Hi guys! I wanted to tell you about the RAWMI listing process that our farm just went through. The Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI) is a nonprofit organization that focuses on promoting raw milk with an eye to helping raw milk producers meet milk quality standards, educating consumers about raw milk, and funding raw milk research.
Just like many of you may have done, when I started researching building my raw milk herdshare program 5 years ago, I came across the RAWMI website and right away, I felt a pull to be one of those listed farmers. The great thing about the RAWMI farmer listings is the transparency - in order to be listed, the applicant farms have to develop their Risk Assessment and Management Plan (RAMP) plan to address the RAWMI Common Standards. When you go through the page of listed farms, each farm's RAMP, procedures and Critical Control Points (CCPs) are available for you to review. As a consumer, that might be over their head, but also reassuring to see that their potential farm has such strict standards. As a farmer, these documents are a gold mine of information!
I started this process in May of 2020, and we were approved and listed in December 2020. Now I'll tell you that the delays were 100% mine - with a full time off-farm job, the herdshare program, and the new dairy, I was stretched pretty thin, and frankly, I was intimidated by the paperwork requirement. I shouldn't have been.
For the listing process, there's a short application that you fill out, and if the RAWMI staff reviews it and finds that you are a good candidate for listing, they ask you to submit your procedures and the RAMP plan to start. For me, the procedures that I have already developed for my farm and put into Herdshare School were already finished. I was confident that I produce clean milk because I already send in monthly milk samples for testing and I have that data to back up my procedures.
The RAMP plan was the part that really intimidated me. After I procrastinated for a good while, I decided to work on it for 20 minutes a day, breaking it up into smaller sections. That was a great move, as I actually finished it in just a few days! There were certainly questions that I had about specific standards, so I highlighted those and emailed RAWMI with my questions. They were quick to respond and pretty flexible - and there are some things that I did differently but that RAWMI agreed still met the standard.
One part of the RAMP that I had trouble with was how to classify lines as Critical Control Points (CCP), Standard Operating Procedures (SSOP) or Good Management Practices (GMP). The RAWMI staff told me that only 2-3 items should be CCPs - and those would be areas that potentially contaminate the milk supply, such as clean tested water and milk cooling procedures. The rest of the items are SSOPs if they are written in our procedures or GMPs if they are standard procedures that you don't necessarily have in a written form. So definitely don't be intimidated by the RAMP plan!
Once I submitted the RAMP plan and my procedures, the RAWMI staff asked me to give them a virtual visit of the farm. I took pictures of the goats going out to new pasture daily, of the milking parlor, milkroom and goat housing, and then I video recorded a full milking session and posted it onto YouTube for them to review. I recorded everything from milk machine setup and sanitization, to udder prep, to milking, bottling and cooling down milk, cleaning the milk machine, and even sweeping and washing the floors in the parlor. It might have been overkill, but I figured more info was better!
If you're wondering if you can watch those videos, the answer is not those, but I'm working on others! It was winter - in the morning - and my hair is a hot mess under that hat. My shirt is all bleached up and I'm not at my prettiest. I promise that I'll make videos when it warms up, documenting the whole process in a more acceptable (for me) format.
So after I submitted the videos, I met via Zoom with a few of the RAWMI board members. We went over any questions that they had about my management, milking, cooling and cleaning processes, and they pointed out one or two things that I could add to my procedure to make it even better.
Overall, I only had to change a few items to my procedures to meet the RAWMI standards:
They suggested that I keep my milking bucket elevated off of the floor while milking, so that it doesn't come into contact with manure potentially. I now place it in a clean milk crate.
They suggested a 30-second pre-teat dip sanitization time. I had been doing the manufacturer's recommended 15 second minimum, so I bumped it up to 30 seconds.
Otherwise, there were no major changes requested of my protocols. I was asked to create the CCP document, describing the critical points to prevent bacterial contamination on our farm. Again, while intimidating, the RAWMI staff were quite helpful with suggestions and examples from other farms, and I quickly finished that as well. After all of my revised documents were submitted, the RAWMI board met, reviewed my submission, and approved our farm. We are now the first goat dairy to be listed with RAWMI!
I'm telling you about this process for two reasons. First - the procedures and processes that are in Herdshare School are the ones that I use on my farm, and that were successfully vetted by RAWMI. If you're looking for procedures that will work for your farm, you can look on RAWMI and review the listed farmers' protocols, or you can access them in Herdshare School.
Secondly, if you are making high-quality raw milk, I would encourage you to seek listing! It is free, and the benefit to your farm is both in the listing, but also in the resources and guidance that RAWMI provides you. I would be so excited to see a few of you inspired to go for that listing!