It’s that magical time of year in the life of a dairy. The grass is finally here. FINALLY. The cows have been watching it daily, waiting for the moment when the farmer comes and releases them from their winter pasture/barn/hay and lets them onto that fresh spring grass. The sweet, tender, delicious stuff of dreams.
If you are already a customer of ours, you may have noticed a difference in your milk in the last few weeks. You may have noticed the milk is creamier. You may have noticed the milk is now more yellow in appearance.
That’s all due to the cows’ diet!
One of the reasons we took the plunge and switched to 100% grass fed was because it’s so much better for the cows. Cows need those long, grass (and hay!) fibers to keep their tummies operating correctly. (They need fiber just like we do!) The awesome part of grass fed cows, is it makes the milk so much better for you! I went to pour some milk for our 1 year old a few days ago and noticed as I grabbed the half gallon from the fridge that before I shook it, the cream line was nearly halfway down the half gallon. Our cows aren’t making milk…they’re making HALF AND HALF!! No cream skimming needed for coffee, just shake the milk and pour it right in! The cows are making so much milk right now due to the fresh spring grass! Just look at that bulk tank pictured above! Full to the brim! Now is the time for all your favorite dairy extras! Pudding, cheeses, butter (BTW: spring butter is YELLOW like you wouldn’t believe), yogurt, kefir, ice cream, I’m drooling just thinking about it all!
There are a few things that we, the farmers, have to watch for in the spring with the rich diet of delicious grass. First, we watch for a condition called grass tetany. When a cow’s magnesium levels are low, the fresh grass is often high in potassium and nitrogen which interferes with the cow’s ability to absorb and properly utilize magnesium. Thus, to ensure our cows stay healthy, we make sure we use a mineral supplement that is high in magnesium. This keeps the cows from getting “the shakes” or “the staggers” which is usually the first symptom of tetany. It looks like the cows are shivering!
We also have to watch that the delicate pH of their stomachs (called the rumen) stays in balance. How the heck do you do that?! It seems odd to humans, but we feed the cows free choice baking soda! (sodium bicarbonate) If a cows’ rumen becomes too acidic, they can end up with a condition called acidosis. Usually this is fatal so we make sure they have access to sodium bicarb at all times! But especially in the spring when their diet changes from hay to grass.
That’s just a little of the science that goes on behind the scenes of dairy. Keeping cows healthy in order to produce healthy, delicious milk requires a lot of work and knowledge! Before I was a farmer, I thought you just stuck cows in a field and they grew and made milk. I didn’t realize there were so many varieties of different grasses, legumes and grains. Did you know that some grasses produce prussic acid which is essentially cyanide and will kill cows if ingested and it’s below a certain height/growth stage?! I didn’t either before I was a farmer. But apparently that’s what Johnson grass is! (It’s also illegal to plant Johnson grass!)
It’s a lot to think about and watch for, but it’s all part of the job! And the results are so rewarding.