From Barn to Fridge: 6 Tips for Safely Handling Raw Milk

raw milk safety

Uh… So what do you do after it comes out of the udder?

It’s a question I get a lot–especially from folks of my generation whose previous experience with milk entails grabbing a jug of the white stuff out of the cooler at the grocery store.

As I shared last week, I have weighed the risks involved with drinking raw milk, and am very comfortable with my decision. I feel as though the risks of drinking unpasteurized milk are minimal compared to the possible health issues that can arise from consuming pasteurized milk.

That being said, if you plan to have home dairy animals and produce your own milk on your homestead, it’s still important to treat fresh milk with a bit of respect.

I follow a pretty strict set of procedures when I head out to the barn each morning to bring in a bucket of fresh milk. Here is what I do to ensure that our milk is as clean and sweet-tasting as possible.

Six Tips for Safely Handling Raw Milk

1. Clean it- Before sitting down on my stool to milk, I wipe off Miss Oakley’s udder with a hot, wet towel. She likes to lay in the mud, so sometimes it takes a bit of elbow grease to get her teats clean and pink again. Some folks use bleach to wash their cow’s udder, but I can’t stand that stuff, so hot water is good enough for me.

After washing her down, I spray the first 2-3 squirts of milk from each teat onto the ground (Some folks prefer to spray it into a small cup). The reason for this is to flush out any bacteria or dirt that may be in the tip of the teat.

(Check out Natural Homestead for DIY teat dip, udder wash, and barn wipe recipes!)

2. Contain it- Next, I grab my stainless steel milk bucket. The type of container you use to store your raw milk is very important. Plastic is a big no-no for me, since it’s very difficult to properly clean, AND it tends to hold onto off-smells and tastes. You don’t want to bring a glass container out into the barn, since it will shatter the first time your cow (or goat) gets fidgety.

Stainless steel buckets can be a little spendy, but trust me, they are worth the investment. They are easy to sanitize, and will survive lots of kicks from a persnickety cow. And make sure you get one with a lid– my lid has saved my milk many times from curious dogs/cats, and dust/dirt/poop/hay that is perpetually floating in barn air.

3. Strain it- It’s never fun to take a big gulp of fresh milk and end up with a hair in your mouth, so always strain your fresh milk ASAP. Floaties WILL happen, no matter how hard to try to prevent it while you are milking…

Like I mentioned in my Improvised Milking Equipment post, I use a simple set-up of a reusable coffee filter and canning funnel to strain my milk. However, many dairy supply stores do carry more “official” stainless steel strainers.

How big of a floatie is too big? There are some days when it’s just better to throw in the towel and donate your milk to the chickens or pigs… I’m usually fine with a couple bits of hay or a random hair, but if you get a big clod of manure floating in your bucket, it’s best to just skip bringing it into the house that day… Bonus: your chickens will love you forever.

4. Cool it– It’s important to get your fresh milk as cold as you can as fast as possible (40 degrees F is ideal). Some folks put a small, reusable ice pack in the bottom of their bucket to cool it as it comes out of the cow or goat. I personally haven’t found that to be necessary, but I do bring my bucket inside right away and get it strained, and into the fridge.

Rapid cooling of the milk prevents the bacteria count from rising, and it keeps the milk tasting better, longer. However, keep in mind that once raw milk has naturally soured, it’s still good and can be used for lots of other stuff.

5. Store it- Only store your milk in glass containers- never plastic. I get my one-gallon jars from Azure Standard (or save big pickle jars- just be sure to wash them thoroughly.)

Place your jars of raw milk towards the back of the refrigerator (avoid the door, since that area tends to be warmer.) If you have home dairy animals, you’ll find that your raw milk jars fill up your fridge rather quickly. So, you might want to keep your eyes open for small, dorm-size fridges at yard sales.

6. Sanitize it– Cleaning your home dairy equipment thoroughly is a MUST. After I pour my milk into the jars, I immediately run cool (not hot) water over my bucket and filter to wash off the milk solids which can cause build-up if allowed to dry.

