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How To Handle Raw Milk … And Even Make It Last Longer

Image source: dairyreporter.com

Image source: dairyreporter.com

Whether you have been a longtime homesteader or are just getting started, you probably have a cow or a small herd of goats to provide you with milk. The first thing to know if you do have your own milk animal is how to properly treat the milk you’ve gotten from your cow or goats.

People often wonder about the differences between fresh milk straight from the cow and the gallons purchased in the grocery store. The main difference is that the milk bought at a store has been put through so many processes that it almost isn’t milk anymore. Store milk is homogenized, which means that milk from many different cows are mixed together so that the whole batch tastes the same and has a consistent texture. Homogenizing isn’t for safety purposes.

Store milk also is pasteurized. The debate on whether or not raw milk is safe to drink is just as hot today as it was back in the 1980s. Unfortunately, many people taking sides in this debate have not done their own research and are simply parroting the excuses given by the FDA and CDC on why raw milk is bad for us. There have been federal laws regulating milk production and distribution since the 1980s, and no one thought anything about those laws being antiquated until relatively recently. After all, the FDA just wants to keep us safe, right? One side believes that the government simply wants to offer the people a safe food while the other side believes that the government just wants more money from their supporters who are adamantly against people being able to get raw milk instead of having to pay for all the processing that goes into store-bought milk. Plus, many off-gridders believe raw milk is healthier.

What is not debatable is that pasteurization can extend the life of milk.

Handling Raw Milk

Safe milk handling starts with the environment in which you will be milking your animal. Your milking station needs to be clean. It doesn’t have to be completely sterile and covered in bleached cement or stainless steel, but it does have to be clear of fecal material and excessively dusty surfaces. Make sure your floor covering is clean. If your floor is dirt make sure that the straw the bucket will sit on is clean and fresh.

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The second thing to do is to make sure your cow or goats are healthy and clean. An unhealthy animal will give low quality and potentially dangerous milk. Be sure to take your animal to a reputable veterinarian to keep her healthy.

raw milk cowThe third is to be sure that your equipment is completely sanitary. Seamless, stainless steel buckets are the best to use for milking animals and they usually come with a lid. You do not want to use plastic buckets since plastic is porous and milk will be able to soak into the pores of the plastic. This will allow bacteria growth and souring of your milk. Never bring glass into the milking area since the animal might fidget and then you’d have glass shards to clean up. We will discuss sanitizing your equipment later on in the cleaning up portion of this article. When you’ve made sure that your milking station is clean, the bucket is sanitized and the animal you will be milking is healthy, you’re ready to start milking.

Steps to ensuring your milk is safe:

  • Using warm water with or without a mild soap and a soft, clean cloth, wash your animal’s udder, especially the teats. You will want to scrub rather well to get rid of all the dirt, grass, hay and fecal matter she may have picked up when she was laying down out in the pasture. This step will do two things – clean her udder and help her to let her milk down so that it is easier to milk her.
  • Once she is clean, squirt the first two or three streams of milk into a separate container or onto the floor. It won’t hurt your barn cats or other animals but it might contain bits of dirt or other material you wouldn’t want in your milk. It’s also a good way to find out if your animal is suffering from mastitis as the first few squirts will show any puss present in the output.
  • Now you are ready to get down to the business of milking. Make sure your hands are clean before you start. Get every drop of milk your cow or goat has to offer before setting your bucket aside.
  • Cover your bucket with the lid to keep the odd bits of floating debris or a curious dog or cat from getting into the milk. Keeping your bucket covered on the trek back to the house or wherever your milk room is will help keep rain, snow, leaves and the like out of the milk as well.
  • Once you are back at the house or milk room, you are ready to start the process that makes your fresh, raw milk drinkable. The next thing to do is to strain your milk. This will remove any of the tiny particles of hay, hair, dirt and other things from your milk. This can easily be done with a canning funnel and a coffee filter. However, there are several dairy suppliers who carry stainless steel strainers. You will be transferring your milk from the bucket into quart or half gallon mason jars that have been sterilized.
  • The next and most important step is to cool the milk down quickly. This is the reason you aren’t putting a full bucket of milk into the refrigerator. The smaller containers will cool down much more quickly than a larger one. You will want to get the milk chilled to at least 40 degrees to preserve its freshness and keep it safely drinkable. Store your jars of milk toward the back of the refrigerator as this area is the coolest. You might consider keeping a second refrigerator for milk only. This rapid cooling inhibits bacteria growth and keeps your raw milk tasting better for longer periods of time. Just remember that if your raw milk has soured naturally, it is still good and can be used in a variety of ways.

