Spring weather just arrived in Kalona, Iowa – home base to our creamery and many of the small, family farms that provide the milk for Kalona SuperNatural products. And, just like most of us delight in the first fresh produce from our gardens and farmer’s markets in the spring, cows are excited to go back to the new green grass in the pasture. It’s one of the awesome benefits to being a cow living on an organic dairy farm – but there’s a lot more to it than just getting to picnic outside every day on the beautiful green pastures.
In June 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program began requiring organic dairy and beef cattle to graze pasture at least 120 days per year. To do this effectively—without compromising the nutrients in the grass and the health of the land, farmers must have a pasture management plan, effectively managing grass as any other crop to meet the feed requirements.
Most of our farmers adhere to traditional Amish and Mennonite practices—many do not use electricity and manage their land with traditional farming techniques employed by their community for generations. Many non-organic factory farms use very modern technology, science and drugs to “push” cattle to make them more productive. Frankly, our farmers use grass, not only because it required per the organic regulations, but it is much better for the cow. While the volume of milk the cows produce isn’t extraordinary, the quality and taste certainly is.
Seasonal Diet = Sustainable Farms
What was grazed (on the right) and what is being grazed today.
In the spring—the fastest growing season—it is critical that the cows move fast through the paddock (the section of pasture where they are sent to graze). The most nutritional part of the grass is in the tip of the leaves, and eating too far down will result in too much protein, which impacts both taste and the health of the animals.
In the summer, the growth of the grass slows as does the movement of the cows. This allows the grass to recover so it lasts through the grazing season. In the colder months, they typically dine on healthy, organic diet of hay silage, baleage (long-stemmed, semi-dry hay), ground corn, maybe some soybeans, oats and alfalfa. Our farmer’s supplement their diets when necessary with a bit of grain to keep their energy high.
Bottom Line: Healthy, Delicious Milk!
Grass-fed milk contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids (the “good” fat) including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which has been demonstrated to reduce the risk of heart disease. Grass-fed milk also is higher in CLA, a fatty acid shown in animal studies to protect against cancer. Research conducted since 1999 shows that grazing animals have from 3 to 5 times more CLA than animals fattened on grain in a feedlot. Simply switching from grain-fed to grass-fed products can greatly increase your intake of CLA.
So now you know exactly why grass-fed cattle, raised on a sustainable, seasonal diet produce the healthiest, highest quality milk. But will your kids drink it? We don’t think about it often, but it makes absolute sense: what cows eat alters the taste of their milk! It can also impact the color as well. For example, based on the season, our milk may have a slightly yellow tint – indicating that the cows are eating feed with higher levels of beta-carotene.
If you’re a fan of cheese (who isn’t?) you can really see this in some of the higher end products. Some alpine cheeses (especially Swiss and Italian) only use milk from cows grazing in alpine meadows at very specific times of the year to capture the flavor of the season.
If you’re a fan of our products, you’ll see the different in the color of the milk from season to season. We know that some people seek out consistency, but most of our customers tell us they love our products because we stick to the most natural practices and processes – and we agree.
We’ll talk more about the processing of our milk in a later post. Let us know if you have any questions about our farms, farmers and cows in the meantime!