D. E. Larsen, DVM
Dad came through the kitchen door with a bucket of milk fresh from the morning’s milking. The kitchen was the center of life in our modest farmhouse. The kitchen was not only the source of food, but it held the wood stove, which was the only source of heat in the house. Mom ruled the family from the kitchen.
All life entered through the kitchen door, the back door to the house. The front door was used only to access the front porch on rare occasions or during the summer when we boys would sleep on the old bed on the front porch.
Mom kept 2 large pans of milk on the bottom shelf in the refrigerator. She would allow the cream to rise to the top 24 hours before skimming the heavy layer of cream off the top of the milk. Living on a Jersey dairy, the raw milk contained about seven percent butterfat. We always had an ample supply of cream. It was used for whipped cream, for topping on desserts, like pies or berries, and any excess was churned into butter.
With three growing boys in the house, plus Mom and Dad and a sister, we would go through at least 2 gallons of milk in a day. We laid down a lot of calcium in our bones. It was rare for anything other than milk to be served at mealtime.
I grew up on raw milk. But that was a different time. In those days, a calf was born on the farm, grew up, and had calves on the same farm. It was a rare event for an outside cow to be brought into the herd. Herds were routinely tested for Brucellosis and TB. In such a closed herd environment where the milking was done by family members, and it was handled properly, the risk to the family from raw milk was very slim.
That is not the case today. Routine testing is no longer done because those diseases are rare. Other organisms are transmitted in raw milk, usually from poor sanitation or handling. Some microorganisms can be present in raw milk coming from undetected mastitis in a cow.
Closed herds are as rare as the small family farm. When I was growing up, a herd of 50 or 60 milk cows was a large herd. All the cows had names, and I could recognize each cow by her udder. Today, a small herd is 400 or 500 cows, with large herds numbering in the thousands. Milkers are hired regularly, often with a questionable experience base. Diseases in the milking cow may or may not be detected on a timely basis. Raw milk scares me today.
When we got a new load of alfalfa hay, the milk’s flavor would be different or a time. Actually, probably just different, and it would take us a few days to adjust to that change. Then in the winter, when we would switch back to grass hay, there would be another period of adjustment.
When I joined the Army, one of the most surprising things was the variety of beverages offered at mealtime. I always chose to drink milk, not because I didn’t enjoy the other drinks, but because that was what one drank with a meal.
When I went to Korea, things were a little different. The Army shipped milk to Korea as a powder. They had a large plant in Seoul that reconstituted it. Then it was distributed to all the mess facilities in the country.
I almost gagged on my first glass of milk in Korea. The reconstituted milk was terrible. Worse than the milk from the worse truckload of alfalfa at home. But it is hard to change a farm boy’s habits. I gagged the stuff down, and after a few days, my taste was adjusted, and it was fine. I drank milk the entire 13 months I was in Korea. With some of the long hours I was on duty, I also learned to drink coffee. But that was only on duty, never with a meal.
Then comes one of those moments that changes one’s life forever. It happened at the Seattle Airport. Our flight back to the States was a long one. We had 13 hours of flight time and crossed the international dateline. We arrived in Seattle at 10:00 AM on the same day that we had left Korea on at 2:00 PM.
A group of us from the same unit were on the plane. We sat down for breakfast at the Seattle Airport while we waited for our flights back home. I ordered milk. After drinking the Army’s reconstituted milk for 13 months, this real stuff was awful. I couldn’t gag it down. So I had coffee instead.
That inability to handle milk continued through my leave time at home. Then I headed to Germany to finish my enlistment. In Germany, I was stationed in a small town, Schöningen, and lived away from the regular Army installations. I guess there was milk available, but I drank either coffee or beer with my meals.
That last glass of milk at the Seattle airport was the last glass of milk that I ever drank or tried to drink.