The leaves are falling, the wind is gusting and a fire is back in our woodstove. Welcome to fall!
Another season change and many other changes on the farm – of course, we are scrambling to prepare for another winter (and hoping for a more mild seasonal shift this year!) and also finishing the last of our seasonal production. Putting meat in our own freezer in the form of chicken and venison, and finishing pork and turkeys for our wonderful customers.
Still, milking bookends our days – morning and evening we meet with Elsie and Millie. This continues day in and day out, year round, no matter the season. I find a settling rhythm to milking. The same routine, no matter what else is going on in life, the girls are waiting for me and we start and end each day in the same fashion. Routine and rhythm.
We have been so happy with the growth of the raw milk cow share program! Milking two cows to meet customer demand with a third cow calving in December and another to be bred and calve next year – it keeps us busy and excites us as farmers growing a small business! The delivery program has expanded our customer base to span from Grand Rapids to Grand Ledge on a weekly basis. We even have customers drive to meet us in those delivery locations to have access to fresh, clean, raw milk!
Speaking of fresh and clean, one of the things we do to check in on herd health and our milk safety is have it tested by a lab in Grand Rapids every 6-8 weeks. If we have a cow calve or add a new cow into our herd, we test more often to ensure the cleanliness and quality of our milk. It’s something that’s important to us as we review our production and sanitation systems, but we think it should be important to you as the customer. Our latest lab results are from late September and below is a copy of what we sent to our cow share customers. It details what we test our milk for, what our results were, what the desired range is and what the tests tell us.
Aerobic Plate Count
- Our Results: 124 cfu/mL
- Desired Range: Less than 1,000 cfu/mL
- What this is: an indicator of the level of bacteria growing in an aerobic environment (exposed to oxygen) and a mesophilic temperature (medium range). Generally, an indication of how sanitary the equipment and general conditions are. Directly tells us the number of bacterial colonies living in a product.
Total Coliform Count
- Our Results: <1 cfu/mL
- Desired Range: <50 cfu/mL
- What this is: another indication of sanitation and the number of pathogens/bacterial colonies present in a product. This looks more at fecal contamination, which creates the environment for strains of e. coli, staph, etc. to flourish. In the State of Michigan, the limit for milk transported in bulk cooling tanks is 100 cfu/mL for raw milk. Once the milk is pasteurized, the required coliform level is 10 cfu/mL.
Somatic Cell Count
- Our Results: 84,200 DMSCC/mL
- Desired Range: <200,000 per mL
- What this is: an indicator of white blood cell count, which shows is an infection is present in the cow (and thus the milk). Mostly, we’re looking for a mastitis, which is a combination of poor health and poor hygiene of the cow, and the milking/living environment. Levels higher than 200,000 indicate the presence of an infection and somatic cell count is by far the best indicator of over all milk quality – from its ability to keep fresh for long periods of time to how good it tastes and how well it can be made into other dairy products. In Michigan, somatic cell count levels for Grade A milk must be < 1,000,000 per mL – levels this high guarantee that milk from cows with mastitis (and the accompanying pus & blood from the infection) is being used and put on shelves. Of course, pasteurization kills pretty much everything so you’re only left with the dead sludge that’s homogenized into the milk.
If you’re curious about the MDARD requirement for dairy processing, here’s the PDF: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mda/MilkProducersProcessorGuide_215087_7.pdf
As you can see, we’re pretty happy with our results. According to these numbers, our milk is actually safer than the Michigan Department of Agriculture’s requirements for pasteurized milk sold in retail outlets. Usually a few times per year we test for specific pathogens like salmonella, listeria and e. coil (0157H7) but since these would be indicated by high levels of bacterial colonies in the above tests, we don’t see the need to test every single time (unless we see symptoms of problems elsewhere).
Other than the seasonal changes of farm life, we are also transitioning on the family side of things. I (Whitney) am officially working on the farm full-time, home with our daughter Cecilia and working part-time for our friends over at Come Alive Creative. Dan has taken a full-time position at a large dairy farm a few miles from our house as part of the herdsman team. In addition to caring for and treating sick animals, he spends most of his days helping cows calve. Just this week he’s delivered over 25 calves! While farm work always requires long hours and grueling physical labor, the knowledge and experience he’s gaining far outweigh the difficulties of working two farms.
We’re also patiently awaiting the arrival of a baby boy in March! Cecilia was incredibly disappointed to find out she’s going to have a baby brother, instead of a sister, but her consolation prize was affectionately naming the baby “Bear.” So, thank you for being a part of our journey as a family and farm and as usual, feel free to contact us with questions, concerns, interests and rants!
-Dan, Whit, Cecilia, & “Bear”