Thursday, December 03, 2009

Thoughts On: Oregon Laws on Raw Milk Sales

An occasional feature here at GoodStuffNW is "Thoughts On" various topics by Yamhill farmer Chrissie Zaerpoor of Kookoolan Farms. This essay details some of the laws surrounding sales of raw (versus pasteurized) milk that small farmers must follow.

An interesting aspect of the Oregon raw milk laws is its restriction on the number of cows a farm is allowed to keep. Raw milk sales are legal only if the farmer has three or fewer lactating cows on the premises. "Lactating" is a legal term, meaning any cow that has ever lactated, even once. In other words, female beef cows count, but baby cows don't. (This is another, lesser, reason, why our beef cows are raised on a neighbor's land.)

Chrissie with Ariba, top and left.

Something we have come to understand over time is that this restriction on the number of dairy cows means that the only way to legally increase milk production is to upgrade from lower-producing to higher-producing cows. We started with one cow who gave about 3.5 gallons of milk a day. On average, Holsteins give ten gallons a day and Jerseys give only 4 to 5gallons a day. But "averages" can be misleading—it's just a statistic which means that about half of all cows produce more, and half of all cows produce less.

As you can imagine, the price of the cow is pretty directly correlated to her production. Cows produce more milk with each subsequent lactation, so older cows produce more than younger cows. Despite this truth, large factory dairies frequently choose to over-milk their young cows with no "dry" period between pregnancies to rest, resulting in Holstein dairy cows often ending up in the hamburger market at just four or five years ofage.

Our newest Jersey cow, Della (right), is a seven-year-old beauty who produces nine gallons of milk a day, and we fully expect her to be a healthy, productive cow for another 8 to 10 years! Jerseys are regarded as producing the highest-cream, sweetest-tasting milk of all breeds. This and their smaller size and more docile nature are the reason they're our breed of choice. Each of our three cows is worth more than any one of our cars or trucks (excepting our delivery van).

We frequently have customers ask us to bring milk to the farmer's market, but raw milk can legally be sold in Oregon only if the customer purchases the milk at the farm where it is produced. The good news is that this centerpiece enterprise brings many customers directly to our farm every day of the week. Most also buy eggs while they're here; some buy chicken or other poultry, pick up a CSA vegetable share, or reserve beef or lamb shares.

The third major aspect of Oregon's raw milk laws is that farmers cannot advertise or solicit raw milk sales. For many customers who have"finally" found us, this is frustrating because it makes a small dairy very hard to find. You will never see us offer our milk for sale or advertise its availability. In compliance with Oregon laws, any such conversation must be started by the customer, not by us. That's why you'll find the Dairy Information page of our website password protected: If all the information about our raw dairy was posted for anyone on the web, it could reasonably be considered trawling for business. The password protection keeps us in compliance with the no soliciting/no advertising laws.


PNWCheese said...

Raw milk laws vary a lot from state to state. In Washington, for example, you can sell raw cow's milk like any other dairy product if you have a special license to do so. Also, goat's milk is often treated differently than cow's milk - so for example in Oregon, all of these restrictions on raw cow's milk don't apply to raw goat's milk.

The link below hs a good summary of laws relating to raw milk by state:

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks, Tami! As always, you are a font of information. And for those of you who are cut-and-paste averse, you can click here for the summary.