Scott Trautman leads a tour of his dairy farm. How significantly does the nutritional value of milk differ from one dairy to another?

I find myself thinking about that question, given the debate and discussion following my previous post–about the Stanford study on lactose intolerance, differing vitamin D values, and the importance of grass feeding of cows. I’m also prompted by two recent dairy tours I’ve had in recent weeks.

A little over two weeks ago, on the Friday before the Raw Milk Symposium, I had the good fortune to take a tour of Wisconsin dairyman Scott Trautman’s farm outside Madison. He opened his farm to Raw Milk symposium speakers and area friends.

Kim Hartke did a very nice writeup about the farm tour, about how clean his barn is, how resplendent the fields appear, how healthy the animals look.

One thing that struck me, which was a little different than what impressed Kim Hartke, was how non-political Scott was in giving his one-hour or so farm tour. There was no belly-aching, as one might have expected, given that Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has come down so hard on him. No pot shots that would have been easy–“Here is the milk parlor DATCP has such problems with. Does it look like a problem to you?” (For Scott’s description of his political challenges, see his blog.)

No, Scott focused instead on how he transitioned the farm from a run-down place with depleted soil when he took it over in 2003 to a place with dozens of varieties of thriving grasses and grains and such healthy cows and cattle that there’s almost never any animal illness…and no antibiotics or vaccinations.
“I consider myself an entrepreneur,” he told the crowd of guests he led around his 120-acre place. “I grew up wanting to be a farmer. I did dangerous reading–Joel Salatin’s book, which said, ‘You can farm.'”

Shortly after acquiring the farm, “The smartest thing I ever did was straighten out my soil,” he recalled as he showed off a field of rye.

Before he began farming, he explained, there was an Internet business he ran in the 1990s, until 2002. That’s important. “I took my Internet money and put it into minerals for the soil.” And indeed, the soil looks dark and rich, the pasture is lush.

As he escorded visitors to another field with cattle looking curiously at the visitors, he explained, “I have to stay here long enough so people who wonder how I’m going to fail will fall away.”

When he got to the 90 grazing dairy cows, he explained that he milks them only once a day (which yields about 70% of potential productivity, but results in a richer milk and is okay now without a dairy license) and leaves the calves with their mothers for eight weeks, which is in complete defiance of conventional wisdom. “How much illness have we had in the last year?” he asked at one point. “One calf was sick for one day.”

And as he showed off a small fruit orchard, he added: “I’m about diversity, in my products, in my life.”

Last week, I had the opportunity to fully appreciate what Scott Trautman is doing, when I traveled through Connecticut, and had a brief tour of a feedlot dairy that specializes in locally produced lightly pasteurized milk. I’ve seen the photos of feedlots, but must say that actually being in one and seeing it up close, with about 200 cows and calves, was different. (I won’t identify it by name, since I was there as a passerby, and I don’t think their milk is much different from other feedlot milk produced all over the U.S.)

The view inside a feedlot dairy in Connecticut.First, I was nearly bowled over by the smell, and this feedlot, I’m told, is one of the good ones.
Then, there was the disheartening realization that on a beautiful sunny day the cows’ only food was a gray concoction of hay and silage, while pretty green pasture out beyond the barn sat unused.

The upscale consumers, who are attracted by the “local” branding and marketing pitch, have no idea of how this high-priced milk differs from that Scott Trautman is producing.

Actually, I don’t know exactly how the milks differ. I tasted Scott’s milk, and it was delicious. The camembert, chevre, gouda, and other cheeses produced from that milk by an associate, Bill Anderson, were exquisite, worthy of French masters.

As for the milk produced in the Connecticut feedlot, I didn’t sample it. And I never would, even under duress.

It would certainly make for interesting research, for scientists to conduct a detailed comparative analysis of Scott Trautman’s milk, and the Connecticut milk (or any other feedlot milk).

I feel confident that Dave Milano’s assessment of milk “ecology” would be borne out: “That ecology begins with the most abundant and durable crop on earth—grass—which unsurprisingly is a tremendously effective solar collector, a perfect companion to the soil and its microbial colonies, a cleaner of water and air, and a marvelous carbon store. Virtually indigestible by humans, grass is a necessary food for cattle. Cattle transform…grass into milk, a food very easily digested by most humans, which happens to contain an astounding mix of ingredients beneficial to human health…”

I’m hoping the Stanford research turns out to be the first of many studies.