Milk Misconceptions: Bad Information Doesn’t Do Any Body Good

Milk Misconceptions

By Jody Sharrard

Jody has an animal science degree from Michigan State University. She and her husband, Jeremy, are fifth-generation dairy farmers. They were named 2011 Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperators by the Michigan Milk Producers Association.


Like milk and cookies, my dairy farm and I are a perfect match. I grew up on a small Michigan dairy farm and, while attending Michigan State University, I took a job milking cows at a nearby farm. Not only did I love the farm (despite working the 2:00 a.m. milking shift), I also met my future husband, a fifth-generation dairy farmer. Today I am proud to live and work on that farm and to help oversee our herd of 650 dairy cows.

That’s why it pains me to hear people say that they are scared to drink milk or serve it to their children.

Milk is a great source of calcium and protein and it’s easy to drink on the go, making it the perfect drink for a growing child. Chocolate milk contains more calories than its counterpart, but those extra calories are still well worth the health benefits.


No Hormone Horror

My husband and I are very involved in our community, so people feel comfortable asking us their dairy questions. One we field often is about hormones in milk. To be very clear, all living things contain hormones. They are in every living or once-living thing we consume, including plants. That might sounds scary, but the good news is that hormones from other species (including cows) have no effect on our human bodies. Only cows can process cattle hormones. And we’re not drinking human hormones.

Dairy cows naturally produce a hormone called bovine somatotropin, or bST. Some farmers administer a similar hormone, recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST), to their cows to increase milk production. Although approved by the Food and Drug administration, there are some fears and misperceptions about these hormones. Some claim that early-onset puberty is caused by hormones in milk. (We don’t use rbST on our farm, but I have no concerns about drinking milk from dairy farms that do.)

The FDA has found no difference between the safety of milk produced by hormone-treated cows and untreated cows. And they’re not the only organization dedicated to ensuring you have a safe milk supply; dairy farmers are periodically inspected by local dairy cooperatives, state officials and even federal officials. If a tank of milk from my farm wouldn’t meet certain safety specifications, I’d incur serious financial ramifications and would be ordered to dump the whole tank.

As a dairy farmer, I can tell you that, not only do I care deeply about the milk I produce for your family and mine, but I would never cut corners because it would affect my livelihood. As a consumer, I can tell you I would not hesitate to drink milk off any store shelves in this country – I’m confident it’s safe.


I hope I’ve answered some of the questions or concerns you might have about milk. If not, I hope you’ll join the conversation at or on the CommonGround Facebook page: There’s lots of incorrect, and even scary information out there – please make sure your information is coming from scientific sources.  Fortunately there are also some excellent dairy blogs; so why not relax and research with a frosty glass of milk?


Ginger Post

Barbara, I am also a dairy farmer with a small farm in SD. Antibiotic use in lactating dairy cattle is only done to treat disease. The most common of those being mastitis, which is an infection of the mammary system. Any mammal can get mastitis, I personally have had it twice.
When we administer antibiotics we do it under the advice of our veterinarian and with respect for the proper dosages and withdrawal periods. At no time while the cow is being treated is her milk allowed to be used for human consumption. There is also a time period after the last treatment before the milk can return to the tank and be sold. Every tank of milk I ship to the processor is sampled and tested for antibiotics. If they find antibiotics in my sample that contaminated the truckload, I have to pay for the whole load. That truckload of milk is then disposed of.
Milk is the most highly tested food products on the market. You can be confident that the milk on your grocery store shelves is safe and healthy.


I’ve done research that shows hormones from nondairy substitutes like soy milk cause early onset puberty.

Beth Shaffer

All the labeling that is put on our food is what is scaring people. No hormones, no antibiotics, etc. I used to be afraid of that too. Then I was hired on at a farm and ranch store where I order the feed and medications. The cost of the antibiotics is crazy and no producer in their right mind would spend that amount of money on every animal they have! You only treat the ones that are sick or the cost goes so high that we would run out of farms because no one would buy the products! The hormones that beef cattle get are generally used around breeding time for the heifers to all sync the cycles so they all get pregnant at one time, it is not fun to have calving or lambing at unexpected times. The farmers keep those heifers so they can have babies each year so they don’t go into the food chain. I use as few antibiotics on my place as I can but sometimes as with our children you have to use it! I don’t use any extra hormones however. Sometimes the lambs and goats all come in the same week sometimes they all come in the same month and sometimes they are way too spread out and we play the waiting game!

Beth Shaffer

Oh and I forgot, there are very strict withdrawal dates that must be followed by the producer or your product is rejected and you can be paying some high fines and fees!

Barbara K

In regard to antibiotics – Every time milk is picked up at the farm, a sample is taken before it leaves the farm. Before that milk is mixed with other milk at the dairy plant, that milk is tested for antibiotic residue. If there is any antibiotic residue, the milk is dumped and it never goes into the food supply. That’s one of the potential economic consequences that Jody refers to.

Dairy farmers generally really love their cows, and want them to be healthy and comfortable. In addition, a sick cow is not profitable, and antibiotics another medicines for cows are costly (just as they are for humans). So, farmers try to keep their cows healthy so they don’t need treatment with antibiotics. When their cows are sick or have an infection, farmers want to help them recover as soon as possible so that the cow is again comfortable as well as profitable.


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