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Raw milk becoming more popular with consumers, dairies

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Article from The Merced SunStar

More than 40,000 people can't be wrong.

That's how many people in California drink raw milk every week. And while conventional dairies are struggling with low prices, raw milk dairies are bringing in 10 times the amount of money for a pound of milk than the conventional dairies do.

Mark McAfee, founder and owner of Organic Pastures Dairy Co. near Fresno, got started in the raw milk business in 2000. But he has a long history in farming.

When McAfee was a child growing up in Merced, his father was a dairyman. The family owned land south of Fresno, but McAfee became a paramedic and started hobby farming on the land. After growing apples for a while, McAfee switched to organic alfalfa, then decided to grow the alfalfa for his own use. He stocked the land with dairy cattle.

"My roots were in natural dairying," McAfee said. "My dad was all natural."

Raw milk was the next logical step for McAfee. Despite what some people may think, raw milk has always been legal to sell in California.

McAfee now milks about 350 cows a day, and they're grass-fed on his 600-acre farm. His cows are Jerseys, Holsteins and Jersey-Holstein crosses.

The raw milk that McAfee sells brings about $130 a hundredweight, and he said that conventional dairies are currently getting about $13 a hundredweight -- one-tenth the return.

Raw milk comes from cows that are cleanly milked, McAfee said, and the milk has to be tested to make sure there are no bad bacteria in the liquid. The milk is filtered once, then chilled immediately to about 36 degrees, McAfee said.

"It has a much shorter shelf-life than pasteurized milk," McAfee said. "It's trying to become a natural yogurt all on its own."

Pasteurization of milk is done by heating the milk to at least 130 F degrees for at least 45 seconds. Most milk is also homogenized, which keeps the cream from separating from the milk so that the milk will not sour and it looks even. Raw milk is sold without pasteurization or homogenization.

There are stores throughout the San Joaquin Valley that sell raw milk, and McAfee also takes his milk to Fresno-area farmers' markets.

Consumers who drink raw milk say it has two things going for it: taste and health benefits.

Ken Beasley of Sanger drinks raw milk. He got the idea from his wife who used to raise goats and drank raw goat milk all the time.

Beasley said the raw milk tastes "like vanilla ice cream." But it's not just the taste that brings Beasley back to the snowy liquid.

Beasley was diagnosed with cancer recently and had to undergo chemotherapy. While he was sick, he turned to raw milk for help. "The chocolate would really settle my stomach," Beasley said. "It helps me feel really good."

The milk that Beasley drank was colostrum -- the first milk produced by a cow after a calf is born. It's full of antibodies and is often called "super milk" by raw milk producers.

Beasley has always been a big milk drinker, but feels the raw milk is much better than conventional milk. "It's richer tasting -- it's just a lot better taste," he said.

The raw milk that comes from McAfee's farm goes directly from his creamery to stores.

"I think that more and more people will be drinking raw milk," McAfee said. "When you taste it for the first time, it's like, 'Oh my goodness, it's delicious.' This is the way that milk is supposed to taste."

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or [email protected].

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