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why cows (and farmers) graze

This week, we ate angel chicken (although you should know that it works just as well in the crockpot on low for five hours) and tomato/avacado/corn salad . . .
and Edie's honey garlic pizza on the perfect pizza crust. 

This week, our cows didn't eat any of those things. 

Chris explains why:

People ask why some cows graze on pastures and some eat feed in barns. Different areas of the country dairy in different ways, and that’s the beauty of dairying: that you can adapt it to the climate and soil type you’re in. 

So, farmers in the desert dairy one way; farmers in cold climates are able to dairy in a completely different way. Farmers in areas with rocky or thinner soil dairy in a different way. Farmers in areas that have rich soil dairy in a different way still.

We’re located in the Missouri River valley and have rich, deep top soil. We’re able to grow plentiful crops with high yields. The downside of this is that there’s very little pasture ground because the rich, fine topsoil sustains grazing very poorly. 

 Basically, rich topsoil lends itself very well to mud-making. {Adriane: Eww.}

A couple hours south of us, the soil type is different and is able to sustain a stand of grass much better, so you’ll see more grazing dairies in that area. But where we are, we’re able to harvest and store an abundant crop to feed our animals by planting in the soil.   That's the best use of the land here.  We try to be good stewards of whatever type of land we have.  For some of our land, that means grazing.  For some of our land, that means harvesting crops to feed the cows.

I would compare this to living in the city, living in the suburbs, living in the country. There’s lots of different ways and places that we as humans live.   New York City and small town U.S.A. are as different as can be, but there's a place for both.  Similarly, there are many different ways and places that we’re able to raise livestock.   

In our system, for the first two years, our heifers (younger cows that have not calved yet) will spend their time out on pastures, wheat fields, and stalk ground (crop ground after corn has been harvested).   They get some of their feed by grazing, but we also feed them in bunks on the edges of the pastures since there's not enough grass for them to get all the necessary nutrients year round. Once they calve, they get to come in to our freestall barns and begin milking. 

This is kind of like graduating from college and starting a job. You finally start to pay your parents back. You’re contributing to society!  

Once our cows have entered the work force and are milking, they will usually milk for about 10 months out of the year and then go back out to pastures for two months directly before they calve. This is their maternity leave, vacation period, what we call "Dry Off." Prior to calving, they require a different diet, and this dry period helps them rest and prepare for the next lactation.  When they get close to calving, they come back home to the dairy and have their calves in a special maternity area.  

But the calving process is another topic for another day.  Here's the point: Different families with different farms and different skills and different soils and different management styles and different interests can produce different foods for different consumers with different tastes and different financial situations and different dietary needs.  There's a lot of different choices, and that's the beauty of this county and our food system.   

Let's eat.


  1. Lots of ways to dairy, but I love the deeper yellow color of grass-fed/pasture raised (whatever lingo you like) butter. The omega3 fats in the green chlorophyll of green grass keep my inflammation down. From what I understand those omega3s eventually ascend up the plant and turn into the storage fat form omega6 in the grain/seed heads so the seed can have a stable dense source of energy from which to fuel it's early growth before leaves form and photosynthesis takes over. I prefer my dairy to eat omega3 rich green grass and produce omega3 rich milk.
    I really like Dairyman Tom Trantham's story and approach. His twelve April's grazing program seems to work for him in South Carolina. Link here:

    Weston A. Price disciples just wanna drink their raw grass-fed milk. Ahh...that leaves me stuck with few options. I'll probably need to follow the old slogan of the distributists and get 3 acres and a cow (ok, probably more like at least ten and 2 smaller framed milkers like Dexters). But I still need to figure out if there is a major difference between A2 cow milk and A1. There's a lot for a dairyman to think through. I like this take over at the Front Porch Republic on some of the issues surrounding modern milk production and government regulation.

  2. I appreciate this. We are surrounded by mostly conventional dairy farmers with black-and-whites but also have a good friend with an organic, seasonal, grass-fed dairy full of Jerseys. I'm glad we have the opportunity to learn about both, and your point about their providing for different tastes and economic situations is a good one.


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