I don’t use bleach to wash my equipment (have I mentioned that I hate bleach?), but I do like to run everything through my dishwasher which sanitizes the equipment. If you don’t have a dishwasher, you may hand wash it with a bit of soap and very hot water.

Allow each piece of equipment to air-dry. Don’t dry anything off with a towel, as this can transfer any bacteria that might be hanging out on your dish towel onto your milking equipment. Make sure everything is completely dry before replacing lids.

So, there you have it. My routine is nothing fancy, but it has ensured that our milk has stayed great-tasting so far.

raw milk safety


Satisfy your DIY home dairy cravings with Natural Homestead! Inside you’ll find tutorials for homemade acid wash, teat dips, udder salves, udder wash & wipes, and TONS more!

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    • says

      It depends– usually 10-14 days. It gets less “sweet” the longer it sits, but it’s still good. And, even after it sours or clabbers, you can totally still use it for recipes or baking.

      • Jennifer says

        My milk would get so sweet you couldn’t stand to drink it! Even the cat didn’t like it after about 7 days.

  1. says

    This is great to know! I was just talking to my mother-in-law about how to keep raw milk. She said when she was growing up they did this and strained it over a cheesecloth. I’m learning so much! I can’t wait to be able to get my own milk cow!

  2. Michelle says

    We used to do something similar when we had a milk cow. We’ve been looking for a cow to replace her, but it’s a drive to find one and the good ones are usually snatched up quickly. When we do have another dairy cow, I will use some of your tips. Thanks.

      • Michelle says

        Thanks for offering. We live in Maryland, so that may be too far to come (but I’ll mention it to my husband). At this point, we would prefer a dairy cow that is ready to begin milking, since we’ve been without one for so long. Our dairy cow of course only had males while we had her.

  3. Janette says

    Just wanted to share a few things that we do with our milk. We do things almost the same way you do! For chilling the milk after milking, a friend of ours suggested using a cooler filled with water to cool the milk down quickly using old water bottles filled with ice to get it cool. That’s how we store our milk as well to free up fridge space just making sure to keep it cold with the ice bottles. With cleaning up the bucket, we use hot water, soap, then rinse, fill buckets with hot water and vinegar, let soak for a bit and then triple rinse. I hate bleach too 😉 Seems to keep things clean for us. We can always tell when something hasn’t been clean quite enough because the milk goes sour faster! Thanks for sharing your routine! Nice to know we are doing things in similar ways :)

  4. Luella Malone says

    Also if your milking a cow make sure you cow is TB tested Brucuolis tested also so there is nothing in the cows milk just saying..

      • Kelli S. says

        Another maybe less known ‘disease’ to test for is Q-Fever. It is okay for commercial dairy cows to have a positive Q-Fever result as the pasteurization process kills it, but it can be passed to people through raw milk consumption. We have a Guernsey raw milk dairy here in WA state (Old Silvana Creamery,LLC), and in order to sell the milk the cows have to be Q-Fever free (as well as the other common diseases). We love our raw milk!

      • Caleb Williams says

        “The strain of TB that cows carry isn’t transferable to humans”
        Really? Are you sure? That’s NOT what we learned in AG school 40 years ago. TB is such a tricky and slippery organism, would you want to take the chance? Especially when the test is so cheap and simple? And especially if the disease is developing a resistance to antibiotics. Of course, you have to be willing to part with your cow if she tests positive… But still, TB and Brucellosis, often called Undulant Fever, causes abortions in both cattle and humans. I would advocate for getting my animals tested, and culling any that show positive. That’s what we did during the 25 years we produced organic raw milk cheese. And by following an annual test regime, once we got it out of the herd, it never came back. If a cow crosses state lines, the laws REQUIRES this test.
        Here is a brief history of the glory days of our farm:

        • Kelly says

          Am I sure? Not from personal experience or professional training. Simply from reading books that cited the studies. Books by authors whose salary is not paid by those benefitting from the information printed. I mean no disrespect to you by this, but I don’t trust most of the mainstream information available. Most of the time, if you follow the money trail, outcomes support the person/corporation that paid for the study. I used to believe that “they” wouldn’t lie, but I have changed my point of view. I support your right to have your animals tested, I simply don’t believe it should be required by all.

