Top 5 Reasons Why I'm Flippin' the Bird to Organic Milk

August 06, 2013

dairy calf

I've been spending upwards of $15 a week on milk these days. With a milk guzzling toddler, a weaning babe, and a hubby that likes to double dunk his cookies, it's no wonder my milk money stash is at an all-time low. 

Like some of you Momma Bears out there, my previous milk purchases were governed by marketing fear -mongering. I mean honestly, who in their right mind would opt for antibiotics in their milk? Ummm...gross! If you take the labeling at face value, then it seems like the dairy industry is running amok without proper safety measures. But, after an awesome trip to a Deans distribution plant in Huntley, IL and then to the Drendel Farm, an awesome Dairy Farm here in IL, I've decided to flip the bird to organic milk...and here's the 5 reasons why:


5. Cows can eat grass...and corn

Over the last few years I've been convinced that cows should only eat grass...and not corn. Well it looks like they are only eating grass, as corn is part of the grass family. Go figure! The cows that I met at the Drendel Farm were eating a nutritious and balanced mixture of rolled corn, cotton seed, corn silage, alfalfa, corn gluten and bailed hay called a TMR (Total Mix Ration). As a result of this mix, cows eat everything instead of choosing their favorites (which would totally be corn).
Also, did you know milking cows can weigh upwards of 1500 lbs? Purely grass-fed cows don't produce as much milk and need a lot of land to graze. It would be incredibly challenging to provide the necessary acreage to sustain dairy cows, especially with suburban life encroaching upon farmland. The U.S. can only sustain about 9 million milking cows on our current land structure.

4. Antibiotics aren't swimming ramped in our milk

If you check out the labeling on organic milk you'll notice big bold lettering declaring the milk to be antibiotic-free and well worth the $7 a gallon you're prepared to pay. Well here's news for you...ALL dairy milk sold in the U.S. is antibiotic-free! When a cow is on antibiotics, it is labeled with a bright colored leg band to alert the farmer and farm-hand that the cow's milk should be dumped until the animal is healthy and the antibiotics are no longer in the milk. Once the antibiotics are no longer detectable, it is then safe to send that cows milk to market.
FYI-Antibiotics remain in meat longer than they remain in milk.

3. rBST or not to rBST that is the question

The beefed up cows that are producing more milk these days are not all hormone induced. About 40% of dairy farms today still use the synthetic hormone rBST to boost milk supply. While there are claims that there is no significant difference in the quality of milk by those dairy cows treated with additional rBST, Dean Dairy farmers are pledging not to inject their milking cows with added hormones. And while many of you might think that a "pledge" is hardly a guarantee, many farms belong to co-ops that are charged with doing occasional inspections of farms and their equipment. If a box of steroids is located on a farm's premises, that farmer can get into big trouble. For many of them, it's not worth it. Farming is their livelihood. Which brings me to the next point...Checks and Balances!

2. Checks and Balances... Ya Gotta Love 'em

So here's the breakdown...
Co-ops have a relationship with the farmers and the milk distributors. It's in the best interest of the Co-op (the group of farmers) to adhere to the requirements of the distributors because the distributors are buying their milk.
The milk is collected from each farm and then shuttled to the distribution plant via a big insulated tank. The quality of the milk is then checked using a number of standards including, temperature, flavoring (smell, taste), antibiotic residue test and bacterial level test to name a few. If the tank of milk is sub par in any of those standards then the milk is discarded, the co-op is alerted, and an investigation commences. The culpable party is then required to subsidize the loss which can be upwards of $15,000.
Distribution plants also run preliminary incubation tests on the milk which provide insight on potential problems at the co-op of farms. (i.e. someone might need to clean out their tubing, we're starting to see a rise in the bacteria levels.)

1. Mo Money, Mo Money, Mo Money

It costs more to maintain solely organic cows primarily because of feed and the acreage that it requires. As a result, the extra costs are being passed on to us, the consumers. And while some of us might have the means to continue to purchase organic milk, I'm simply encouraging you to make your decision based off of your own research and not in response to milk marketing antics.
As for me, I'm flippin' the bird to organic milk and stashing my milk money savings of $7.50 per week for a rainy day.... or coffee... or college tuition for the girls!
Are you dishing out more money to dial down your fears?


Amina Nevels

Amina Nevels Chicago, IL

Amina was one of the Illinois Farm Families 2013 Field Moms. Throughout the year she visited Illinois farms to learn more about where food comes from. Following each tour, the Field Moms shared their thoughts by blogging about what they experienced on these farms, including five takeaways.  (City Moms formerly known as Field Moms.)

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