Everything you wanted to know about raw milk but were afraid to ask

This past Tuesday at the Nourishing Ways meeting, Karen Lubbers from Lubbers Family Farm spoke about raw milk. It was so interesting to hear her speak and tell her story! As one of the first cow share programs in the area she spoke from a lot of experience, (they no longer have the program due to insurance companies.) and I took a ton of notes.

Of course it was the night I forgot to bring my notepad.

While it’s still fresh on my mind I thought I’d quick type out some of my notes. And you know….maybe make them a bit more legible.

(all quotes are from Karen unless otherwise noted)

“Our stories guide our decisions.”

She started out the night telling her story, and talking about how each of our stories guide our decisions. In the long run we all have different choices to make, and the way our lives play out really effects how we make them. She talked about how they went on vacation with all of their children, to find out in the middle of it that her youngest daughter had brain cancer.

And there her story changed.

What once wasn’t a thought in her mind (the food they ate) became forefront as she researched, and read, and just happened to sit in on one of Sally Fallon’s sessions on traditional diets.

“My kid got cancer, and we got a cow”

why drink raw milk

photo credit: treborrenrut

The history of milking cows is interesting as well.

  • Cows have a learned helplessness (as do most people now a days) they no longer know how to graze.
  • milking cows go back to about 6500BC
  • up to 40% of the dairy cows in the US have mastitis
  • 25-50% are lame
  • life expectancy for a conventional dairy cow is 3-4 years (normal, grass-fed, pasture raised is bout 8-13 years!)
  • dairy cows saved the Jamestown providence
  • it used to be common for everyone to have a cow – even in the city. City cows were milked in the morning in the families shed and hired help (usually a kid) would gather the cows from house to house and bring them all to a common pasture. (The Boston Commons was such a pasture)

“Raw milk needs to be consumed close to home.”

Karen also talked about how important is was to get your milk close to home, because your surroundings produce the exact nutrients that you need. So the best food for you is from the location in which you live. We need that direct connection to the soil, to the earth.

Think someone who runs a raw milk dairy would be afraid to drink the milk? She was. Especially giving it to an immune suppressed daughter.

So she grabbed some of their new cow’s raw milk and some store-bought milk, poured it into jars and let it sit to see what happened. The raw milk separated and smelled sour – what’s know as clabbered milk. The pasteurized milk was putrid and not indigestible. With her daughter having lost 40% of her body weight, she knew she had to do something and so the girl began to drink it. And it helped her gain the needed weight.

“There are no magic bullets.”

One of may favorite quotes of the evening made mention that there are no magic bullets. Switching to raw milk may help some issues, but it’s not a miracle worker.

raw milk safety

photo credit: sadie_16


She talked a bit about how pasteurization came to be. If you don’t know, it all started when England cut off our supply of booze and we had to begin making our own. The leftovers, after the beer was made, was then fed to the dairy cows that were housed right next to the distilleries for that purpose. The milk became severely lacking in nutrients and combined with the human tuberculosis that was getting into the milk (often from immigrants who had TB milking the cows) many people, specifically babies, died. So what should have been a short-term cover up for bad farming practices became law.

It was also mentioned that some dairy operations are being built next to ethanol plants for the same purpose of using up the ‘distillery’ mash. (ethanol is an alcohol) Hmmm…..

“It’s not only the bad stuff in the milk, it’s the good stuff that isn’t there.”

While running a cow share program Karen found that their were three types of people coming for milk.

  1. The health conscience – the ones who were trying to better their health or ones that had health problems they were trying to overcome.
  2. The environmentalists – those that drank local milk because it’s better for the environment.
  3. The foodies – the ones who drank it just because it tasted good.

“Flavor is the ultimate sustainability.”

Health problems can be overcome and when one starts to feel better, they get lax on their food intake. Environmental issues are a great reason to eat local food, but it’s not enough to keep people coming. But flavor….if we can get people to taste how good the food is, they’ll keep coming.

unprocessed milk

Hallmarks of a Good Farm

Karen acknowledges that most people don’t know what to look for, or what to ask, and I totally agree. I had no idea what to ask when I started calling around looking for a dairy where I could get fresh, unprocessed milk.

  • They rely on clean practices.
  • They avoid killing pests (de-worming cows, spraying pesticides, etc)
  • They pass a biological test – not a chemical test
  • They allow the animals to go outside
  • A good farm feeds the animals their natural diet.
  • They embrace bio-diversity, meaning they grow multiple types of crops and raise animals to support each other (like chicken who follow the cows on pasture eating the worms that infest cows)
  • They also raise heritage breeds like Jerseys instead of Holsteins
  • A good farm has good dirt.

Books she mentioned:

Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations

Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine

14 Cows for America

Website mentioned

Michigan Fresh Unprocessed Whole Milk Work Group – Workgroup members represent an array of perspectives, relative to the issue at hand and the group’s purpose: consumers who seek to ensure access to raw milk*, producers who want to provide a healthy source of raw milk, a grade A milk industry representative and food safety regulators who are looking to balance access and choice issues with protection of the food supply. Michigan Food & Farming Systems (MIFFS) and Michigan State University (MSU) serve as facilitators and resource providers to guide the dialog and deliberations of the workgroup as they discuss and contemplate the questions under each topic.


Were you there? Did I miss anything?

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About donielle

Donielle is a natural momma of two, lover of real foods, and owner and editor of Grand Rapids Natural Living and Naturally Knocked Up. You can usually find her in the kitchen whipping up some nourishing foods, cuddled on the couch reading books to the littles, avoiding the laundry and Mt. Saint Dishes, or tapping away on the laptop. Her husband puts up with her sometimes crazy "hippie" ways, but loves her regardless. Welcome to my home away from home.


  1. Holsteins are also a heritage breed. What should have been said is Protein breed instead of Volume Producing Breed. Protein Breeds like the Jersey are much smaller and more efficient on pasture. They also produce on average a higher amount of butterfat then the Holstein. The Holstein is a larger animal therefore produces a larger amount of milk. This is why the Holstein is breed of choice on the larger farms. They get premiums for volume.

    ~Dairy Farmer’s Wife