Raw goat milk. Some people wrinkle their noses and wonder why anyone would choose not to pasteurize. But others pull out their wallets and wonder how much they can get and how soon.
“I’ve always had people approach me about buying milk, because of lactose intolerance or wanting to get back to a more natural product,” said Gena Herzinger, whose Buhl goat-raising operation is called Green Grass & Sunshine. Because of new rules approved by the Idaho Legislature during this year’s session, for the past two weeks Herzinger has had a permit to sell raw goat milk to her eager patrons.
“To me it tastes better,” said Karla Timmons of Twin Falls, one of Herzinger’s early customers. “We grew up on raw milk, whole milk, and what you get in the store just doesn’t taste the same.”
Because Timmons’ husband can’t digest cow milk well, the couple had been buying ultra-pasteurized goat milk at Walmart and Fred Meyer, but they prefer to get raw milk from Herzinger’s goats because of the unprocessed taste, and because they know the quality of her operation.
“I would be skeptical about buying raw milk from anyone who did not have a permit; you know the safeguards are in place,” Timmons said.
Herzinger milks 14 goats a day, and half of those goats produce milk to be sold. The other half she uses to feed the young goats she raises for the other part of her operation: providing breeding animals to herds across the nation.
She spends about six hours a day with her goats, usually starting at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.; of that, 45 minutes each morning and each evening is milking, with the rest of the time feeding, processing the milk and cleaning the facility.
“This is a full-time commitment,” she said. “You can’t not milk them because you don’t feel like it. It kind of kills your social life.”
But Herzinger enjoys spending time with her goats, praising their intelligence and individual personalities. “They’re curious, and their curiosity tends to get them into interesting situations.”
She said goats get a bad rap for “eating” tin cans — they’re really eating the paper, she said — and for having milk with a bad flavor.
“A lot of people don’t understand that goat milk isn’t gross if you take care of it and know what you’re doing,” she said. She noted that the fat globules in goat milk are smaller than those in cow milk, making it more palatable for people with lactose intolerances. “It more closely resembles human milk than cow milk does; it’s easier to digest. People like (the probiotics in) Activia, but goat milk already has that.”
Herzinger also promotes that her milk comes from just seven goats. “When you buy cow milk in the store, 100,000 animals went into that. The flavor is different from animal to animal, and it’s fun to see what the differences are.”
Proponents of raw milk say its probiotics are excellent at assisting digestion and the immune system, and that it contains vitamins and amino acids that are destroyed in the pasteurization process. They say raw milk drinkers also have clearer skin, increased respiratory function and fewer allergies.
On the other hand, opponents argue that potential risks from bacterial contamination — including the potentially deadly E. coli, listeria and salmonella — are much greater with unpasteurized milk, and the safety benefits of pasteurizing outweigh the potential health benefits of drinking raw milk. They especially caution against giving raw milk to children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems.
During the process to approve Idaho’s new regulations, the Legislature debated the pros and cons of raw milk, said Marv Patten, bureau chief for the Dairy and CAFO Program of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
“Raw milk is a controversial topic, and people have their passions one way or the other. It’s up to the public to draw their own conclusions about the product,” he said.
Herzinger has about 10 customers so far who have decided it is right for their families, and she said she has the capacity to serve about 20 more, depending on how much milk each customer wants per week. With just seven goats, she’s producing about 100 half-gallon bottles a week.
Ariel Hansen may be reached at email@example.com or 788-3475.