Part of the Herd

A far-northwest-side farm rescues animals—and offers access to raw milk

Go to the far northwest side of town, and take a scenic drive through Saguaro National Monument West. Head down a couple of bumpy dirt roads, and there, you'll find that Shelby Brawley is busy feeding all kinds of creatures—both of the four- and two-legged variety.

At her Marana farm, HoofsnHorns, Shelby and her mother, Sidney Smith, provide a home for farm animals that would have otherwise been overlooked. They also offer raw milk for the farm's human "herd members" through a cow-and-goat share.

HoofsnHorns had humble beginnings, starting with Chester, a tiny, one-horned, otherwise-unwanted goat that Shelby's friend had told her would be a good companion for her filly. Unfortunately, Chester was too small to play with the horses, so he became an indoor pet and companion for Shelby and her mother.

When he grew big enough to go outside, he needed a companion—or two—himself.

About 10 years later, HoofsnHorns today is a sanctuary of sorts for farm animals of all shapes and sizes, from cows to goats, from ducks to chickens to sheep. Shelby and Sidney run the operation—and Sidney still holds a full-time job in behavioral health.

Shelby gives me a tour of the property, along with resident greeter Leonard, a large, friendly (if a little pushy) sheep who enjoys a good head-scratching. Shelby knows each and every animal by name and is happy to tell you each of their unique stories. For example, there's the cow that was bound for the meat truck because she miscarried twice—but she birthed two healthy and happy calves once she was out of her dairy-farm environment.

Shelby will also share stories about beloved animals that have passed on. There's Pedro, "the miracle goat" who was born extremely undersized and nearly blind, and wasn't expected to survive more than a few days, but lived to be nearly 6 years old.

"I was heartbroken when he went," she says. "But he lived a happy, wonderful and miraculous life, and I still miss him."

Shelby attributes many of her animals' successes to just a few simple things: a good, relaxing environment; lots of love, care and individualized attention; and letting the babies be raised by their mothers if possible. If that's not possible, Shelby makes sure that the youngsters are fed raw goat or cow's milk from one of the other herd members.

"When things are loved and happy, they thrive," Shelby says. "On a dairy farm, the calves are taken from their mothers right after birth so that the milk yields are higher, but we let the mothers raise their babies here, and let them grow up on the milk."

The other half of HoofsnHorns is the cow-and-goat share, which Shelby and her mother have been running for about eight years. Shelby is hesitant to share detailed information, after what she says has been years of harassment by the United States Department of Agriculture, but she eventually tells me that there are a few dozen members who take part.

Each participant signs an extensive contract and pays an entrance fee to become part-owner of a cow or goat. They then contribute a nominal monthly fee for the feeding, housing and medical care of the cow or goat, and they have access to the raw milk that the cow or goat provides, as long as they provide and sanitize their own containers for the milk.

A USDA spokesperson declined to comment on the specifics of HoofsnHorns.

"The people that stay with us, long-term, they are happy to help support a rescue and the animals. They're not worried about the price per gallon of milk," Shelby says. "In this economy, you'd think the last thing that people would want to do is spend more money. But people are getting more health-conscious. They know what the cows are eating; they know they're happy—they know the cow their milk came from. It's more than just real milk; it's about being part of the herd."

Raw milk is non-pasteurized, non-homogenized milk with a steadily growing following in the United States. According to the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund—an organization dedicated to "defending the rights and broadening the freedoms of family farms and protecting consumer access to raw milk and nutrient dense foods"—as of May 17, only 10 states allowed the retail sale of raw-milk products from state-certified dairies, and Arizona is one of those 10 states.

On the flip side, four states allow it only for sale marked as pet food, and 11 states have banned raw milk in every form. Federal law prohibits the sale of raw milk that has been packaged for consumer use across state lines.

Supporters of raw milk, like Shelby (who, incidentally, doesn't drink milk, raw or otherwise), argue that there are tangible benefits to the non-pasteurized, non-homogenized milk, including the ability for lactose-intolerant people to drink the milk. Their argument is that pasteurization kills not only bad bacteria, but also good bacteria and enzymes while diminishing vitamin content—all with the caveat that the cow is raised in a clean, grass-fed environment, and the milk is processed in a safe, clean manner from each individual cow, rather than being homogenized into one milk yield.

"I have 'herd members' who have all kinds of health complications that I've seen get better," says Shelby. "One of my members can hardly eat anything; she lives off a diet of broth and raw milk since she had a major surgery on her intestine."

Opponents of raw milk, including the USDA, take the stance that raw milk is dangerous, possibly carrying high levels of potentially deadly pathogens, such as salmonella and E. coli, which are killed in the process of pasteurization. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1998 and 2008, there were 85 outbreaks of human infections resulting from consumption of raw milk, including 1,614 reported illnesses, 187 hospitalizations and two deaths. The Food and Drug Administration and the CDC recommend drinking only pasteurized milk.

Still, Shelby plans to continue her cow and goat share for as long as she can, and says there's quite a demand to be a member of the herd; sometimes, HoofsnHorns even runs a waiting list.

She believes that we were all put here for a reason, and hers is to help her fellow creatures as best she can—and that includes "promoting healthy, real foods for both four- and two-legged creatures."

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