Seasonal Dairy Farms: Keeping It Natural

Some dairy farmers are turning away from forced year round production and making milk the natural way.

We are all familiar with organic milk, and now we’re seeing other specialty dairy options, such as raw milk, or milk from grass-fed or pasture raised cows.  What you probably have not yet seen on supermarket shelves is milk from seasonal dairies.

Got {winter} Milk?

Milk is produced when a cow gives birth to her calf in the spring, coinciding with the grass season, and diminishes with the coming of winter.  Once this occurs, cows “dry off” for several months, producing little to no milk, until they birth a new calf the following spring. So if that is the case, why is milk available to us all year long?  How do we get milk for our winter eggnog? The answer is simple but not altogether natural.Because we demand milk year round, farmers have learned to alter a cow’s natural rhythm by requiring her to give birth every year at different times so as to produce a consistent supply of milk.  Farmers can do this by cutting the link between a cow’s reproductive cycle and the grass season by supplementing her diet with other ingredients such as hay or more commonly, grain. On many dairy farms, it is common practice to remove the calf from its mother directly after birth so that her milk can go into cartons rather than to her calf, and also so to ensure that she will not stop producing milk at the natural time, which is normally when the calf is old enough to be weaned. read our article on the seasonality of dairy

Slow milk

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 in Ohio, says that winter is a time to make sure the non-lactating cows are well taken care of. That way they are more likely to produce healthy calves when the time comes. While the cows are resting up, the family is able to take a break from the farm.  Winter is vacation time for Eric and his family, as well as a time to go over the next year’s budget and farm planning.

How about taste?

Does seasonal pasture based dairy taste better than the average supermarket milk? Eric freely admits he is biased on this topic, “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.”

Where can I buy milk from a seasonal dairy?

Most seasonal dairies don’t sell their milk on supermarket shelves. They are typically small producers and you’ll most often find their milk goes to cheese making.  One of the reasons for this is that it is more profitable to make cheese out of this high quality milk, and the other is that the milk tends to have specific qualities that make it perfect for cheese making.  Eric sells his milk for cheese making, and other seasonal dairies, such as Uplands Dairy in Wisconsin, make their own cheese, which is prized by well known chefs. Have your read our Sustainable Kitchen Guide for buying humane, healthy and ethical milk, cheese and dairy? Find it here.
Devil in the Milk: Illness, Health and the Politics of A1 and A2 Milk Milk: A Local and Global History The World Cheese Book Homemade Living: Home Dairy with Ashley English: All You Need to Know to Make Cheese, Yogurt, Butter & More Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones: 90 Recipes for Making Your Own Ice Cream and Frozen Treats from Bi-Rite Creamery  

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