That’s all there is to it! Your milk is ready to use in cooking or to drink by the glassful, however you wish to use it. However, you may not be able to use all of the milk your animal provides on a daily basis very quickly. If you do not sell or give away your excess milk or make butter and cheese out of it, you’re going to be neck deep in milk in a very short while. Pasteurizing your milk will let it last a little longer than just the regular four or five days. The procedure is relatively simple and can be done easily on your kitchen stove.

The process of pasteurization consists of raising and maintaining the temperature of the milk for a certain length of time. It is recommended that you heat milk to 161 degrees and keep the milk at that temperature for 15 to 20 seconds.

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There are three different methods you can use to pasteurize your milk at home.

  • Stovetop. This is not the recommended method, but it can be used if necessary. Since it takes such a long time to heat milk to a higher temperature, it is tempting to walk away. This is not a good idea! You will need to stand at the stove and stir constantly. The bottom of the pan you are heating your milk in will get to a much higher temperature faster than the top of the milk. If you walk away, you are inviting scorching to happen. Scorching the bottom of your pan will affect the entire pot of milk. It will stink up the whole house and turn drinkable milk into dog, cat, pig or chicken food.
  • Double Boiler. This is the most recommended method for pasteurizing your milk. This method ensures that your milk will not scorch even if you walk away for a few moments. You will still need to stir the heating milk but not as consistently as if the milk were heating on direct heat.
  • Home Pasteurizer. This is basically a double boiler with a thermometer, a timer and a cool-down process built in. The least expensive apparatus you will find is going to be around $300 and the cost goes up from there, depending on the supplier you choose. These units allow you to pasteurize your milk without having to stir or wait on a timer. It stirs and buzzes when it is time to switch it to the cool-down phase. Remember that if you purchase a pasteurizer, there will be some learning you must do to know how to properly use the unit.

Milking the cowThe last step in handling your milk safely after pasteurizing it is to cool it down quickly to prevent bacterial growth that can cause it to sour early or taste odd.

  • If you are using a pasteurizing unit, it will include a cool-down process so nothing different will need to be used.
  • Otherwise, place the pot into an ice bath. You also could put the pot into the freezer for an hour or so. Keep a lid on the pot so that no moisture gets into the cooling milk. Moisture at this stage would cause a skin to form on the top of the milk.
  • Pour the milk into a shallow, stainless steel pan with a lid and place in the refrigerator or freezer until the temperature reads 45 degrees.

Once your pasteurized milk is cooled, you can pour it into glass jars for storage.

There is one more thing that must be done before you are completely finished with this task, though. The cleaning and sterilizing of any equipment you have or will be using the next time you need to milk your animal or store your milk.

Cleaning and sanitizing your equipment:

  • Rinse out your bucket and any other equipment that has been in contact with milk with cool to warm water. This will remove any milk solids that have dried onto the surfaces.
  • Once everything has been rinsed off, you can wash everything by hand with hot water and a mild dish soap. Thoroughly rinse the soap off and allow to drip until you are ready to sterilize everything.
  • Sterilization can be done in two ways:
    • You can run the items through your dishwasher if it has an automatic sanitation setting.
    • You can put a pot of water on to boil. Once it is at a rolling boil, place your glass storage jars in the water making sure they are completely submerged for about thirty seconds. Using a pair of canning tongs, lift the jars out and drain all the water out of them. Carefully set them on a drying rack and allow them to air dry just as if you were canning. This can be done with the lids and the bucket you used for milking as well. Be careful as the jars, lids and bucket will be very hot to the touch after being in the boiling water.