          Milk is a very political/polarized/hot button issue that’s heavily controlled by those that make the most profit from it. I don’t wish to engage in battles to change someone else’s mind, but I do like to share alternative views for those that may not have come across them yet.

        • phyllis says

          I heard that TB had been eradicated from cows. We raised beef cattle for about 14 years and quit about 4 years ago. When we first started taking them to the sale they would check them for Tb and charge us a fee on our sales and payment slip. The last few years we raised them they quit giving the cows a TB test.

  5. says

    Great tips! We have basically the same routine.

    May I suggest doing an “acid wash” on your equipment once in awhile? Every two weeks – a month, I fill the sink with vinegar water and let the equipment soak in that for a half hour. I find that this, in addition to rinsing each day with cool water like you mentioned, helps prevent milk build-up and of course vinegar is sanitizing as well! Then I make sure to wash it all with hot soapy water so the vinegar doesn’t make the milk taste off.

  6. says

    How often do you milk? I want a dairy cow so badly but we can’t have one at our house. I’d have to keep it at my dad’s (which is only a few miles away).

  7. Brenda says

    We stick our strained milk in the freezer for about an hour and a half to chill it quicker. My goat milk doesn’t seem to get that “goaty” taste this way. Love the blog!

  8. Jen says

    Great article. We, also, have used the glass jars and stainless steel pails. One little extra that we decided to do was to sterilize our jars and pails with heat. We wash everything by hand (I don’t think the dishwasher gets the job done well enough) and then pop our jars and pails upside down into the oven. We let them “bake” at 200 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. They are super clean and hot. After doing this for a while, we even tried the oven heat for canning jars and it worked great.
    Happy Homesteading!

  9. says

    Jill, thanks for this. I love it – and I love you. And I love that you said “floaties.” We recently switched to raw milk and we LOVE IT! Although I am a bit put off that you get jars from Azure Standard. I feel cheated out here in the East.

    • says

      You know, I always feel a little bit guilty for referencing Azure Standard, since I know that many of you are cheated back East! 😉 And yes, floaties are a fact of life!

  10. Kelly says

    There is a study showing that milk that ISN’T cooled right away is actually safer. Once cooled, the beneficial bacteria are very slow to reproduce. That said, I’m not in a huge rush to get mine to the fridge, but it is part of the process. I live in a hot climate and don’t have any issues with it souring too soon. I tried placing it in the freezer (and setting a timer to remind me to take it out) and my milk actually stays sweet longet when I DON’T do this, so I stopped.

    As for sanitizing, after I rinse my bucket with cool water, I spray it with my vinegar cleaner, which is equal parts water and vinegar and about 10 drops TTO and let it sit overnight. Then I wash with hot soapy water, using Dawn original because it’s the least offensive with chemicals and fragrance. The jars are rinsed as soon as they’re empty and just washed in the dishwasher with our dishes (no sanitizing setting). Nobody I know does anything special to wash the glasses they use to drink milk from, so why do we go out of our way to wash the jars?

    I pin butter muslin to the top of the bucket to strain out the floaties before they even go into the bucket, but I also like your reusable filter idea.

      • Kelly says

        I wish I did. The first year I got into this new lifestyle I read EVERYTHING I could find. Books and numerous web pages. All I can remember is that it was a Japanese study. Sorry. :( My undersanding of the why behind it is that all milk has good bacteria and bad bacteria (and/or pathogens) and the good are most generally in such a high number that the bad can’t propogate quickly enough to do any harm. They’re kept in check by the good bacteria. Now, the good bacteria are also what cause the milk to sour as they eat the lactose (milk sugar). There are two principles to consider here-souring, which is NOT a bad thing health wise, it just affects the taste; and safety. The higher the concentration of good bacteria (that grow in warm milk), the safer it is.

        That leads to why pasteurized milk is absolutely NOT safe-at least from industrial dairies. The heating process kills ALL of the good bacteria, but only SOME of the bad and hardly any of the pathogens. So we kill of the soldiers that are naturally there to keep the milk safe and then call the end result safer. It doesn’t make logical sense.

