Florida raw dairy cleanest in the state

This recent story, by Travis Pillow, originally appeared in “The Fine Print”, a journalism project at the University of Florida. It was originally titled “The Raw Milk Revolution“.

Bubba Kurtz, left, in his manure-free milking parlor. (The Fine Print/University of Florida)

“A farmer in Florida is pushing the envelope by bucking pasteurization regulations in milk. The milk is safe to drink as long as the cows are healthy, the farmer says.

It’s a good day for Bubba Kurtz when nobody craps in the parlor.

These days most dairies are crappy—covered in the feces of hundreds of cows who get packed into industrial feedlots, injected with hormones and antibiotics, and engorged with chemical-laced feed until they can’t help but shit themselves.

But Kurtz runs one of Florida’s cleanest milk operations, with some of the state’s healthiest cows. In 2007, Kurtz and Sons Dairy won the prize for the cleanest milk in the state. Since he went into business on his own in 1991, Kurtz has won the prize three times and consistently ranks in the top 20, out of hundreds of dairies. His relatively tiny herd has built a legion of loyal customers from Tallahassee to Ocala.

The majority of those customers seek raw milk, a product the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection considers unfit for human consumption.

Ever since the emergence of dirty urban dairies a century ago, regulators have required milk to be pasteurized. Pasteurization is the process of heating liquids—usually to 161 degrees or more—to kill potentially harmful bacteria, including salmonella and E. coli. Pasteurization vaporizes nutrients in the milk, along with the enzymes that help humans digest it, which may ultimately contribute to problems ranging from allergies and autoimmune disorders to digestive problems like lactose intolerance.

“A lot of people don’t realize milk has vitamin C in it,” Kurtz says. That’s because vitamin C is eliminated at roughly 116 degrees.

Kurtz, along with a chorus of raw milk advocates, says pasteurization gives farmers an excuse to be less careful.

Raw milk is illegal to sell in much of the United States and all of Canada, but all over North America its evangelists are spawning black-market networks that attract government scrutiny. They insist the stuff is safe, even beneficial, and that it tastes better.


The emerging black market has triggered police raids and sparked legal battles. Last October, Canadian farmer Michael Schmidt asked for the maximum possible sentence after he was found in contempt of court for ignoring an order to stop selling raw milk. The judge didn’t give him jail time, saying he didn’t want to make him a martyr to the cause. Schmidt took a $55,000 fine and vowed to continue the fight, declaring, “When Gandhi picked up the salt, he kept marching, and when Martin Luther started the Montgomery bus strike, he kept going until the law was changed.”

People like Schmidt are motivated by more than a richer flavor and some extra vitamin C. The government keeps industrial dairy farming alive by subsidizing corn-based feed that cows were never meant to eat, failing to require cattlemen to care for their immigrant laborers or pay decent wages, and setting minimum prices for milk sold in stores. The system creates incentives to produce milk deprived of some its most health-giving properties.

Meanwhile, despite multimillion-dollar ad campaigns (“Got Milk?”), milk sales in America have been declining for more than two decades. But the niche market for raw milk is growing steadily.

The acolytes of the raw milk revolution are questioning the way we feed ourselves. Is it fair, much less sustainable, for the public to prop up farms that consume tons of fossil fuel to grow millions of bushels of corn and soy to feed unhealthy cows that produce bacteria-laden milk that must be sapped of nutrients before it’s safe to consume?

Kurtz is hardly an outlaw or a revolutionary. He sells his raw milk strictly as pet food, in compliance with Florida law, though what his customers do with it is up to them. He started in the dairy business with a herd that numbered in the hundreds, but three decades working on dairies and immersing himself in the scientific literature gradually convinced him to change his ways. In recent years, curious University of Florida students have made the 90-minute drive north to his farm near Live Oak, to see his radical farming methods up close.


Kurtz says his milk is safe to drink raw because of the way he cares for his cows, which now number less than 30. Fewer cows means less stress—both on the Kurtz family and their herd. Less stress means less feces in the parlor during milking time, which means cleaner milk.

Cows produce the most milk right after they calf. Kurtz’s herd is fertile year round, which allows him to meet milk demand when it peaks in the fall.

Kurtz milks his cows to the sounds of Neil Young and the Beatles, maybe a little bluegrass or what he calls “good” country. Music helps keep cows calm, he says, citing a study by Purdue University. The kind of music isn’t important to the cows; what matters is that they get good vibes from the humans in their midst.

Unlike most larger dairy operations, his cows don’t eat feed. They eat the fresh green grass grown on his ranch, except during the winter when they eat silage and hay.

Cattle feed, made mostly of corn and soy, doesn’t allow the cows’ digestive systems to function properly, Kurtz says. To produce the cleanest, most nutritious milk, they have to eat grass.