Congratulations! You have just ensured that the milk you prepare for your family will be safe and delicious.

Do you ever pasteurize your milk? Share your thoughts on the process in the section below: 

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20 comments

  1. Our raw cow’s milk stays fresh for 10 days to 2 weeks weeks without pasteurization.

  2. I buy raw milk from a certified raw milk farmer. It stays fresh in my frig for over two week. I find it lasts better than my store milk ever did.

  3. I would add to the above that homogenization changes milk “chemically” by breaking down the fat globules so they stay in suspension, keeping the cream from rising so you can no longer skim it to make all kinds of things like butter, sour cream, really rich ice cream or things like reduced fat yogurt. The processes made to “grocery store” milk make it difficult to use to make cheeses. We keep the milk from our Jersey in a dedicated small refrigerator and keep the temp at just below freezing as I’m adding gallons of warm milk regularly so it cools very quickly. I have found it keeps easily for 2 weeks and in some cases 3-4. We use 1/2 gallon glass canning jars with white plastic lids for storage. I also recommend investing in a bucket milker. “Machine” milking keeps the milk from being exposed to barn air and the dirt, bugs and hair that always find their way into a bucket. The biggest expense to putting together a milker is the vacuum pump. The ones advertized as for “milking” are ridiculous in price. But no matter what anyone says, a vacuum pump is a vacuum pump. The one I use is a 7 cubic feet per minute single stage, usually used to work on car air conditioners and was under $150. With the addition of a good regulator ($20) and gauge ($15), I put together a milking system that works great.

    • Homogenization is a purely physical process; nothing is added to the milk. Homogenization is the process of reducing the size of the fat globules in milk so that they stay integrated rather than separating as cream. Now it does mean it may go rancid faster because there is more surface area of the fat exposed.

  4. IN THE LATE 40’S & EARLY 50’S I WAS ATTENDING HIGH SCHOOL AS WELL AS HELPING OPERATE
    WHAT WAS THEN RATED A “CLASS B” DAIRY WITH 13 COWS, TWICE A DAY USING BOTH HAND AND TWO SURGE TYPE MILKERS AFTER EACH COWS TEATS WERE WASHED CLEAN AND BY HAND IN STRIPPING EACH ONE. MILK WAS IN STAINLESS STEEL CONTAINERS AND WAS FILTERED THROUGH A STRAINER USING A FILTER REPLACED EACH MILKING. COWS WERE ROUTINELY CHECKED BY A VET AS THE BARN HAD TO MEET STANDARDS TO BE ABLE TO SELL THE CREAM WE LATER SEPARATED IT FOR CREAM AND WAS A MAJOR SALE PRODUCT. MILK AS WELL AS CREAM HAD TO HAVE SO MUCH BUTTER FAT IN IT TO BE SOLD TO A DIFFERENT BUYER AND REQUIRED THE BARN TO BE WASHED DOWN FOR EACH MILKING. WE MAINTAINED CLASS “A” STANDARDS ALTHOUGH WE WERE NOT REQUIRED TO DO SO. WE RAISED OUR OWN FEED WITH SUPPLEMENTED COMMERCIAL FEED, OPERATING A POWERED GRINDING MILL TO DO SO. SCHEDULE WAS 0530 IN THE MORNING AND 1730 (5:30 PM) IN THE EVENING ON A 24 – 7 BASIS. I LEARNED UP FRONT HOW TO WORK AS WELL AS FARM AND ALSO TO GO TO SCHOOL ON A 5 DAY BASIS AND TO MAINTAIN MY GRADES. AS PART OF THAT SCHOOLING WAS VOCATIONAL AGRICULTURE FROM CAPONS TO COWS AND ALL THAT WENT WITH OUR SMALL FARM NEEDS AS WELL AS CHURNING FOR BUTTER TOO.

