As most of you reading this probably know, a couple of months back, we decided to make the leap and start selling raw milk. We’ve had cows for years; pretty much consistently since I was in 8th grade (1993… **cringe**) when I got my first calf, Oreo. Other than a few we might have kept at home as suckle cows, or back when Pop used to milk Honey Suckle at home to feed calves and make cheese, we’ve always shuffled our milk cows off to a dairy once they were lactating.
This wasn’t a decision that happened overnight; we’ve been talking about it for probably the last year for various reasons. Milking the cows at home gives us more control over their health and breeding. Not to mention, if you know anything about the industry right now, you probably know, it’s not doing so great. Dairies are closing down at an alarming rate. All the time, I worry about the day I’m going to get the phone call that the dairy where we keep our milkers is shutting down, and right now, there is literally nowhere nearby for them to go. And honestly, most commercial dairyman do not want to deal with someone else’s spoiled show cows or their neurotic owners. LOL
Unfortunately, people are really divided about raw milk, even people in the dairy industry. There’s no better place to see that divide than on social media. When you’re trying to promote a product, there’s really no better place to start than Facebook or Instagram, but make a post about a divisive topic and you’re going to get some hate.
In addition to the trolls, you also see a lot of legitimate questions. A lot of times, the same questions again and again. I thought these questions would make perfect topics for this blog. So we’ll start with the question I’ve probably answered the most… Are your cows grass fed?
What do you really want to know?
The short answer is yes, our cows eat grass. But that’s not really what people are asking. What they really want to know is, do your cows eat ONLY grass? To that, the answer is no. To be able to keep cows solely grass fed, have them maintain their weight, and still produce milk, you have to have really good grass and pasture. You typically also need to be able to rotate pastures to give your grazing areas time to rest and regenerate. Unfortunately, the property we are on does not allow for that, so the cows have to be supplemented with other food.
Our milk cows get a dairy TMR (total mixed ration) that comes from the dairy where some of our cows are still kept. They are given perennial peanut hay when they are being milked (perennial peanut hay is an ideal, and sometimes, less expensive substitute for alfalfa, but really it’s a nice treat for the milkers and they run to be milked everyday). They also have 24/7 access to a roll of Tifton hay and access to 8 acres of pasture and wetlands.
So, Is Grass Fed Better?
The dairy aisle can be a daunting place. Cartons with terms like organic, all natural, A2, plant-based “milks” and more, are all fighting for their spot on the shelves claiming they are the best for you. Grass-fed milk falls into that category and is an easy sell to parents and other health-conscience consumers. Many people assume that grass-fed cows are treated better or healthier, so their milk should obviously be better, but is it?
All types of cow’s milk is equal in terms of protein, calcium and Vitamin D. Research shows that grass-fed milk has more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than conventional milk. CLA is a fatty acid found in beef and dairy products that has been linked to protection from colorectal and breast cancers, diabetes and heart disease. Studies have also found that grass-fed milk is higher in omega 3 fatty acids, the essential fatty acids important for brain and eye health that our bodies can’t make, than other milks. BUT, neither of these are in amounts so much higher that it’s likely to make a significant difference in your dietary needs.
For example, a 2018 study found that 100 grams of conventional milk had around .02 grams of omega 3s while the same size serving of grass-fed milk had around .05 grams (for reference, an adult woman needs around 1.1 grams per day; a baby .5 grams). Not much difference in the grand scheme of things. What you will see a major difference in: The cost. Grass-fed milk comes in at around 3-4 times more than conventional milk per ounce. (Sources: Parents.com and AmericanDairy.com)
Making Educated Choices
Long blog, short, I don’t feel bad or guilty that our cows can’t be considered “grass-fed.” Frankly, they are probably getting a better balanced and more nutritious diet than any human living in this household on a daily basis. And, well, they don’t seem too unhappy to me.
When it comes to trendy terms like grass-fed, free range, and organic, my best advice is to do your own research, from reputable sources, and make an educated decision about what is going to best suit you and your family.
Do you have a question about raw milk or the dairy industry in general? Send us a message or comment on our Facebook page!