TRANSCRIPT OF ‘HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW YOUR MILK’
I’ve always been interested in every aspect of food, our ancestral diets, cultural differences, the challenges facing agriculture today like soil, water & bio-diversity, and in particular, the way we process the foods we eat and how this affects our health.
Of particular interest to me is cow's milk along with associated products.
In recent years there has been a movement away from consuming cow’s milk.
Digestion difficulties from the sugar lactose and allergies caused by the protein casein plus environmental concerns and animal welfare issues being the main reasons.
In this video I am going to see if there are dairy farmers that address some of these issues. I am going to visit two farms that raise small, pasture fed, dairy herds and sell raw milk and see how much healthier, milk produced this way is for the environment, cows and humans.
In addition I will look at the added benefits of fermented dairy products.
Many people believe that because we haven’t drunk cow’s milk for much of our evolution it is not suited to our biology. Human survival has depended on our ability to adapt to the food available in our environment, be it plant or animal. Dairying has been traced back over 10,000 years and during that time many people, but not all, have adapted in ways that enable them to consume and be nourished from dairy products.
The sugar lactose in milk can cause some people a digestive problem.
Lactose relies on the enzyme lactase to break it down into 2 separate molecules - glucose & galactose, so that it is then able to pass through the gut wall.
Babies are able to produce this enzyme however after weaning the continuing presence of lactase is a genetically determined trait and is known as lactase persistence.
Lactase persistence is found in around 35% of the population worldwide as part of a gene-culture co-evolutionary process.
This can be seen by the high frequencies that exist in historic dairying regions like the British Isles, Scandinavia & parts of Africa and very rarely if at all in China or Japan.
It appears that lactose persistence emerged 7,500 years ago. Dairying started thousands of years before this; so, I wonder, did early dairy consuming populations find a way to reduce lactose concentrations?
It appears that milk was fermented to make cheese & yogurt, traces of which have been found on ancient pots. Most likely adopted to make milk last longer the process would have, in addition, drastically reduced or eliminated lactose.
Human genetics & ingenuity have both played a part in the successful digestion of cow's milk as a human food.
In the last 20 years in the UK we have seen an overall decline in the consumption of milk and dairy products. Raw milk, however, as opposed to pasteurised milk is seeing a revival.
The practice of pasteurising milk was not common at the beginning of the 20th C but by the end of WW2 pasteurisation was more widely adopted and by the 1950’s it was everywhere primarily introduced to halt the spread of disease specifically TB.
Pasteurisation was criticised by organic farmers as proof of the failure of modern farming. It treated the symptoms and not the cause which in their view was the over intensification of production in conditions of dirt & disease, coupled with a disregard for the traditional principles of good husbandry.
Modern dairying methods such as indoor housing, grain feed, the distress caused by early separation of calf & mother and pasteurisation are big concerns – so is there another way?
To find out I visited Christine Page at Smiling Tree Farm in Shropshire who has a micro dairy, producing and selling raw milk.
Daphne: I'd love to hear more about your micro dairy, can you tell me a little more about the cows
Christine: Yes, so I've got a small herd of Jersey cows which are chosen because they produce fantastic quality milk, with high butter fats from a purely pasture fed diet, so the cows don't get any cereal or soya or any other supplementary food.
I also chose Jersey cows because I wanted to select cows that carry the A2 gene. In modern dairy cows, higher production has been selected for which had the unintentional consequence of also selecting for a mutation called the A1 gene and many people have digestive problems drinking milk carrying the A1 gene.
Daphne: I love the way you look after your cows. How come they are so content?
Christine; I want the cows to have a really good quality life as well, of course, producing really good quality milk and part of that is allowing them to raise their own calves. So I run a cow/calf dairy so when the cows calf, the calves run with their mothers and I just basically milk to take the excess milk the calves can't drink. So when the cows are producing milk, which they produce 24 hours a day, it is important they stay relaxed and calm and then no stress hormones feed through into the milk.
Daphne: Why have you decided not to pasteurise your milk?
Christine: Well, for me, raw milk is just much more easily digested than pasteurised milk, so there is bacteria and enzymes, probiotic bacteria that help the digestive process and also the proteins and fat in the milk, are not denatured. So when it comes from cows on a natural diet, produced in a hygienic way and bottled hygienically then it's just much better than pasteurised milk.
Daphne: Pasture fed is obviously better for the cows, is it better for the environment?
Christine: I actually think of myself as a soil farmer, that's the main thing I am focused on so I work with the cows to help regenerate the soil. So when the cows are only fed their natural diet of pasture and we don't use fossil fuels or have to burn carbon in order to grow crops to feed them, cows can actually graze grass and help soil fertility and actually sequester carbon in the process so absolutely, for me, then pasture fed cows is the way to produce really high quality milk and look after the environment.
