Selling liquid gold at the farm gate
It's been four months and counting but Canterbury dairy farmer Mark Williams has never been happier with his decision to sell raw milk at the farm gate.
Williams is in his fifth year at his 160 hectare dairy farm at Aylesbury on the Canterbury Plains.
In October last year he took the plunge and started selling raw milk, launching his own Aylesbury Creamery brand. He bought a large dispensing machine, selling raw milk and reusable glass bottles.
There were two main reasons why he decided to start selling raw milk.
"I read an article about guys that were doing it, and saw how much people love the product. There was a real niche for it. And it's a great leveller for when times are tough."
Since setting up a Facebook page in November, word of Aylesbury Creamery has spread quickly.
"There's a lot of locals supporting us."
Before setting up Aylesbury Creamery, Williams hired consultants from Village Milk in Takaka.
Village Milk has been selling raw milk for five years, and now helps other farmers set up their own raw milk operations, from giving advice to helping source dispensing machines.
Williams said the advice from Village Milk was really beneficial.
Only 20 operators across the country are registered with the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) to sell raw milk. Of those registered, all sell raw cow's milk apart from Bay of Plenty farmers John Van Kuyk and Jeanne Van Kuyk who also use raw goat's milk for their Aroha Organic Goat Cheese.
Because raw milk isn't pasteurised, it misses out on the process to kill disease-causing bacteria. After MPI records showed raw milk was associated with 10 outbreaks affecting 41 people in 2014, stricter rules were brought in last year to regulate its sale.
Williams keeps a small herd of nine heifers separate from his main herd of 450 cows. The nine heifers are milked only once a day and are solely for his raw milk brand.
"We do our best practice hygiene-wise. It's so much better than [with] commercial cows."
Every morning before the separate herd is milked, staff wash the cows' teats, udder, and legs, as well as their own hands and arms.
"There's a lot of extra paperwork. We're always recording temperatures of the milk – we have to get it down to 6 degrees Celsius straight away. Then it's down to 3C in the machines."
Williams' raw milk is tested every 10 days for pathogens including E coli, listeria, campylobacter and staphylococcus.
"It's an instant stop supply if tests come back positive.
"Even if results are fine, we use them as an indicator of how well our hygiene is."
The stricter hygiene practices for his raw milk herd has increased hygiene for normal milking, he said.
However, Williams says the biggest risk involved with raw milk is once it has left the property.
"I try to educate people to store milk properly. The biggest risk is people not chilling milk on the way home – that and not washing bottles properly."
He said those travelling more than five minutes with raw milk should store it in a chiller bag with ice.
Williams has designed his own chiller bags which have small ice packs lining the inside to help keep raw milk cold. The bags can be put in the freezer and taken out when you need to transport your milk. He hopes to stock a small supply of those soon.
MPI's advice to reduce risks of raw milk
* Keep it chilled whilst transporting it home from the farm.
* Keep your raw milk in the coldest part of your fridge (usually the lower levels are 4C or less).
* Throw it out if it's been left out for 2 or more hours.
* Drink it by its use-by date.
* If you're serving raw milk to friends or visitors, make sure you let them know what the risks are.
* Buy it only from a registered supplier. From November 1, 2016 producers who sell raw unpasteurised milk need to be registered with MPI. The lists of registered suppliers will be updated as providers are approved.