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Marble Falls herd-share group says raw milk does a body good

Ruthie Jo and Zoe Kinnee

Ruthie Jo, a Jersey cow, lives a life of luxury on Zoe Kinnee's ranch in Marble Falls. As soon as Ruthie Jo's calf is fully weaned, Kinnee plans to sell raw milk in a local herd share. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Ruthie Jo is a Jersey milk cow that lives on Zoe Kinnee’s Marble Falls ranch. She is the first step in establishing a local herd share for a group of about 10 families who want to cook with, bake with, and drink raw milk. Until Ruthie Jo and her calf, Sabbee, are producing regularly, the group travels to Fredericksburg or La Grange to buy raw milk, which was illegal in Texas until May 17, 2021.

“You still can’t walk into a store and pick up a carton of raw milk — at least not in Texas you can’t,” said Cynthia Cummings. 

Cummings, Kinnee, and Meredith Clowdus recently sat down with this reporter to talk about why they love raw milk and what they have to do to get it. 

“To sell it, you have to sell straight from the farm,” Cummings said. “To buy it, you have to be part of a herd share.” 

In a herd share, people pay a one-time fee, in this case $20, to “own” part of the herd. A bill of sale must exchange hands to make it legal. 

Until the Texas Department of State Health Services approved Rule §217.31 in 2021, people had to travel to a farm to pick up raw milk. For the past three years, farmers with a state permit have been able to deliver pre-purchased raw milk anywhere in the state, including at farmers markets. Even if delivered to a farmers market, however, the raw milk cannot be sold directly to walkup customers. The market can only be used as a drop-off and pick-up point for purchases ordered in advance.

Kinnee became a raw milk advocate in 2020. She wanted to improve her health by eating all-natural foods, and raw milk was the next step, she said. She was so happy with the results that she bought Ruthie Jo in 2022 and brought her friends on board soon after.

Clowdus has long lived an organic lifestyle. She and sister Donna Wilcox raise grass-fed cattle and sell the meat directly to families rather than to slaughterhouses. Clowdus has a garden for vegetables and chickens for eggs.

“It was a no-brainer for me to move to grass-fed, non-processed milk,” she said. “Milk always sat heavy in my stomach. I loved milk in my coffee, but it was always a love/hate relationship.” 

Not anymore. Raw milk or cream in the morning coffee is a favorite of these three friends. 

“Zo’s been known to milk her cow directly into her coffee cup,” said Clowdus to a round of laughter. “It’s so good; so creamy and delicious. We are all addicted to heavy cream in our coffee.” 

The taste of raw milk changes from cow to cow, depending on what they are fed. The color is more like butter, rather than white. 

Commercially sold milk is most commonly pasteurized by heating it to 161 degrees for no less than 15 seconds and then rapidly cooling it. Discovered by and named after French scientist Louis Pasteur, the process kills bacteria in the milk that could cause disease, and sometimes death. Pasteur patented the process in 1862. 

Chicago became the first American city to pasteurize milk in 1909, followed by New York City in 1914. As the nation grew, dairies began pooling milk, which increased the risk of contamination and disease, making pasteurization all that more important.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautions against drinking raw milk, citing the risk of consuming harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites. According to the CDC, raw milk is one of the riskiest foods to consume. 

However, strict laws for handling commercial milk sales are loosening across the country. As of 2024, all 50 states allow farmers to sell it to consumers. Of those, 14 states (not Texas) allow retail sales. 

Raw milk can be expensive. A herd-share gallon costs around $12, maybe more, depending on where you are getting it. Drop-off places sometimes add a dollar or two to the gallon for the expense of keeping it refrigerated. 

Local herd-share group members Meredith Clowdus (left), Zoe Kinnee, and Cynthia Cummings with Ruthie Jo at the Kinnee Ranch in Marble Falls. Ruthie Jo and her calf, Sabbee, will soon supply about 10 families in the area with raw milk. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Clowdus, Cummings, and Kinnee say their issue with commercial milk goes beyond the pasteurization process. Some dairy farmers give their cows a bovine growth hormone, in either natural or synthetic form, to increase milk production. Without that hormone, milking happens in cycles.

“You can milk up to a year, but for the health of your cow, you should stop between 10 to 12 months,” Kinnee said. “In that time, you rebreed.”

The milking stops again about 2½ months before the cow gives birth to let her body rest.  

“That’s how God designed these milk breeds,” Clowdus said. “Beef breeds only produce enough milk for its calf. A milk breed actually produces above and beyond, depending on supply and demand.” 

As a Jersey cow is milked, she produces more, enough for the baby and the families dropping by for their pre-ordered gallons each week. 

Ruthie Joe and Sabbee (named so because she was born on the Sabbath) are about 6 months to a year away from keeping the Marble Falls herd-share group fully supplied with raw milk and raw milk products. Sabbee needs to be weaned and then have a calf of her own before she can produce.

The weaning should have already happened, said Kinnee, who was chided by her friends for spoiling her animals. She feeds Ruthie Jo oatmeal soup with molasses in the morning, sometimes adding berries. Both cows graze on natural grasses in the sunshine during the day. 

“The cows are living their best life, and we are getting the best milk,” Kinnee said.

She also feeds raw milk to her dog and barn cats. 

Another plus, the women said, is that raw milk lasts longer than pasteurized milk. 

“Raw milk is fresh for about 10 days. Then, you can use it in baking, make it into yogurt or cottage cheese,” Cummings said. “You can make your own butter at home. From making butter, a byproduct is buttermilk for pancakes and bread.” 

Raw milk cheese is the only byproduct none of them have tried to make — yet. 

“You can get raw milk cheese at the House of Cheese on Main Street (Marble Falls),” Cummings continued. “H-E-B has it, too. They can sell raw milk cheese but not a gallon of raw milk.” 

Leftover milk not used for anything else can be poured into the garden to nourish the soil.

As for contamination concerns when milking, Kinnee follows a strict regime that involves brushing and cleaning Ruthie Jo with warm soapy water and wiping her teats with iodine to sterilize them. 

“You milk out the teat a few times before you start aiming into the gallon bucket,” she explained. “Then, you get what’s up in the udder that has not been touched by the outside world.” 

Kinnee milks into a stainless steel bucket. When it’s full, she covers it and carries it to the house, where she pours the milk through a strainer. 

“I feel like we are meant to live in community, helping support each other,” she said. “We are supporting not only milk in the house but nourishment for the house, for the children.” 

“And for the dogs!” laughed Clowdus and Cummings. 

Not to mention the coffee. 

suzanne@thepicayune.com