        Wow-all that stuff I read is starting to come back to me. :-)

  11. Peppermint WInd Farm says

    Now that the weather is warming up, well sort of! I have a fridge in the barn that I can stick my milk can in right after milking. Through the winter I’d just shove it in a snow bank until I was done with all the other chores. My question is: Should I strain the milk before leaving it to cool or is it okay to sit in the fridge for an hour or two. Then I would bring it up to the house, strain it and transfer to individual glass 1/2 gallons. I’m trying to come up with warm weather routine that doesn’t require a lot of running back and forth from the house to the barn but also I’m not sure I should be straining milk out in the barn where it’s less clean. I only have one milk bucket and one larger can. So I milk my bucket full, pour into the can, put the lid on, milk another bucket and pour that into the can. Minus of course a little for the cats, dogs etc.

    • says

      I would *think* it’d be ok to sit for a little while until you were able to strain it. However, that’s just my uneducated opinion. 😉

    • Kelly says

      I agree with Jill, and maybe the longer it sits, the more the floaties sink to the bottom and aren’t an issue if you leave them in the can and give that portion to the pets? You might also want to consider pinning a straining cloth over your bucket to keep the floaties from even getting in. Again, just what I might do, not a professional opinion.

  12. Luella Malone says

    Was just what our vet told us to test for drinking raw milk We dairy farmed for years and always was safe Now we have Irish Dexter Cattle for 15 years and Wisconsin is TB free ..

  13. Melissa says

    When I had my goats, I kept my milking pail, glassware and anything else that could be heated, reasonably sanitized by putting them in the oven after I ran them through the dishwasher. Probably overkill, but after I took them out of the dishwasher, I would put them in my oven and turn it on to 225 F 20 minutes, then put canning jar lids loosely screwed on and the pail lid on and close the oven up to let them cool. I reused the canning jar lids as I wasn’t preserving food with them, just wanted to keep the jars sterile. After they were cooled, I screwed the lids on and put them away to use whenever I needed them. I used the pail every day so I just kept the lid on until the next day. I never had any jars explode this way because I think the oven heated slowly enough and because I put the lids on after the jars were heated so there was no pressure inside. Not sure about that-maybe I just got lucky-but it worked well for several years.

  14. Holly says

    Hello. So glad to find this helpful resource! I have just started milking my first goat and have been looking for info on how to safely use my milk. So just to double check this, Jill, you put the fresh milk right into the fridge without first chilling it? Is that correct? I’ve been chilling mine, but I have to say that it is a real hassel and I wouldn’t mind skipping it!

  15. Holly says

    Thank you! Wonderful to know. I am loving your site and all of the homesteading inspiration!

  16. Patty Lack says

    I used to just stick my milk in the frige also. After some education, reading, and experimentation I have come up with this routine that suits me well and keeps the milk in top shape.
    I immediately strain the milk into very clean glass jars, pop on the lids and into a bucket of ice cold water in the refrigerator. Then out to milk the next doe. Repeating the sequence until I am done. Granted I am close to my barn, but you could filter and place those jars into a cooler of ice water as well. I have lifting restrictions and can’t really carry an ice chest full of milk back to the house. Running back and forth is my answer.
    You might check out fankhouser’s cheese pages and Mary Jane Toth’s articles on Hoeger supply’s site. She has a great one on milk chilling and the resultant grade your milk would be classified at using various ways of chilling. Happy milking!

  17. Leanne says

    Ok, just to clarify, some of you put butter muslin on top of your pail while you are milking to keep floaters out? I may try this. We are getting our first dairy goats this week and want to do everything by the book. I’m trying to figure this all out and get a system in place before I go back to work for the school year! I don’t want to have to do a lot of running back and forth to the house because I don’t want to wake my kids up since my husband leaves at 4:30 am for work. Does anyone use the dishwasher to sanitize? I was planning on it since its easiest. I assumed this was the best way to sanitize. I guess I still have. Lot of learning to do! :)

  18. Melanie says

    So I was our milk pail in the dishwasher, but it still has a smell to it. Any ideas for getting rid of the smell?

