Vermont’s Raw Dairy Farmers Are Doing a Booming Business, and We Don’t Even Know Half the Story

It’s kind of amazing, when you think about it, that we’re still debating–as Milky Way and Ken Conrad were, following my previous post–whether milk comes through a cow’s udder sterile or having picked up certain beneficial bacteria.

Our government and public health research establishment are so committed to eliminating raw dairy from the public consciousness that they wouldn’t consider exploring raw milk’s probiotic nature and dynamics. They wouldn’t, after all, want to find positive news. 

Another amazing phenomenon is the failure of our public officials to explore the role of raw dairy is its role in community and economic development.

Raw milk sales from farmers to consumers keeps money within communities. Because consumers need to replenish their milk supplies, they regularly return to farms , every week or two weeks, and in so doing, buy other farm products like beef, chicken, eggs, honey…and circulate more money in the community. The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association made this point in its 2009 survey of raw milk production in the state.

This point is made once again in a survey of raw milk producers in Vermont by Rural Vermont, the grass-roots farmer-consumer organization made famous last week when it decided, in response to bullying by the state agriculture authorities, to suspend three instructional classes on how to prepare raw milk yogurt, whipped cream, and cheese. It conducted its survey last year in hopes of convincing the Vermont legislature to make changes to the raw dairy laws, which were updated two years ago–for example, many farmers want to be allowed to sell the value-added raw dairy products like butter, yogurt, and cream.

Rural Vermont extrapolated from its survey that raw milk accounts for slightly more than $1 million in annual sales in the state, up 25% from a year earlier. It also figured raw milk production and sales were directly responsible for creating 331 jobs in the state.

The average price for raw milk in Vermont is $6.52, the survey found–about 50% above store prices for pasteurized milk.

As someone who has participated in any number of surveys of small businesses, I can guarantee that the results are understated in terms of total revenues. Business owners, no matter what their products, nearly always try to underplay their results. Even though the survey sponsors may guarantee anonymity, business owners are by their nature suspicious, and figure the tax authorities could well get their hands on the information…and come nosing around doing audits or whatever.

Add the difficulties associated with raw milk, and you have yet another powerful reason for raw milk producers to avoid saying too much. The Rural Vermont survey takers admit they had difficulty locating many raw milk producers, since those officially selling less than 50 quarts daily don’t have to register with the state to qualify to sell raw milk, and many have kept themselves off the Weston A. Price Foundation’s Real Milk site.
The survey notes, “In discussions with farmers, it has been determined that there are many raw milk producers that will not publicize/register with the Real Milk Directory for fear of agency repercussions or of perceived onerous compliance issues…” The result, says the survey, is “a vibrant underground raw milk market in Vermont.” In other words, lots more milk is being sold than is officially being tallied.

There’s been lots of talk in Washington about easing regulations on small businesses, but this talk apparently doesn’t extend to the dairy industry. Start talking about economically encouraging raw dairies, and the public health types, led by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control, will begin hyper-ventilating about the dangers of raw milk. And now they are moving to cripple yet another off-shoot of raw dairy: the fast-growing raw cheese industry…even though the data fail to suggest any kind of serious public health challenge with raw milk cheese.

The latest publication to report on the raw milk business is Mennonite Weekly Review. One of the messages that comes through loud and clear is similar to that in the Vermont survey described previously: raw dairy farmers have developed an aversion to publicity. The article is a good summary of what’s happening, but note that all the Mennonite farmers are quoted anonymously.

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22 Comments on "Vermont’s Raw Dairy Farmers Are Doing a Booming Business, and We Don’t Even Know Half the Story"

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Galina Ch
February 23, 2011 7:07 am

EXAMPLE: " I know of a child about one year old who seems to be poisoned whever she takes raw cow's milk. A rash breaks out on her body, with itching, and she has gone into convulsions, even the milk was modified according to the prescribed formula."
Despite the fact that there are occasional invividual idiosyncracies like the above, milk is the natural food for babies and children….
At first glance, the above case may appear to be unusual but it is not – usually one or more such instances are met by every physician who treats babies. The condition is… Read more »

Milky Way
February 23, 2011 12:00 pm

Ken (and Bill A.),

From previous post…sorry off topic. Great paper and a very good journal – thanks for the link. There seems to be some confusion in their differentiation between "skin teat flora" and "udder."