Christine’s farming practices are restorative of soil, support biodiversity & protect our natural resources. Her dairy cows, as part of this harmonious environment, produce a super rich and nutrient dense milk.
The dairy herd at Smiling Tree Farm, however is very small so to find out about a larger dairy that produces raw milk, I visited Plaws Hatch – a biodynamic farm in E Sussex
Daphne: Hi Tally, it's great to be here with you in the cheese room. Plaw Hatch is a bio-dynamic farm, can you tell me a little bit about the principles of a bio-dynamic farm?
Tally: A bio-dynamic farm contains all of the aspects of an organic farm but it goes a bit further, it tries to work in harmony with the nature of the land, the nature of the animals and, of course, the people. We are trying to create a self-sustaining organism where each aspect of the farm feeds into the others so rather than bringing in inputs from far away, we are trying to provide everything we need on the farm from the farm so we are providing the food for the cows from the farm and we are using the manure from the cows to fertilise the fields so we have more grass for the cows, so it's a self sustaining cycle.
Daphne: Tell me a little bit about the herd here at Plaw Hatch and about the quantity of milk they produce.
Tally: We have 35 milking cows, the breed that we have are Meuse Rhine Issel, a Dutch breed that comes from between the three rivers Meuse, Rhine and Issel. We are producing a variable amount of milk depending on the period in the cows lactation cycle and it varies seasonally. It depends on the weather, the food that they are eating but you could say in the lowest time of year we have 250 litres of milk a day and in the peak time of year it's about 500 litres of milk
Daphne: How easy is it to process that quantity of raw milk and what products do you make from the milk?
Tally: In terms of processing the really important thing is hygiene and obviously producing raw milk we have to be very fastidious about cleaning and everything. We do our own microbiological testing but core to that is starting with really good milk in the first place which comes from having really healthy cows, supported by the really good quality grass based diet and then they'll produce really good quality milk which is really good for us to work with. From that we make a range of cheeses, yoghurts and cream, kefir and then, of course, the bottled whole raw milk which we sell in our shop.
Daphne: As a raw milk producer you're registered with the food standard agency. Can you tell me a little bit about the legislation that's involved in producing raw milk?
Tally: We have to adhere to certain hygiene standards, we get inspected twice a year and four times a year our milk is sampled but, on top of that, we have our own sampling regimes and we do our own testing to ensure the milk is safe. So there is some legislation around raw milk that says we have to sell it directly to the customer, we can't sell it via a third party which is why raw milk can be quite hard to get hold of. One of the really positive things about this legislation is that we have to have a direct relationship with the customer that means they can ask questions and give us feedback and we are accountable to them. As for cheese and the other dairy products that we make, we could sell them via a third party but most of our product is actually sold through our farm shop.
Visiting Smiling Tree & Plaws Hatch shows that it is possible to raise small, healthy, herds of pasture fed cows and the raw milk produced is nutritionally superior to pasteurised industrially farmed milk.
Information on screen
Raw milk is loaded with beneficial probiotics that are good for your gut
Raw milk contains beneficial enzymes
Raw milk drunk as a child seems to protects against asthma, allergies & hay fever
Raw milk is a good source of healthy fats
Raw milk ensures assimilation of all nutrients
Pasteurisation reduces the quality of milk
There are a number of organic and bio-dynamic farms producing raw milk check out resources at the end of this video to see if there is a supply near you
Susceptible people can still have an intolerance or allergy to raw milk, but this can sometimes be overcome by the process of fermentation.
Throughout the world many people's have transformed milk into a variety of different fermented cultures.
This process partially breaks down lactose and predigests casein which is the protein that can cause a problem for some people.
Fermented products like yogurt, kefir and cheeses are rich in beneficial lactic acid bacteria which can help maintain gut health.
Yogurt & kefir in particular are packed full of beneficial compounds and, in many cases, people intolerant to milk find they can eat and benefit from these products
To reduce our impact on planet Earth, our food systems need to change. I have visited just a couple of the people who are playing their part by creating regenerative farming systems. We can play our part through the food choices we make and only choose products that come from farming methods that are based on the welfare of animals in the farm system, building and improving the soil, promoting biodiversity, and protecting our natural resources. Dairying that supports healthier ecosystems, fertile soil, and clean water produces high quality milk and milk products that can for many be a beneficial & nutritious food.
It is clear, if we are to preserve the integrity, stability & beauty of planet Earth our food systems need to change.
The two farms I visited have systems that respect the soil, preserve bio-diversity, provide the highest possible standards of animal welfare, support rural livelihoods and produce high quality food.
There are many more farms like this and I urge you to support them.
Your choice of food does make a difference.
My belief is we must eat far less dairy & meat and what we do choose to eat must come from growing systems and methods of processing that benefit the environment, animals and humans.