GOOD FOR you.
It's easy to get confused by all the labeling terms out there now. "Natural", "Pasture Raised", "Certified Organic" and even "Grass Fed" can all mean very different things from what you might imagine. "Pasture Raised" can be used even when a cow spends very little time in a pasture setting. "Grass Fed" can describe a cow that actually eats very little grass while the bulk of her diet is made up of processed concentrates. Organic certification only requires that 30% of a cows diet come from Grass, and until very recently there was no requirement that organically certified cows ever needed to leave the barn.
100% Grass Fed milk comes from cows whose diet exclusively comes from grasses and pasture plants. When seasonally available, grazing fresh pasture, and preserved grass in the form of hay or balage in the winter.
Exclusive grass feeding improves the quality of cow's milk, increasing the omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, beta carotene, and Conjugated Linoleic Acid, CLA.
The omega 3 fatty acid values in 100% grass fed milk can vary widely due to variety of pasture plants, age, breed and health of cows, but the relatively low ratio of omega 6's to omega 3's found in 100% grass fed milk enhances the benefits you get from the omega 3's. That ratio typically falls between 2:1 and 3:1, very different from traditionally fed cows whose milk ranges 8:1 or higher.
The whole milk from 100% grass fed cows contains an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Compared to the milk from conventionally fed cows, 100% grass fed milk has four times more beta carotene and 50% more vitamin E, as well as valuable quantities of isoflavones and lignans.
CLA, conjugated Linoleic acid, is a type of fat associated with grass fed animals. The CLA content of in 100% grass fed cows is 2-5X greater than the milk of conventionally fed cows. CLA has been linked to a wide variety of health benefits, including immune and inflammatory system support, improved bone mass, improved blood sugar regulation, reduced body fat, reduced risk of heart attack, and maintenance of lean body mass.
Information sourced from: Harvard School of Public Health, Reuters Health, worldshealthiestfoods.com, Organic Valley, Wall Street Journal.
GOOD FOR our cows.
We want to start off in saying that there is a large variation in what constitutes grain feeding in the dairy world. In a large CAFO(Confinement Animal Feeding Operation) dairy where most of the milk in the United States is produced, a cow might eat 20-40+lbs of grain a day, as part of a total mixed ration made up of corn silage, chopped up forage, and protein/ vitamin/ mineral concentrates. She might never step out onto fresh pasture or eat long blades of hay.
A small commercial dairy, that cares for the health of their cows and bears the expense associated with grain feeding, might feed as little as 4-10 lbs of grain a day. The small, good farmers out there feeding conservative amounts of grain to their cows are doing so because they feel that it is healthy for their cows and a necessary part of supporting the cow in her milk production. We don't wish at all to call out these farmers or question what works for their farms. We just see 100% grass feeding as a better choice for our farm and animals.
A cow's digestive system is built to digest grasses and pasture plants and isn't designed to handle a high grain diet.
Cows are ruminants, that means they have a stomach composed of 4 parts, called the rumen. The rumen contains very specific and highly beneficial bacteria. It is actually this bacteria, the cows digestive flora, that breaks down the cows food in her stomach and provides nutrients to the cow.
A cow with a 100% grass fed diet has a neutral rumen pH of 6.5-7.2. At that pH, her digestive flora can do their job perfectly, and her digestive and immune systems are balanced and supported. A grass fed cow's milk is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and beneficial fatty acids.
When a cow is fed grain the pH in her rumen drops, the more grain she eats, the more acidic the cows rumen becomes. The cow's healthy gut flora can not survive in an acidic environment. As the good bacteria die off the cow's digestive and immune systems are compromised. While a cow will certainly produce more milk on a high grain diet, the quality and components(protein and fats) of that milk are diminished. Acidic cows experience many health problems and have a statistically shorter life span. The normal productive life span of a dairy cow might be 10+ years, but the average life expectancy of a dairy cow in the US is currently 3.5-4 yrs.
Good for the Earth.
We always think of grass farming as a little like magic. It's almost too good to be true.
Here in the North East we get plenty of rain and sun, our topography is hilly and rocky. Grass grows easily and abundantly on land that would be unsuitable for vegetable or grain production.
Our animals graze permanent pastures that never need to be irrigated. They eat the native grasses and pasture plants that their bodies are perfectly suited to digest, all the while fertilizing the pastures as they graze. The pastures are not tilled, so they provide an ideal habitat for wildlife- amphibians, snakes, small mammals, deer and dozens of species of birds.
The cows and sheep convert the grass that naturally grows on our land, grass that is impossible for humans to digest, into meat and milk that is a complete and nutritious food we can eat. Day after day. Sun, rain, grass, food. It's a completely sustainable and efficient system. It's a beautiful thing.
But it gets even better.
Permanent pastures (those are pastures that are always used for grazing or haying, not for example, cover cropping for rotation on an organic vegetable farm) are planted in a dense carpet of grasses and pasture plants that are not tilled. Grasses, like all plants, take in carbon dioxide from the air and break it down into oxygen and carbon. They release the oxygen back into the air through cellular respiration, but the carbon is moved down through the roots and deposited into the soil. Once in the soil, that carbon is eaten up by bacteria, fungi, and other microbes and stored deep in the earth.
Young plants engaged in a high state of growth absorb more carbon dioxide than mature plants. Pastures(like ours) that are intensively managed and rotationally grazed are always in an active state of growth.
Annual agriculture, that's your veggies, soy and grains(fed to people and livestock), nearly always uses tillage to prep the ground for seeding. Often the ground is tilled again, sometimes several times if herbicides are not used, for weed control. Each pass of the plow destroys the microbial universe underground, as well as releasing stored carbon into the atmosphere. Plowing also encourages erosion, so the carbon in the soil is actually washing or blowing away. Finally synthetic fertilizers(what is being fed to plants, if they are not being fed manure) burn up the carbon chemically, releasing carbon into the air.
Grass. Soil. Hope. That is the name of a book (we totally recommend) but also how we feel about grass farming. In a world of carbon emissions, carbon credits, and global warming, we believe that something so simple and so right as animals on grass, doing what they're meant to do, can make a difference.