    • I,M 80 YRS OLD AND WAS RAISED ON A FARM…MILKED 5 COWS BY HAND 5:30 AM & 5:30PM BEFORE AND AFTER SCHOOL…ALL COWS WERE TESTED…..WE USED THE CREAM FOR BUTTER AND DRANK THE MILK…..SOLD THE CREAM WE DID NOT NEED….WHEN I MARRIED
      MY CHILDREN WAS RAISED ON THE MILK FROM THE SAME FARM ( JUST NOT THE SAME COWS).. THEY HAVE GROWED
      TO BE VERY HEALTHY JUST LIKE THEIR MOTHER…I WAS A COMPLETE FARM GIRL….I DROVE THE TRACTOR
      FOR JUST ABOUT EVERY JOB..MOWING HAY….PUTING HAY IN THE BARN ETC. IT WAS A GREAT LIFE,,,WE MAY HAVE WORKED HARD BUT I ENJOYED EVERY MINUTE OF IT… STILL GRADUATED WITH A 3.98 GDP…. AND I AM STILL WORKING FULL TIME DOING ACCOUNTING……………

  5. I would add to the above a couple more things. Wash up after EVERY milking. I know that should go unsaid, but oh well… Second, every few days, all equipment uses in milking should be acid washed. There is stuff called “milk stone” from the calcium in milk that builds up over time that bacteria can grow in. We get the real acid wash from a dairy supply. In a pinch you could probably use vinegar, but would cost more. With bucket milking, I invested in a good new vacuum pump to use at the barn, and have an old one at the house where I do wash up. After rinsing everything, I mix a bucket full of a solution of hot water, dishwasher machine powder, dish detergent and bleach. I put the inflations and “claw” down in the bucket, hook up to the old pump and draw the wash solution through the milker. I do this about 4 times. I give the bucket and lid a quick scrub and then pull rinse water through a couple times, rinse the bucket and lid and done. I hang all so it drains completely. Every few days I do the above and then run acid wash through before rinsing again. I know this all sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. The small bit of extra work at wash up is for me well worth the savings in labor and hassle of hand milking.

  6. I have heard that dropping a silver dollar in the bottom of your milk container will make it last even longer

  7. I appreciate the time and effort taken to write such a lengthy article. With that being said , I would like to know how much time the author has spent on an actual farm milking actual cows . At 45 years of age and having consumed raw milk and raw milk products my entire life , with not one I’ll side effect. Raw milk sours as store basically rots because of the pasteurization process. Imagine what it does in our digestive system
    . As for the conditions for milking your cows . I believe that the conditions should be as sterile as possible but as anyone who has worked with cows knows is hard to attain. Stripping milk from a cows quarter onto a concrete floor can lead to mastitis as the bacteria grows on the concrete. Also straining milk thru a coffee filter is not what I would consider an effective method for straining milk. This is the first time I have ever responded to anything like this. Sorry for rambling .

  8. Wow, I am 68 years old and now am finding that we did everything wrong all the years we had our own milk cow. We didn’t necessarily make sure that everything in the area was antiseptic….at 4AM, you could
    barely open your eyes, but that was when Nellie was yelling and kicking the barn walls to get milked. We would spray her teets with warm water (which helps the milk to come down) and then sit down on our stool and milk her for which she was very grateful. We would then skim the cream off (leaving a little for taste to the milk) and make butter out of it. We never pasturized anything….and funny thing, we never got sick…amazing simply amazing….I am wondering how we made it to adulthood.