    • says

      Hmmmm… I’d try soaking it in an acid wash. I like using a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water- you could also add in some lemon essential oil to help deodorize.

  19. Jessica says

    I can’t seem to find the answer to this question; Doesn’t the milk separate after you put it in the refrigerator? What do you do with the milk then? Sorry this question seems silly but I just don’t know!

    • says

      Yes– cow’s milk will separate, goat’s milk will have a little cream rise to the top, but not as much. You can then skim off the cream and use it separately, or stir it back in for whole milk. Either way, the milk is still great for drinking/baking.

  20. says

    I just wanted to share a tip about separating the cream from the milk. If you have a tea/lemonade dispenser the kind that has a spout on the side down close to the bottom, fill with raw milk since cream floats to top milk is at bottom so use spout to get milk when all milk is gone, you now have just cream. I love your page. Thank you for sharing your experience’s with us.

  21. sandy says

    We are just switching to raw cows milk. My family is so used to pouring from a jug it will be a bit challenging to pour from a wide mouth container. However, I want to be able to skim the cream off the top and am not a fan of spouts. Please share suggestions for storage containers that make pouring easier.

      • Lindsay says

        These Pampered Chef stir containers are amazing, we have 2, and would transfer from the large glass pickle jars for storing the milk (a square of cling wrap between the jar and the lid keeps it fresh) to the PC container for pouring into glasses. Works perfect.

  22. Hannah Webster says

    I watched a documentary once that said back in the day once they washed their milking stuff they would scrub it with salt and then rinse and leave it to dry in the sun as the salt and sun are great sanitisers. They used wooden buckets back then of course. But it seemed like a logical thing to do.

  23. says

    PLEASE…Don’t call it RAW milk…It’s WHOLE milk.
    I’ve had 30-40 milk goats so I am very familiar with milking.
    just like you said…wipe – squirt – into the bucket – strain into cans (we use cheese cloth) and into the fridge. When I started I was told two things: This job was all about sanitation, and i was told to talk to the goats.

  24. Joe says

    You don’t use a strip cup for the first few squirts to check for mastitis or other possible issues?

  25. Kristin says

    Is there any reason why you don’t store your milk is plastic milk jugs? I am just asking because we have a local farmer in the next city over who sells it to us for $7 and he keeps his in plastic “milk jugs” like you’d get from the store (except he orders them in bulk) but I was curious if this was OK? I definitely DO NOT want to pay $7 a gallon for raw milk if it isn’t ideal.

    • says

      Plastic can hold off-smells/flavors, and it’s hard to clean if you are reusing it, which is why I prefer glass. However, if he is using new jugs each time, it’ll probably be just fine.

  26. Leah Heffner says

    How long after milking does milk need to “wait”? Our previous herd share farmer said 48 hours so that things like champliobacter could die off (I don’t think I spelled that right). Our new herdshare sometimes send milk from the same day milking. Having had champliobacter (although not from our milk) and knowing how sick I was, I not in any hurry to expose myself or the kids to that again. Any help?

  27. says

    Hello Jill,
    I liked reading about your safety tips. I have goats and one thing that I do differently is that I have a room dedicated to milking and all my equipment is in there. I milk, measure, and strain within a minute of being done with a goat. And I even have a dedicated refrigerator because I never have enough room in my house.
    Thanks for sharing.

  28. Ericka says

    Do you put each milkings worth of milk in a separate container or can you mix several milkings worth of milk. I am only milking one dairy goat and getting a quart or alittle less twice a day, for a total of about 7 cups a day. So do I need to put each mailing in its own quart jar or can I put it in 1/2 gal or gal jar and keep adding to it. Thanks

  29. Heidi says

    I’ve always used grocery-bough milk when making yogurt and I didn’t even care if all i had was powdered milk.

    But recently I discovered that there’s actually a dairy processing farm near our place and they sell raw milk. Do you think I could still use them as yogurt milk? With all the enzymes and all?