“One of the old adages in the dairy business is you don’t feed the cow. You feed the bugs inside the cow.”

Healthy cows store trillions of helpful bacteria in their rumens, 30-gallon fermentation vats that store the cud they chew. The bacteria thrive on the cellulose in grass, which the cows can’t break down themselves. A cow fed on fresh grass is a walking ecosystem in which good bugs keep out the bad.

Kurtz calls it competitive inhibition, and cites a test by a California farmer who added E. coli, salmonella and listeria bacteria to a sample of grass-fed raw milk. The germs died within eight hours.

“Chlorophyll is one of the best disinfectants nature has ever made,” he explains in his deep-throated twang. “It’s anti-microbial, except when it comes to the good bugs.”

At the Gainesville farmer’s market, customers arrive early to line up for raw milk before Kurtz sells out.


Anita Sundaram says she drinks his raw milk for her health and because it tastes better. Enzymes in raw milk help reduce lactose intolerance, she adds, and raw milk is easier for her to digest.

“I want cows that are ruminants, that eat grass instead of corn and wheat,” she says.

Noah Shitama, with two young kids in tow, says he likes raw milk for the same reasons, and his children also drink it from time to time. But he would never drink raw milk from what he calls “factory cows.”

“It totally depends on where it’s from,” he says. “Like all foods, if you know where it comes from, it’s usually safer.”

About a year and a half ago, Kurtz and Sons lost some customers after someone arrived at Shands complaining of liver problems after drinking his raw milk. The milk had been purchased at Ward’s Supermarket, so the store pulled that batch from the shelves.

“Now it was one person mind you, and I sold about 300 jugs in Gainesville alone that week,” he says.

The hospital was suspecting ungulate fever. But Kurtz tests his cows for the disease every year, and his whole herd was clean. The diagnosis changed to leptospirosis .

“That’s another funny one there,” he says. “Because I don’t necessarily test for lepto, but I have always vaccinated for it.”

Leptospirosis causes infertility in cows, and the females in the Kurtz herd were all getting pregnant on schedule. The disease infects the kidneys in humans, he adds, not the liver.

The patient recovered and the issue faded away. Nobody knows for sure whether his milk caused the illness.

But regulators and health officials tend to regard unpasteurized milk as suspect. Between 1998 to 2005, there were at least 45 outbreaks of food-borne illness traced to raw dairy products, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In those cases, more than 1,000 people got sick, 104 were hospitalized and two died.

Raw milk proponents say federal regulators, who caution against unpasteurized dairy products, are used to dealing with ranchers who operate on a much larger scale, with less care and cleanliness. Industrial ranchers, they charge, wield far more lobbying power than their smaller competitors.


Kurtz likes to say that he is no longer in the “commodity business.” His family’s farm hasn’t been profitable in years.

But life is simpler, less stressful. There are no longer workers to manage, other than his wife and his daughter, Virginia. And the herd is healthy enough to care for itself.

His typical annual vet bill is less than $80, he adds, and that just pays for a routine checkup to ensure his beef is safe to eat. His methods yield between 6,000 and 7,000 pounds of milk per cow each year, compared to the Florida average of 16,000. But by reducing the stress on his herd, he keeps costs down by avoiding antibiotics or other chemicals.

His cows also live longer. The average life span of a Florida cow is four and a half years. Kurtz estimates his herd, which is young, is currently near that average, but he plans on keeping them much longer than that.

“Cows perform better on grass,” he says. “And when I say perform better, I don’t necessarily mean maximum milk production. I’m talking about staying healthy and living a long time.”

Healthy cows produce milk that’s healthier for people. Many raw milk drinkers are interested in feeding the bugs in their own guts. Our internal ecosystems have been losing biodiversity in an era of cheap, sterile food.

Read the whole story on Campus Progress.org


Filed under News

6 responses to “Florida raw dairy cleanest in the state

  1. Carolyn

    this article says: “Kurtz likes to say that he is no longer in the “commodity business.” His family’s farm hasn’t been profitable in years.”

    this farmer needs to be profitable!

  2. Where can I buy raw milk if I live in Palm City (Martin County) Florida?

    • did you ever find raw goats milk in Palm City or Martin/St.Lucie/Palm Beach/ Okeechobee Counties ?
      I am also looking for some for my pets !!
      please let me know

  3. Carolyn

    I would contact a Weston A. Price chapter leader near you and ask them


  4. Please let me know if your cows consume any food products raised with pesticides or fertilizers. I am interested in raw milk. Thank you.

  5. Where may I purchase your raw milk? Please call or e-mail.Tele: 352 304 8729

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