Looking at the authors' methods:

"-A sterile swab moistened with saline was rubbed over the skin area around the teat canal orifice and then immediately used for streaking on different agar media.
-Approx. 1 ml of milk was drawn into a sterile bottle from each cow teat and this was then placed in an ice bath. Within 45 min,… Read more »

Bill Anderson
February 23, 2011 12:44 pm

I noticed that section as well, when reading the study, MW. However, based on my (limited) first-hand experience, bacteria can colonize the teat canal.

Bill Anderson
February 23, 2011 1:01 pm

p.s. the problem is that it would be very difficult to get a pure sample of bacteria in the teat canal without cutting open the udder and killing the cow.

Milky Way
February 23, 2011 1:02 pm


Yes, the study shows the importance of natural microflora in the teat canal as a defense against udder infection. It doesn't show anything about the microbiota beyond the teat canal.

Back on topic, David wrote: "Our government and public health research establishment are so committed to eliminating raw dairy from the public consciousness that they wouldn't consider exploring raw milk's probiotic nature and dynamics."

This type of study really doesn't answer the question of whether or not raw milk is a probiotic. How many and what type of bacteria actually enter the bulk tank and reach the consumer?… Read more »

Milky Way
February 23, 2011 1:16 pm


I wrote my response before reading your "p.s." Yes, you would likely need to sacrifice the cow to examine the microbiota in the udder.


Milky Way
February 23, 2011 1:44 pm

And…this has been done. Healthy udders do not have significant numbers of bacteria ("good or bad").


Smy Opin
February 23, 2011 6:34 pm

Not all good things that can be destroyed by heat are bacteria –
enzymes and antibodies come to mind.

Although sorry if that is off topic – I"ve lost track of how this bacteria in udder discussion began…

February 23, 2011 9:25 pm

What does any of this have to do with the current article?

I am one of those unknown producers, in another state. I think almost all data concerning "natural" (raw) milk will be incorrect. I think there is a much larger impact from Farm to Consumer sales than will ever be counted. The industry knows this, they see their milk sales drop, hence the fight.

Ken Conrad
February 23, 2011 11:50 pm

From the above article under the section entitled, Microbial Contamination from within the Udder states, Raw milk as it leaves the udder of healthy cows normally contains very low numbers of microorganisms and generally will contain less than 1,000 total bacteria per ml (Kurweil, 1973). In healthy cows, the teat cistern, teat canal, and the teat apex may be colonized by a variety of microorganisms.

The above article states, Mycotic mastitis has been associated with over 26 species of fungi in probably both primary and secondary roles and has generally followed antibiotic… Read more »

Bill Anderson
February 24, 2011 12:18 am

Again, thanks for the links and insights Ken.

MW, the things you are saying may be more relevant when talking about CAFO milk. Because of the heavy use of anti-biotics for "dry cow treatment" (between lactations) the udder will be wiped out of beneficial bacteria every year, and so when healthy examples of CAFO cows are disected they don't find any bacteria in the udder.

It may also explain why Staph. Aureus is such a problem in CAFO dairies, but not in smaller organic dairies of the type that tend to sell raw milk.

This is the problem with so much… Read more »

Bill Anderson
February 24, 2011 12:28 am

Here is the biased study I was talking about, couldn't help but laugh at the statement on page 1157 — "The presence and possible persistence of C. jejuni in raw grade A milk reaffirms the need for pasteurization."

As you will note, though, in no case did campylobacter grow in either raw or steralized milk, despite the ridiculously large number of organisms innocculated. In all cases, the campy population continuously decreased.

