What does ‘grass-fed’ dairy mean?
Like most buzzy words used to describe food, it is tough to find an actual definition. Because ‘grass-fed’ (much like ‘natural’), is a term that has no certifying body or legislation around its usage, ‘grass-fed’ can mean dairy coming from cows that are fed entirely or primarily a diet of grass on pasture as opposed to grains. In temperate areas of the world where cows can pasture on grasses all year long, the claim ‘grass-fed’ may be more closely in-line with the idea it invokes. Here in Alberta, where winter strikes a hard blow to the fresh grass supply for many months, this same claim is difficult to conceptualize.
‘Grass-fed’ dairy vs. Certified Organic dairy
Written into the standard of practice for Organic dairy production are rules around animal welfare and feed constituents. Organic dairy cows must have access to pasture year-round and all pasture land must be maintained free of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. The pasture grasses must be GMO-free and any supplemental feed beyond the pasture grasses must be 100% Organic. Feed must always have forage grasses as a constituent in proportions that match the animal’s developmental stage and nutritional needs. By choosing Certified Organic dairy, you can trust that the milk you are drinking is from cows that are well-treated and healthy.
Hear what our dairy farmers have to say:
“It is always a difficult question what is the right term “grass fed”. Is it fresh grass, or hay, or in our terms “forage”? What we like to use is forage. Because cows can graze all kinds of different plants and do very well even if it is not grass. For example they can be on: winter rye, barley that is just heading out, sorghum, vetch, turnips, and any mix of these with other species added. We graze a grass base with some alfalfa, clover and vetch mixed in the grass.
“Also the cows can do very good on grass that is headed out (in seed). Is this grass fed or grass/grain fed? Because the seed head is grain at this point. If a farmer is grazing fairly ripe barley. Is this grass fed or grass/grain fed? Or so called green feed. This is a grain cut in the dough stage and put up as winter feed. Is this different then feeding hay with some grain on the side?
“I think there is a wide range of opinion what grass fed is. We try to feed the cows a well balanced diet. This is done by feeding the soil with different minerals, manure, natural soil additives (liquid fish, molasses) to feed soil life. Also crop rotations play a very important role in the health of the plants. In addition to all this we have a nutritionist on staff to balance the needs of vitamins, minerals, and probiotics to the feed, to keep the cows healthy. With all these different management tools we try to produce the highest quality dairy products. Also by not homogenizing any of our products we know we have “REAL MILK”. Please pass this on to all your friends that are really concerned about healthy, local, organic dairy products.”
- Joe Mans, Vital Green Farms Dairy
“In the summer months the cows would be on pasture (grass fed) and you can really notice the difference in the milk…we can see it right away as the milk and cream become much more golden in colour. Of course there is no such thing as grass fed all year round anywhere in Canada so this it the best we (or anyone) can do. I am really excited about the butter this summer as it is so pretty when the cows are grass fed and hopefully we have all the machinery lined up by then and ready to go.
So let the consumer know that when grass is available (5-6 months of the year) our Rock Ridge products would be considered grass fed. The remaining time the cows are fed with a alfalfa grass hay mixture but not technically “fresh grass fed” in the winter months as there are seeking. ”
- Cherylynn Bos, RockRidge Dairy
We are proud to be part of a food family that includes producers who are experts in their field. Producers like Joe and Cherylynn who take the time to answer questions thoughtfully to spread the knowledge of their craft so we can all learn and grow. If you ever have any questions about where your food is coming from, please get in touch with us and we will be happy to answer. If it is a question that would be better answered by a producer first-hand, then we will give them a call and make sure that information is shared with our whole food family. With your interest and our producers’ knowledge we really are Growing Better Together.