If you are lucky enough to live close to a traditional family dairy, you may be drinking real milk. Most of us don’t. Most Americans drink a white liquid which almost tastes like milk, It’s cheap, but it’s a pale substitute for the real thing. We drink it because we don’t have access to anything else and because its cheap. Many immigrants to the US discover the same thing. They can’t believe the low cost and abundance of our milk—until they develop digestive problems. Then they begin to believe American milk will make you sick. Some Americans believe all milk makes you sick–they call it lactose intolerance or milk allergies.
The problem is not milk, but industrial milk. All milk is not created equal. In more and more parts of the country, people are realizing that. Many in Mississippi have tasted the difference when they tried the milk from Billy Ray Brown’s dairy in Oxford, Mississippi, or Beason Dairy near Philadelphia or Country Girl Creamery near the Gulf Coast. MIssissippi is a hot bed for the revival of traditional family dairies. All these local dairies milk traditional Jersey dairy cows. People swear by the taste and the lack of digestive problems. The Resilience Project has been visiting resilient local dairies lately and we’ve learned a lot about why these local dairies can charge so much and sell more and more every year
Fifty years ago in the US, dairy families milked traditional milk cows: Jerseys and Guernseys. Today, nearly all milk comes from Holsteins. Holsteins produce larger quantities of milk per cow and less butterfat, so American and European industrial dairies like them. But the proteins in Holstein milk are different from the proteins in traditional dairy cows. Holstein milk is high in a protein called A1 which is much less prevalent in milk from Jersey, Guernsey, and most Asian and African cow breeds, where, instead, the A2 protein predominates.
“We’ve got a huge amount of observational evidence that a lot of people can digest the A2 but not the A1,” says Keith Woodford, a professor of farm management and agribusiness at New Zealand’s Lincoln University who wrote the 2007 book Devil in the Milk: Illness, Health, and the Politics of A1 and A2 Milk. “More than 100 studies suggest links between the A1 protein and a whole range of health conditions”—everything from heart disease to diabetes to autism.
The difference between A1 and A2 proteins is subtle: they are different forms of beta-casein, which make up about 30 percent of the protein content in milk. The A2 variety of beta-casein mutated into the A1 version several thousand years ago in some European dairy herds. Two genes code for beta-casein, so modern cows can either be purely A2, A1/A2 hybrids, or purely A1. Milk from goats and humans contains only the A2 beta-casein, yet not everyone likes the flavor of goat milk.
When digested, A1 beta-casein (but not the A2 variety) releases beta-casomorphin7 (BCM7), an opioid with a structure similar to that of morphine. Studies increasingly point to BCM7 as a troublemaker. Numerous recent tests, for example, have shown that blood from people with autism and schizophrenia contains higher-than-average amounts of BCM7. In a recent study, Richard Deth, a professor of pharmacology at Northeastern University in Boston showed in cell cultures that the presence of similarly high amounts of BCM7 in gut cells causes a chain reaction that creates a shortage of antioxidants in neural cells, a condition that other research has tied to autism.
One peer-reviewed study conducted at the National Dairy Research Institute in India, published in October in the European Journal of Nutrition, found that mice fed A1 beta-casein overproduced enzymes and immune regulators that other studies have linked to heart disease and autoimmune conditions such as eczema and asthma.
A 2011 study implicates BCM7 in sudden infant death syndrome: the blood serum of some infants that experienced a “near-miss SIDS” incident contained more BCM7 than of healthy infants the same age.
The traditional breeds differ in more than just this one protein. Guernsey and Jersey milk contains; 18% more protein, 20% more calcium and 25% more butterfat than average (butterfat level up to about 6.8% in Jerseys). Jersey milk contains more Vitamins A and B1 than Holstein milk. In addition it has an extremely high concentration of B2 (riboflavin).
Jerseys provides the most nutrition per given unit of volume. If a person were consuming Holstein low fat milk, 9.64 ounces would need to be consumed in order to receive the same amount of nutrition from consuming 8 ounces of Jersey milk.
Earlier this month we visited Shelby Beason and his family dairy near Philadelphia, Mississippi and learned why farmers are starting traditional dairies and why Americans are rediscovering the taste and nutrition of traditional milk.
Shelby always wanted to farm when he was growing up. He showed Jersey cows at his county fair and worked on his cousin’s dairy farm but started farming with beef cows and baling hay for his neighbors. Eventually he was able to quit his job in town with 200 beef cows and baling and selling a bunch of hay. He says, “I got the idea for this dairy when I read an article about Billy Ray Brown up in Oxford. A light just went on and I knew that was something I could do. Then we went to visit Country Girls creamery down in Wiggins after they started up. We visited with them a few times and finally decided to sell most of my beef cows to get the dairy started.”