Dave Milano
February 24, 2011 4:47 am

From Bill A:

the heavy use of anti-biotics for dry cow treatment (between lactations) may explain why Staph. Aureus is such a problem in CAFO dairies, but not in smaller organic dairies of the type that tend to sell raw milk.

Yes. And as a model it also explains why (per Kens comment) fungal mastitis is a frequent sequela to antibiotic treatment of bacterial mastitis. And why human c-diff results from antibiotic use, and, following the same logic, why prophylactic antibiotic use, even at low levels, causes disease susceptibility and even allergies ( Taking another step down the… Read more »

Mark McAfee
February 24, 2011 1:26 pm

In scientific testimony in multiple court suits in CA it was agreed by all experts that healthy cows internal udder ecosystems are pretty much bacteria free. However the experts also agree that raw milk joins it's essential milk genome bacteria when it exits the teat canal. The teat canal just like the human breast is colonized with protective and beneficial bacteria that are specialized for that location of the body or animal.

We are bacteriosapiens. Cows are Bacteriobovines. Bacteria are essential to life. Add antibiotics to cows feed and the bovine is no longer genetically… Read more »

Ingvar Odegaard
February 24, 2011 2:15 pm

From Bill A. and Dave M.s comments above how can such a study be a basis for that particular conclusion without the referee calling fraud? And calling pointless on the whole effort? That sort of conclusory behaviour is laughable (if fraud is laughable). Shouldnt those that put their names to it be scorned?

If we have gone off the rails between Ingaz Semmelweis and today, then the over-arching concepts and resulting general guidelines vis–vis bacteria and infection, bacteria and health are aptly described where? Where is sterile absolutely essential? And why? The… Read more »

Bill Anderson
February 25, 2011 12:19 am

Even the Russian grandpa's milk can was not truly sterile. There are bacteria in the air, so unless it was done in a sterile room or chamber (aseptically), the boiling water is only killing the bacterial buildups that may be on the inside surfaces of the milk can. It can't kill the bacteria that are ubiqitous in the air. And it can't kill all spores (that takes temperatures beyond the boiling point of water at normal atmospheric pressures).

Only a technicality here… its still important to be clean.

Steve Bemis
February 25, 2011 2:35 am

We simply need to know how many people drink raw milk.

Bill Anderson
February 25, 2011 3:31 am


Cheese as a model for the study of microbial ecosystems

One of the most important challenges facing microbiology is how to understand the formation, function, and evolution of microbial ecosystems. While microbes have traditionally been studied as individuals in the laboratory, microbes usually do not exist as individuals in nature, but as part of complex, multi-species communities. Microbial communities have long been acknowledged as crucial for the proper functioning of our global ecosystem and have been implicated in influencing human health, both positively and negatively. In order to fully understand how microbes function within the context… Read more »

Sylvia Gibson
February 25, 2011 4:36 am

Seems Europe is ahead of the US regarding germ exposure. It would be common sense.

Ken Conrad
February 25, 2011 6:11 am


The article states, The findings don't yield much in the way of practical suggestions, however. Dr. Ege said.

Here are my suggestions,

If they cant get to the farm then bring the farm to them. Feed them raw milk!

Fret not if your kid picks his or her nose and eats it!

Let your kids walk around in bare feet. They may not have cow shit to squeeze through their toes however mud will do.

Do away with the germicidal cleaners and steer clear of antibiotics, vaccines, Acetaminophen and aspirin etc.

Ken Conrad

Sylvia Gibson
February 25, 2011 6:42 am

Ken, You made me laugh, thanx! It was the booger eating part…I saw an adult doing that at a stop light no so long ago. I remember building roads in moms flower beds with my brothers Tonka trucks, We also had cow chip fights at grandma's. I convinced my brother to eat a mud pie…My kids knew if they made me mad enough, they'd have to clean the chicken coup ( a job they hated). We all survived.

Dave Milano
February 25, 2011 8:12 am

For Gail Houze, who could not get to the link I referenced after David's previous post. This should work: