The Cow Stable: Health Spa of the Future


You know we are in some kind of new era when the most intriguing information about farming comes from big city newspapers rather than farm magazines. Last week (Nov. 10), the Sunday Review section of the New York Times carried an article about how we are suffering from an “epidemic” of allergies and that relief just might be as close as your nearest barn reeking with manure and murky with hay dust, especially if you are drinking lots of raw milk at the same time.

 You think I’m joking, don’t you?

The latest study backing up the healing effects of cow stables (there have been other studies in Europe) was inspired by a curious observation: Amish farmers in northern Indiana, spending much of their lives tending livestock in their barns, were remarkably free of allergies compared to urban populations. Mark Holbreich, an allergist in Indianapolis, investigated. About half of Americans have “evidence of allergic sensitization” but he found through testing that only 7% of Amish children on working farms were so sensitized. Amazing grace.

Having spent more of my lifetime in barns than in bathrooms I provide evidence of this theory.  The only thing I know for sure that I’m allergic to is the TV reality show. By spending so much time stomping around in manury cow barns and dusty hay mows, and drinking lots of raw milk (easily a gallon a day in my twenties), I gained a life free of allergic distress. What hath the gods wrought! I have long considered my barn to be my church and now it turns out to be my health spa too.

For the sake of honest journalism I have to mention my wife’s brother who spent most of his working life in a dairy barn but who occasionally suffered severe asthma attacks all his life. I also know of farm boys so allergic to hay that they had to quit livestock farming. At least that’s the excuse they gave. Maybe the reason farmers seem more immune to allergies is a result of the occupation weeding out over time the ones not fit for it.

But I like the idea that barns and raw milk have been my allergy salvation. Strangely enough, the scientists leading the way in this investigation do not advocate drinking raw milk. They say it can contain deadly pathogens. Note that they say this almost in the same breath they draw to point out the healthfulness of Amish children who drink only raw milk. Nor do the scientists advocate more small livestock ventures as I surely do. They want to find a way to isolate the rich microbial life in the dirt of the livestock barn and chicken coop and apply it directly to allergy victims who live high in their sterile city apartments.

So now we have one more product that we can sell from our little local food farms: bottled microbial life from our barns along with bottled raw milk. Need a brand name here. How about “Barn Aire?” A sniff a day keeps the asthma away.

Barns have other social advantages, even the more modern ones. For instance, if during courtship you want to find out whether you and your beloved will get along okay in marriage, spend some time milking cows together, like in the operator’s pit of a herringbone milking parlor. That’s what Carol and I did, occasionally dodging the rich microbial life spattering down on us from the cows looming above, compared to which allergies and asthma seem preferable.  I figured if she could endure a week of milking cows in a “parlor” (however it got that name is another one of those unsolved mysteries), we could probably endure marriage for at least a century.


Somebody remind me again, how come the dairy maids in England didn’t get small pox……

BTW – I hated milking cows so much, I joined the Army. About 6 months later, I realized I was better off milking cows at home on the farm.

Dairy-Aire, Indeed! I often placed my dairy-aire on an old one-legged milking stool while growing up. We “malked”(as we pronounced it) up to 20 cows and sold the cream, which we produced with a hand cranked separator. I was raised on cream so thick you had to spoon it out of the pitcher!
We originally had some sweet tempered Guernseys, but as my dad started crossing with angus bulls, we ended up with Holstein/angus cows, which tended to be as wild as deer. Not a lot of milk, but better rate of gain. The most frustrating part was trying to hand milk those angus with the little bitty teats. I could only get three fingers around them and my hands would ache before I was done. People tell me I have a strong grip and I can credit 14 years of hand milking cows.
As far as urine in the milk, well, when the cow humped and lifted her tail, you had to grab the bucket and turn your back to her dairy-aire (so to speak). Once the cascade was over (ever hear the old expression “raining like a cow pi–ing on a flat rock”?) you would turn back and finish the milking.
I fondly remember a row of cats sitting in the alleyway, waiting for me to shoot a stream of milk in their mouths. However, when I taught a litter of pups to nurse off a (very) tolerant bossy-cow, my dad put his foot down!
I keep promising my wife when I retire I am going to get a sweet little Jersey with one bad quarter (cheap) and raise a calf a year off her.
For me to walk in a dairy barn, even one that has not had cows in it for years, and to scent the aroma of animal, manure, milk, hay, is truly a “remembrance of things past”. Thank you to all of the posters for bringing back such recollections!

You should realize that a good name is everything. Don’t call it “Barn Aire” Call it “Dairy Aire”

The irrational fear of germs in our society (as evidenced by the now ubiquitous “hand sanitizer”) has had the effect of making people more suspectible to them than ever.

I grew up drinking raw milk (in fact I would’ve been surprised at the idea that it could be unraw). Many of the healthiest people I’ve ever known have been raw milk drinkers (and barn air breathers).

This conversation is very timely. I heard a story on NPR this week about how the intestinal microbial population influenced the brains of mice or rats. The study was conducted by either replacing the microbial population with another rat’s microbes, the FOOD that was fed, the use of antibiotics, and the use of probiotics (I think). The most amazing thing about the entire story was the conclusion that we could possibly use pharmaceuticals (antibiotics, probiotics, etc.) to help our “brain health” and that maybe we should eat better (i.e. healthy food) was NEVER mentioned. Just proves that the old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is no longer how the medical field thinks. That kind of thinking may be better for all of us but sure does not make enough money for medical-industry complex!

The suggestion of the researcher in the article seems pretty short sighted – to isolate the beneficial essence of the raw milk so that we can take it separately! Folks, this is a classic example of scientific reductionism, and makes no more sense then isolating the vitamins from vegetables so that we can stop eating vegetables. The take home message from this very interesting article is that we were designed to live and interact in a rich environment of healthy plants, healthy animals, and balanced microbial populations.

Thanks for your comments Gene. I’ve read your books since I was a kid, and you’ve only improved with age.

Our bodies actually contain more bacteria and viruses than cells!! As result, maintaining a proper ratio and quantity of ‘good’ organisms is paramount to good health. Studies for years now have shown that farm kids who do the milking and animal handling have few sickdays than urban counterparts. I’m not surprized that a similar finding is starting to emerge in the area of allergies.

In the end, I think the ‘milking’ may be more important than the drinking of the milk toward preventing allergies and disease. I would not drink un-pasterized milk. however, my suburban kids go to a day care than incorporates a barn and animals.

I’m thinking Linda e wood is telling a wee porky. I’m no milk maid but … was the cow being hand milked or put on a milking machine? If it was a milking machine, it’s virtially impossible for the cow to pish into anything other than the dung channel. The milk flows from the teat to the collection vessel in another room.

If the cow was being being hand milked, did it suddendly turn around and straddle the milk pail in order to pish, and did it perform this manouvre without knocking the milk pail over onto the floor? And the milk maid just kinda got out of the way and watched this happen and then got down again and started re-milking the cow as it wanders about the parlour?

Strike that. Linda e wood is telling a wapping great fib. And s/he doesn’t have the slightest idea how a cow is milked nor anything about a bovine’s anatomical structure.

And, no, I don’t drink raw milk, nor do I care to drink it. If other people wish to do so, that’s their business not mine.

Get a cow and calf, milk once in the morning and let the calf nurse the rest of the time. Continue to mile once a day after calf is weaned. Ask your friends to milk the cow when you are out of town in exchange for a share in the cow. Butcher the calf. Repeat.

So many people drag their kids to the doctor for every little cough and sniffle to get treatment and they clean their houses until they are more stearyl than a hospital and they wonder why sickness and allergies are on the rise.
In regards to raw milk I’ve seen several people who have wanted to start small dairy farms and sell raw milk and have had people say that they would buy from them. Then when the people invested the money in cows, housing, and feed and started milking most of the people who said that they would buy milk told them it was to far to drive and just bought milk from the store.

Guess thats why I have been so healthy in my life growing up we spent a whole lot of time in the barn hand milking cows(and drinking the raw milk),tending to other livestock,putting up hay in the top part,cleaning put the bedding/manure mix with a pitchfork.And the barn was a great place for us kids to play,build ‘forts’ with hay bales,shell corn and all sorts of things especially on cold windy days.All sorts of animals ‘headquartered’ there at different times of the year cats,dogs,bantys,Barn Swallows,wasps,snakes after mice etc.Great times, great memories.Still use the old barn BTW but its just not the same without all the activity that it used to have.

I liked the barn smell so much I wouldn’t let my mom wash my jeans for weeks when I had to return to the suburbs after visiting my grandparents dairy farm each summer. I now live in the country in Germany and some of my neighbors rent rooms to families to vacation on a farm and help out with chores. This is very popular throughout Germany and there are several travel agencies and web sites to connect the Tourist with a farm. I am sure after learning of the study they will add wellness visit to their advertisement.

“Amazing grace.” Hear hear!

The funny thing to me is how I’m not a morning person but, my favorite farm chore is early morning milking our cow. 🙂 It’s so peaceful to be out in the barn that early with her. That being said, my kids and I are lactose intolerant and get very sick when we drink milk from the store. When we tried raw milk from our cow we had no ill effects except when heating it to higher temperatures. We can’t digest pasteurized milk from the store but we can digest our raw “pasture-ized” milk from our cow and goats. 😉

There is nothing like a day in the barn to refresh the soul. It is better than any church I have ever been in.

Good one, Gene. Your wit here is most excellent.

I always considered it my mental health spa.

Oh, those kind of scientific studies drive me crazy! Maybe it’s because the Amish farmers don’t eat factory farmed meat (antibiotic/steroid/hormone rich) or they eat little processed foods or they rely on home-canned foods or they don’t live in towns with mostly male pollen-spewing trees or they actually drink raw milk.

Really, Karen? 29 states allow raw milk and it’s being allowed state by state without tens of thousands of people getting sick. The raw dairy farmers I know certainly understand the dangers and are hyper-vigilant. If that was real I hope you turned that milkmaid in.

I read recently that they are making human poop pills, taking the gut flora from healthy persons to give to people who have a poor microbacterial flora because their diet killed and selected only a few types of bacteria compared to the diverse variety of bacteria that a wholesome diet supports.

Love raw milk too, but most or many states don’t allow it, not even in transformed products such as cheese where raw milk makes all the difference. Pasteurization makes sense for babies and elderlies, and is even more critical for large milk farms with mastitis issues (usually caused by artificial hormones), but if you can’t raise happy healthy cows and keep your equipment clean, don’t even bother going into dairy farming…

Talking about cheese, there’s one area where pasteurization is essential, it is when you grow and maintain your own live cheese or yogurt cultures: You need to kill off all other bacteria before you add new milk to the culture. It is usually less important for the cheese itself if you follow certain rules. I have a thing for these old heirloom cultures, some of which have been collected from farms that have been keeping them alive for decades or more. has a bunch of them, I also used King Arthur’s sourdough starter that is over 250 years old. All these heirloom cultures contain much more than just the usual one or two bacteria found in commercial cultures and which are fed nutrition-poor food such as pure corn starch or pure lactose, which also generates poor performing bacteria.

Persimmon Ridge Honey Farm November 20, 2013 at 1:16 pm

They already bottle and sell this stuff, Gene. It’s called “probiotic” capsules. They’re supposed to replace the healthy bacteria we should already have in our guts from our environment.

Also one of the theories about Crohns disease (another type of disease caused by hyper-immunity or autoimmunity) is that 3rd world people are never bothered with it because of all the natural bacteria and even parasites living in their environment and thus their guts. One new treatment for this disease involves a medical procedure that re-inserts this stuff rectally–good bacteria and a type of whip worm! Sounds like kind of healthy shit implant! Google it–I’m not lying!

I have to say if any of my goats or cows got any kind of debris in the milk, it goes to chickens pigs or dogs. Raw milk is the best, though my daughters much prefer goat. It is richer they say.
There are theories out there that the reason farmers, especially the Amish, are so healthy is because they have picked up hook worms. I see the Amish and alright everyone on our farm too, run around barefoot, which is how the worms are picked up, through the soles of your feet. Hook worms have developed a way to make our bodies not want to expel them, by blocking our allergy responses. Pretty freaky if you ask me. So for the agro tourism you must have the tourists walk around barefoot 🙂

I chortled merrily along to this Gene and I too love raw milk now. Supermarket milk can taste rather samey and doesn’t have the deep richness of raw milk. Raw milk indeed may contain pathogens, but it also contains the good guys that keep the bad guys in check.

Good writing, Gene. Especially:
“The only thing I know for sure that I’m allergic to is the TV reality show. … What hath the gods wrought! I have long considered my barn to be my church and now it turns out to be my health spa too.” Love it.

your faithful companion and advocate for fields of farmers, loads and loads of ‘small livestock ventures’ allergy free, kumbaya, cha-ching and all that jazz,

I think we should develop a whole new industry around agro tourism and improved health. Nothing like a little cow poop facial and maybe throw in a little Pluto water to boot!

Actually, I am surprised more enterprising livestock farmers don’t charge a fee for city folk to “experience” a day of labor on the farm. It might make smaller operations profitable again.

Gene, I really do enjoy your articles. Please keep it up!

I have not taken up the raw milk banner, as I have seen cows relieve themselves in the pail during the milking process. And the milkmaid continued milking. And the milk then went into the kitchen. Laws on pasterizing milk were created for a reason.

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