to answering questions on permies otherwise I would be out there with my sheep.

If you have concerns, the best thing you can do is to find a local farm and visit.  See for YOURSELF if the farming practices meet your ethics.  



I think what you’ve said about people raising animals being too busy to post opinions online can be the case for a lot of people up to their necks in a permaculture based lifestyle, which is one unfortunate truth. But this website still seems to be the best gathering of like minded people for discussing these topics and I’m very grateful to have stumbled across it!

I totally agree that most opinions on these topics come from idealists (like myself) who have little to no experience with what they are so very opinionated about. And you’re right, I really should try to find a local farm to visit and buy from.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Carla Burke wrote:we buy our whole, raw milk directly from a local Mennonite farmer, and draw it directly from his chill tanks, ourselves, just hours after it's pulled. We get to see the grass-fed, pastured cows, pet them, if they're close, and ask all the question we want. I truly wish everyone could do the same!



I really should look into some local(ish) farms to visit and buy from. As much as it hurts to admit, convenience is a factor in the matter. As of now, it’s just my wife and I, and she has a casein sensitivity so usually avoids cows dairy. I love good sharp cheeses, but really view them as a treat not a staple. And I eat yogurt almost daily but it’s so nice to be able to buy a couple containers of yogurt instead of having to go to a farm, buy milk and make my own yogurt and cheese basically for just myself. I suppose if I could find goat, sheep or A2 cow milk maybe my wife would be able to enjoy it as well. And honestly, the plastic yogurt tubs that we accumulate are turning into a nightmare in the cupboard so making our own would be ideal. We live close to the Wisconsin border (“dairy capital of the US”), so maybe finding some quality milk close by is feasible.
 
Carla Burke
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Just remember to check your state laws, before you even try to find a farmer, or you may end up wasting the time you spent searching for the farmer. Some states, like ours, have laws that only the farmer can sell to the consumer - no middleman allowed - but, they (or a member of their household) can take it to sell at farmers markets, if they choose. Some states only allow raw milk sales through herd sharing, csa, co-ops, etc, and some don't allow raw milk sales, at all. Being as closer to the border as you are, you have a couple states to look into.

We do take our own jugs, so it's more echo friendly than all the plastic containers. As to convenience - nope, but it supports our very local farmers. It's not 'convenient' for us, so we combine our errands. The feed store and the Mennonite stores are all in one big, sprawling community, so we hit them all in one fell swoop, a couple times a month. My husband turned cheese and yogurt making into a hobby, as well as mead & ales. I make my own soaps, lotions, and such, and use mostly edibles, to do it. Granted, he's a retired chef, and I spent part of my working years as a baker - but it's not difficult, at all. I also make yogurt cheese, occasionally. But hand crafted cheeses, butters, yogurts, other food items, soaps etc, make beautiful gifts, and tend to contribute in huge ways, to people's enjoyment of meals and time at our house, and are often sent home with those who come stay with us. John will often teach our guests how to make their own, too - we both enjoy teaching others about our passions. It's not convenient - but, it's healthier, tastes way better, imho, and offers bonding, time with loved ones, and seems more sustainable. Then again, we're retired, so convenience has lost a lot of its necessity, for us.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Carla Burke wrote:Just remember to check your state laws, before you even try to find a farmer, or you may end up wasting the time you spent searching for the farmer. Being as closer to the border as you are, you have a couple states to look into.

My husband turned cheese and yogurt making into a hobby, as well as mead & ales. Then again, we're retired, so convenience has lost a lot of its necessity, for us.



I’m not worried about laws in this instance, since it would likely be a barter, trade or quick cash deal between me and the farmer a couple times a month. But then again, even finding a farm would probably require posts on social media which could throw some red flags to whatever naysayers that may be worried about legalities. I definitely will look into both local areas here in Michigan and Wisconsin.

And I’d also like to start making yogurt, cheese, mead and sourdough bread. But we are far from retired, so unfortunately, convenience and time definitely have a factor in all this. We have an instant pot with a yogurt function though, so that should he helpful. And I’ve got a sourdough starter in the making right now, so that’s a new one for us as well.
 
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r ranson wrote:
Again, the mythology that mumma animals can only produce a tiny amount of milk - just barely enough to feed their young - doesn't hold up when you look at actual mammals.  

I don't understand where that myth came from.  I wish it would stop coming back.  



It may come from wild mammals, where resource competition makes milk production very costly to the mother. In the domesticated environment, where the milk producers can eat at will, the limitation is easily overcome.
 
C Mouse
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Bingo, Jake. Also depends on the species. There are MANY times that domestic rabbits don't produce enough milk for a litter for example. I try not to breed these does, but sometimes a kit just doesn't get enough milk to grow and slowly gets weaker, gets less milk, etc. I have personally experienced does not producing enough milk to feed all their offspring to bursting the way they ought to be because of how fast a rabbit grows. As in, I will allow the litter to feed, and do everything in my power to replicate nursing for an underfed kit after the fact and their teats no longer produce enough milk for the underfed kit even with sole access, while the same actions on another rabbit or before allowing the litter to feed will produce milk easily.

I would hazard that thinking about humans as non-domesticated beings where evolution has no bearing might also be inaccurate. After all, we might be able to produce milk enough to feed multiples but we also have gained average height every single year for 100 years until the 1980s when it plateaued. Our species changes based on our genetics, environment and epigenetics too. It's very possible 100 years ago that was more challenging and a more regular occurrence.

But certainly domestic dairy cows and goats and even sheep produce enough for their offspring - and plenty more. And under good conditions it's more likely for ANY animal to be able to produce more than their body needs. But it's more-more likely with the breeding many dairy animals have had.
 
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You are in a good place according to Google search.  food  co-ops near you some have a storefront, some have pickup sites, some make deliveries.  I really like working with mine, sharing berries I have in surplus and buying things that are too difficult for me to produce in my 80's. The digital age makes it so much easier. I don't have to worry about picking too much because customers order over the weekend for distribution mid week.
When I pick up my gallon of raw milk once a month I can look through the window beside the refrigerator and see the cow being milked. The meat chickens are mowing and fertilizing the lawn. The freezers for the grass fed beef and pork are at the back of the hay barn in a separate section  serve as tables for sorting and bagging the food for distribution. Depending on the arrangement of the co-op you may be able to volunteer to help with distribution and get to know the producers.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Separate point The reason the gallon of milk lasts me a month is because I turn it into yogurt as soon as I get home. When I was able to pick it up fresh from the cow before it was cooled it was even better. I still have a heated water bed so putting a jar in each corner keeps it just the right temperature to culture over night. The cream that cultures on the top of the jar is the best you will ever taste..
 
Brody Ekberg
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Location: Iron River MI zone 3b
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Hans Quistorff wrote:You are in a good place according to Google search.  food  co-ops near you some have a storefront, some have pickup sites, some make deliveries.



I checked out that link and it’s very misleading. There has been attempts to open a co-op here 2 or 3 times that I’m aware of and they all have failed. I know of 2 in the “general area” and both of them are about an hour and 45 minutes away from us. There is one really nice health food store about an hour away, but it is not a co-op. Either way, we either settle for the sub par and overpriced local grocery options or take a whole day to travel and grocery shop every couple weekends for quality organic stuff.

I do think that I could probably find a local(ish) small farm to get some milk. And we already get most of our chicken, holiday ham and turkey, and all of our beef from a local farm.
 
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