Some farmers are turning away from conventional methods to embrace a more humane and natural way to make milk.
Milk is a seasonal product and some dairy farmers are choosing to let their cows produce according to nature. Seasonal dairies are pasture based farms in which cows forage and produce milk until the natural end of the grass season. During the winter months, the cows get a much needed rest and get to replenish their bodies in preparation for breeding the next season.
Eric Grim, of Grim Dairy, switched from conventional, year round production to seasonal, pasture based methods in 1994.
What motivated you to choose a pasture-based style of raising your cattle and to produce milk seasonally rather than all year long?
“Pasture based systems for the most part are a lower production cost type dairy, especially seasonal dairies. Our spring seasonal herd milk production follows the grass growth curve. This allows us to utilize the grass grown on our farm efficiently.
“There is very little ‘rust,rot, or depreciation here.’ An efficient milking parlor, fences and lanes are really all that are needed in a pasture based system. Cows last longer, too. There is just something about that relationship: cows on grass.”
What do you do during the off months of milk production?
“January and February are our down months. First we get some time off. Our oldest son works for us full time. His family and my wife and I can get some vacation time away from the dairy.
“Cow management in the winter months is making sure that the dry cows ( non-lactating at this time of year) are well taken care of. We watch body condition to make sure that the cow is in the correct condition to calve. This makes sure the calf is healthy and the cow is ready to milk and rebreed in the spring.
“Last but not least , the up coming year’s budget is worked on.”
Does the flavor of your grass-fed, pasture raised milk differ from that of conventionally produced milk?
“I first must say that on milk flavor I am biased. Most definitely our milk tastes different. We work very hard here to produce a quality product. Our Jersey/ Guernsey herd produces a milk that is high in protein and milk fat. I just love the rich sweet flavor of milk that is made when the cows are on pasture, especially spring pasture.”
What do you do with your male calves?
“Bull calves are sold to small back yard farmers.”
Say you are talking to a customer who has decided that they want to switch to consuming dairy within season rather than all year long. What would you suggest they do during the off season?
“Suggestions I have for the off season are cheeses. They store easier than milk products do. Yogurt could be another option.”
Local, pasture raised dairy products are considerably more expensive than their conventional counterparts. Is it worth it?
“That is a tough question. Milk and milk products are one of the best sources of protein. Our country is a protein deficient country. I believe the benefits out weigh the costs, especially for pasture raised products.
“There is something about that relationship between the animal and fresh herbage that effects the taste of the product. I also believe the animals that consume these fresh plants get the naturally occurring plant hormones and this effects flavor too. Very little research has been done on this, so I guess my statement is anecdotal.
“Also, the money stays local. This in turn helps the local economy.”
From the farmer’s perspective, what are the benefits of grazing your herd seasonally?
“Management Intensive Grazing has a lower cost of production. Having the cows do the harvesting of forages and spreading their waste are big cost savings. Equipment needs are much lower on a grazing dairy.
“Growing high quality grass is key to a successful grazing operation. We love to see the cows contently grazing a lush green pasture.”
What do you feel are the main impediments to your style of dairying?
“I think it is mostly a mind set. When we first started grazing, we were told grazing was the last thing you did before selling the farm. Today we are still here by the grace of God.”
What is your reasoning behind selling your milk primarily for cheese production rather than selling it bottled to the public?
“Our milk goes to a cheese plant because that gets the best price for us. The cheese plant we ship to pays us on a cheese yield formula. The more cheese our milk makes the higher our pay price is.
“Jerseys and Guernseys are excellent breeds for cheese production milk. These two breeds don’t produce quite as much milk, but milk components are much higher—which makes more cheese.”
Have your read our Sustainable Kitchen Guide for buying humane, healthy and ethical milk, cheese and dairy? Find it here.