SUNY Cobleskill, well known for their extensive agricultural and continuing education programs, now may boast of bringing the first Raw Milk Workshop to New York State in cooperation with NY Ag & Markets and Cornell Quality Milk Production Services.
“Raw milk production is a controversial topic,” said workshop coordinator Kimberly M. Tarvis, M.S., Assistant Professor of Dairy Management at SUNY Cobleskill. “However, producers are turning to this emerging market for more revenue and diversifying products.”
Tarvis said after receiving calls from producers and questions from her students, “it became clear that there was a lack of resources regarding important raw milk topics in New York State. To my knowledge, we offered the first informational workshop on topics for raw milk producers, or those who are thinking of becoming permitted for raw milk sales.”
Speakers at the 2-day workshop, included Dr. Mike Zurakowski, DVM, with Cornell Quality Milk Production Services; Foscolo & Handel PLLC Food Law Firm partner, Jason Foscolo; Farm Family Insurance agent James Bettini; Director of Milk Control Division Ag & Markets, Casey McCue; and organic, raw milk producer, Edwin Shank from The Family Cow Dairy, Chambersburg, PA.
Zurakowski discussed sources of bacterial contamination in raw milk and troubleshooting cleaning problems in milking systems.
“The two main sources of bacteria in raw milk are organisms transported from the environment into the milking system and mastitis organisms from within the udder,” he stated.
Milking procedures, mechanics, water temperature, water quality, detergent dosage/rate, and milking hygiene were all reviewed.
“Milking equipment is a key thing,” Zurakowski said, pointing out that bacteria thrives on moisture, food sources, warmth and the right pH. “The dairy environment is an incredible environment for bacteria to thrive!”
Zurakowski said he can tell a lot about the dairy environment simply by looking at the farmer’s hands.
“What it really all comes down to is hygiene on the farm — facility hygiene, animal hygiene, milking hygiene and milking system hygiene. These go hand in hand.”
Zurakowski recommends wearing disposable gloves. “We push for gloves. It’s a big issue. When we use gloves we see a dramatic decrease in mammary infections.”
An approved pre-dip is also “pushed for” during udder prep. “We see at least a 50 percent reduction of bacteria by using a pre-dip.”
Zurakowski emphasized that the procedure should use a dip and not a spray. “One of the big things is getting at least 75 percent of the teat dipped.”
Forestripping is also required to check the quality of the milk and be sure it is acceptable.
A post-dip will help to reduce new cases of mastitis.
Herds that do not have disinfected maternity stalls present another problem, statistically showing 1.6 times more Clinical Ecoli mastitis.
Zurakowski noted that prevention — not cure — is the key.
Dry cow management is just as important, with 50–60 percent of all new infections coming from environmental pathogens occurring during the dry period.
Zurakowski added that teat health can be a real issue, with teat end damage caused by over milking or frostbite picking up bacteria and having a dramatic effect on somatic cell counts. “This opens the door to infections.” Teat end damage is usually not repairable. “Again,” Zurakowski emphasized, “prevention is the key!”
Edwin Shank from The Family Cow Dairy, takes all of these procedures a step further by testing his farm’s raw milk daily in a lab situated at the farm. He also voluntarily exceeds the required state regulations for testing, for his own peace of mind and for the safety of his customers.
“We may be the first in the nation to test our own milk,” said Shank. “We like to do the best we can!”
Doing the best they can includes following strict protocol. Shank has developed a “Risk Assessment and Management Plan (RAMP),” and every person who comes into contact with the farm is required to follow the plan, from opening and closing gates through milk packaging and delivery.
Shank’s plan begins with healthy soil, healthy pastures, healthy cows, healthy udders and healthy caretakers. “For me it’s become a moral obligation!”
Keeping the clean, clean, including all parts of the cows, barns, clothes, shoes, hands, milking units, bottles, crates, hoses, gaskets etc., is only part of The Family Cow Dairy’s many faceted plan. Shank’s employees go as far as to wearing not only disposable gloves when handling the cows, but also white lab coats and white boots in the bottling room. “It’s all about clean!” Shank remarked. “We use extreme cow washing protocol!”
Keeping the hot, hot — as in water temperature — and the cold, cold, are other essential components to Shank’s success in marketing healthy raw milk.
Shank says special signage all around his farm reminds employees and visitors of the RAMP protocol, and it is not taken lightly.
“It’s all of the little things,” said Shank, “if you really want to do it right.”
The Family Cow Dairy delivers raw milk all over Pennsylvania, and meets many out-of-state customers, who cross the Pennsylvania border to purchase raw milk, then drive for hours to get it home. Shank said most of those customers are purchasing raw milk for groups of other families, as well as their own.
Transport of raw milk for sales off of the farm is prohibited in New York State and, if convicted. will result in a large fine.
Other speakers will be covered in a future issue of Country Folks.