When we switched to organic milk after my daughter was born, I thought the change was easy. You just choose a different gallon of milk when you’re at the store, right? How difficult could that possibly be?!
Turns out, that one simple switch has become increasingly difficult as we dive deeper into real foods while our budget remains the same.
Back then, it was just the kids drinking it and they had roughly a half glass each day. It was a struggle to finish one gallon of milk before it started to sour.
Now, we’re eating 1 1/2-2 cups of milk per day and go through a gallon of milk in as little as one week.
Add homemade biscuits, yogurt with trail mix for lunch, homemade ranch dressing or any other recipe calling for yogurt/kefir and it disappears that much quicker. I don’t know about you guys, but spending $36 each month on milk is a lot for my family when we’re not even drinking it!
However, back then, we weighed the pros and cons and decided to switch. For my family, it’s worth the cost.
So what exactly is the difference between organic and conventional milk? You should always know what you’re buying, or what you’re not buying, so you can make the best educated decision for your family instead of just doing what someone else says to do. So here’s the low down.
What is Organic Milk?
Here’s what the USDA requires of dairy farms who produce and sell organic milk:
…Organic milk must come from a certified organic cow. The organic cow cannot be given growth hormones or antibiotics, and its feed must be 100 percent organic. Organic feed comes from land not treated with any prohibited substances (e.g., synthetic fertilizers and most synthetic pesticides) for at least 3 years prior to harvest… The animal grazes on organic pastures for the entire grazing season, which must be at least 120 days a year, and receives at least 30 percent of its nutrition from pasture during the grazing season.
Throughout its life, the animal is raised in living conditions that accommodate its natural behaviors and support its health and welfare. If it gets sick and needs treatment with antibiotics or other drugs, organic standards require that it receive these treatments but then must be removed from organic production. In other words, product from treated animals can no longer be sold, labeled, or represented as organic. However, operators are forbidden to withhold medical treatment from a sick animal in an effort to preserve its organic status. (source)
In layman’s terms, what does that mean?
- no growth hormones (including rBGH or rBST)
- no antibiotics
- living conditions allow movement and access to outdoors and sunlight
- no wormers or other preventative medicines
- grass-fed for at least 3 months out of the year
- 100% organic feed if not on pasture
- no animal by-products in the feed
- no artificial “roughage” in the feed
Organic milk comes from cows who continuously meet these stipulations for no less than 3 months, sometimes up to a full year if a farmer is trying to convert an entire heard to organic standards.
What is Conventional Milk?
Failing to meet those standards. The wording in the USDA guidelines is vague with phrases such as “adequate size and arrangement” for milking barns and “preventing access of lactating animals to [manure]”. Most would say these requirements mean large stalls where the cow can freely move about. Unfortunately, some dairy farms pack the 1100 lb animals into 4.5′ x 3′ rectangles and call it adequate. Folks, my half bathroom downstairs is bigger than that! (source)
Conventional feed often has antibiotics mixed in as a preventative measure. Hormones are included to increase milk production. Many cows are fed a diet consisting of ONLY feed, no pasture, and don’t even have enough room in their stalls to lie down. Actually, some cows have been known to graze on candy bars too.
Organic Milk vs Conventional Milk: Nutrition
Consider this: If a nursing mom eats a diet of Doritos and soda and never for a moment leaves a chair to stretch her legs or exercise her lungs, how nutritious do you think her milk is for her baby?
Not very good, right? Apply the same concept to cows.
Organic and conventional milk have comparable amounts of big vitamins like A, D and K. They might even have similar levels of the smaller nutrients like calcium and potassium. But the micro-nutrients that can only come from pasture are missing, and the quality of the milk is contaminated with hormones and antibiotics and who-knows-what-type-of-animal-parts. Quite frankly, the milk just isn’t that great.
Organic Milk vs Conventional Milk: Cost
If we were to take a survey and ask people which they thought was better, organic or conventional milk, I’d be willing to say organic would win by a long shot. So then why do people continue to buy conventional?
The cost. The average price of a gallon of conventional milk is $3. One gallon of organic milk costs on average $6. When you’re operating on a small budget, cost alone can be a deal breaker. I totally get that.
Which is better? Organic Milk or Conventional Milk?
For me and my family: Organic.
I’m not claiming all dairy farms to be bad, but I don’t know which farm is producing the milk in my grocery store. I have no way of knowing it’s a small, family-owned farm who believes in treating the animals right and letting them graze endlessly on pasture, or if the dairy is run by a cut-throat ruthless businessman who is willing to jump through every loophole in the book so long as his profits go up.
Buying organic at least means there’s nothing artificial in the feed the cows are eating. It means the cows aren’t given medicine when nothing is wrong. They’re not given injections to force the production of more milk. They at least have the opportunity to go outside, move around and see the sun.
I can’t stop pasteurization (unless I buy raw milk), but buying organic is taking a stand against hormones and antibiotics getting filtered down into the milk I feed my children, my husband and myself. I’d rather pay more for better product, than less for a far inferior product.
For my family, the cost is worth it and we’re not willing to sacrifice that. It means I have to be even more creative when meal planning and choosing what to buy when shopping. We have to work that much harder at keeping other expenses down and our grocery budget in check so we can afford better food.
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