  9. Another way to make your raw milk last longer… Drop a silver dime or silver quarter in the bottom of the milk jug. I have been getting my raw milk from a close “real Amish” friend and have the close relationship to be able to get milk whenever I want to…not just the during the time they are home. Talking with them they gave me the old time “trick” of using the silver coin… Their reasoning is that no bacteria can grow in or on silver …and we use silver gel on cuts and it stops infections. So the same helps with keeping raw milk fresh longer….just a few days longer…not weeks. I always use clean santizied silver coins.

    • Not surprisingly, adding about 2 oz of colloidal silver to the drinking water of a cow (or goat) will keep the animal healthy and happy. It will also extend the shelf life of un-pasteurized milk. As an additional benefit, colloidal silver will kill tuberculosis (on contact … within 7 minutes ). TB is one of the prime diseases that pasteurization is intended to prevent. The preceding information is correct, as far as it goes, but there is no iron clad guarantee that colloidal silver will absolutely prevent tb in cattle. Colloidal silver costs about $1.25 per GALLON to make, if you own your own equipment.

  10. ” Never bring glass into the milking area since the animal might fidget and then you’d have glass shards to clean up.” I guess the only exception to that is when you are taking the first picture for the article. Then glass is OK. LOL. Good article other than that. I enjoy the comments more than the articles usually.

  11. Don’t forget to add a silver coin to the bucket 😉

  12. I’m with wandamurline–LOL, We also did everything wrong when milking in the 60s, and never got sick. In fact, that’s probably why we never got sick!
    It’s nice to know what we should have done, but get real, in a cold barn (below freezing) at 6AM, before school, forget it! Wash your hands–Of course–I didn’t think that smell would ever come off my hands! Our cows were Jerseys, and 4-H projects, which gave us a sense of accomplishment and the opportunity to learn from animals just exactly what life is about, not to mention the hard work associated with farm life! We learned where our food came from and how to process it. Kids today have no clue, unless they are on a farm.

    And about the silver coins, where are they today?? Good luck finding one!

  13. Would someone help me understand what they did before refrigerators? There must me some way people drake the milk without having to go through the cool down process to put in fridge. I would like to live off the grid, without electricity, and no fridge. Did people back then just drink the milk fresh each day they pulled it?

  14. We have been getting our raw milk from a certified farm in South Carolina. It will keep up to 3 weeks in the fridge as long as I well insulate it for the 1 hr drive home to Georgia. The longest pasteurized milk has ever lasted was 4 days. I usually pick up 4-5 gallons every 2 weeks. With it I can also make my own butter, yogurt, and occasional buttermilk (for real biscuits). For the last 7 yrs of drinking 1/2 cup daily, my bones are now as strong as an 18 yr old (I am now 62) and my cavities are filling in naturally. Pasteurized milk gave me arthritis in my youth while raw milk does not in my senior yrs. I will continue to buy from this wonderful farm as is keeps our real dairy farms working and I don’t need to do any extra work. If not for raw milk, I would not drink milk at all as what we get in the markets has no nutritional value at all. We also use it to feed all baby piglets, goats and sheep whose mothers cannot feed them and noticed those fed raw cow milk are stronger and healthier than those fed by their older moms. So, support those farmers who make available this precious “white blood.” It truly is a gift from the Creator as the most powerful food on the planet.

  15. Hmmmmmmm,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    There is raw goat’s milk (naturally homogenized, BTW) and raw cow’s milk in our fridge
    that is more than 2 weeks old and tastes as fresh as day 1! Also, we make kefir from these
    which will last a month, or more, refrigerated. Raw butter will last many months.

    Pasteurized milk has much lower government standards than raw milk; so think of it this way.
    You are drinking a non-nutritional fluid full of dead bacteria

  16. I am new to having a dairy cow. She just calved a couple weeks ago. I milk her twice a day. I keep a clean milking area and super clean equipment and hands. I hand milk. I store the raw milk in quart size mason jars. One jar from two days ago has what looks like cream settling at the bottom of the jar , about 1-2 inches and also has about an inch of cream riding to the top. What IS the stuff at the bottom? Am I doing something wrong?

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