“Country Girl does value-added butter, ice cream, cheese. But we don’t usually have extra milk. We stay behind more than ahead on milk. August is the time when it drops off. This week’s rainy, cooler weather helps keep milk production up. But didn’t help me in hay field. Knocked me out of a day’s work. I’ve got a 100 acres of hay down right now.
That’s important, Shelby says, because you gotta manage grass before you can manage cows. This year has been really wet. I just got over all my hay ground one time. Some of hill ground I’ve cut twice. Normally in dry year we’ll get three cuttings on low ground and two on hills. This year will be reverse. Low places we were so late getting in.
“I have fed alfalfa when I’m short on hay. My main forage for lactating cows is ryegrass baleage. I put up a lot of ryegrass baleage. I tube wrap it. Alfalfa is pretty expensive when I have to buy it. We give them a little grain at milking. Other than that all forage.
“Being here in Neshoba County, I use lot of poultry litter from local poultry houses. All my P and K come from poultry. In winter I add some N with urea. In summer, I used to add N with ammonia nitrate, though now cut out now due to druggies using it. Today we have to use ammonia sulfate and similar products. I have to buy a lot of nitrogen.
“Some folks don’t like litter because they think it causes weeds, but it doesn’t; it just causes them to grow. I use Graze-on to keep the weeds down. I like clover with ryegrass so I don’t like to use a lot of Graze-on. Graze-on gets all broadleaves including clover.
“We don’t sell raw milk. You can’t in Mississippi. But my dad was raised on raw milk and says he can’t tell difference in taste between my milk and raw milk. Maybe its because we only pasteurize it at low temperature rather than the high temperature industrial dairies use.
“A lot of our business is restaurants–50% of our production. I’ve got a guy delivers 5 days a week. We don’t do any farmers markets. We are in Whole Foods in Jackson. We got with them when they started that store up three years ago. We knew they were building and got in with them when they opened up. That’s the only corporate type place we’re in. All others are family owned. Whole Foods requires proof of insurance twice a year. No one else even asked for it.
“Our product is more expenstive. Many folks just want gallon of milk But we’ve got a better product. Some places don’t sell a lot of milk, but they want our milk because customers come in and buy our milk and buy a loaf of bread and other stuff so it’s to their advantage.
“We tried to talk to dairy specialists at Mississippi State, but they were not any help. All of our information came from Billy Ray and Country Girl. MSU does have a new dairy specialist who came from Kentucky. She’s interested. She put on a workshop a while back for others interested in what we’re doing.
Cheap industrial milk put a lot of people out of business in Shelby’s area. “We used to have 85 dairies in Neshoba County. Now there are only about 85 dairies left in whole state. A lot of them went out in 80s and 90s. I remember them leaving in 90s and early 2000s. I watched at least a dozen or 15 went out. Newton county to the south, they’ve lost a lot in the last 4-5 years and down to one now.
“They are quitting because they are not getting any more for milk than 40 years ago, but equipment, pick up trucks are twice or more what we used to pay. They only get $15-20 a hundred when we get the equivalent of $55-60 a 100 weight for me. Of course, I’ve got more costs: pasteurizer, bottles, putting label on it and distribution. Distribution is the biggest cost we have that they don’t. But just like other dairies, the biggest cost of production is feeding that cow.
“We’re happy our present level of production. We can make more money from fluid milk than from cheese and butter–that takes lot more labor. We like doing fluid milk, but if wanted to expand that would be a way to do it. If one of my kids wanted to come back, we might expand, but right now we have enough work for me and my wife.
“It never crossed my mind to do something like this until I saw that article on Billy Ray. A light went off and I said I can do that. I’m not afraid of taking a chance, of trying something new. I’ll take a chance, but this never crossed my mind until I saw him doing it. The only agriculture in Neshoba County is beef cows and not as much of that as used to be. The rest of it is forestry and poultry.
Diversification. “I’m not just in milk business. I also bale 800-1000 acres of hay every year. Three to 400 acres I farm for other guys, 600 for myself. Between my brother and me, we have 150 cows. I had 200 beef cows before I started this, but sold most of them to fund the dairy. I’m building the herd back up. Last year I went to Texas and bought 75 heifers.”
Shelby Beason is helping others get started in traditional dairying, but, like most farmers, he’s not big on proselytization. He does know his milk is better than the milk we get in grocery stores. He’s willing to just let his milk do the talking for him.
The leaders of the new traditional dairying in Mississippi:
Beason dairy: http://www.beasonfamilyfarm.com/
Billy Ray Brown’s dairy in Oxford: http://www.brownfamilydairy.com/
Country Girls dairy: http://www.countrygirlscreamery.com/