We understand that you want to make sure that the milk you are giving your family is from cows who were treated well and have a good quality of life. As dairy farmers, taking care of our cows is our job description and while each farm may have slightly different animal husbandry practices we all do what we think is best for our “girls”. At Richlands Dairy we offer tours and events throughout the year to offer a real look into how we keep our cows happy & healthy. If you’ve never visited us, consider a trip out to the farm sometime but until then here are some of the most common questions we are asked….
Are you organic?
No, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t take good care of our cows and our land. The biggest reason we are not organic is because we believe that antibiotics play an important role in taking care of our “girls”. If your child, or dog or cat were sick and the doctor or vet recommended antibiotics as the best form of treatment you probably follow their advice. We do the same thing. We work closely with our vet and run in-house tests to determine if antibiotics are the best form of treatment. If she is diagnosed with something that antibiotics can’t treat, we don’t give her any. But, if antibiotics can cure her, we believe the ethical thing to do is to treat her with them.
Does your milk contain antibiotics?
Excellent follow up question to the first one. No- all milk is antibiotic free. If a cow is treated with antibiotics her milk cannot be sold until the antibiotics have cleared her system. She still has to be milked, but that milk must be discarded. There are several safety measures in place to make sure “hot” milk (or milk with drug residue in it) does not make it into the food supply. We have an on farm test we can do to make sure there is no antibiotic residue in the milk and bottling plants have a lab that tests all shipments of milk to make sure they are antibiotic free.
Do you grow GMO crops?
Yes (and that’s another reason we aren’t organic). We grow GMO varieties of corn that we use to feed the cows. We believe that genetic engineering is an amazing advance in agricultural technology and a true scientific marvel. There is a lot of misunderstanding around genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) so I’d like to take a little time to explore this topic. GMO’s are created using biotechnology- an extremely precise method of plant breeding based on a complete understanding of the plant’s genetic code, allowing scientists to change a single characteristic or trait in the plant without changing anything else about the plant’s genetic makeup. In short, it is used to develop traits that make crops more tolerable or resistant to plant diseases, pests and extreme environmental conditions such as drought, and specific plant herbicides. These traits not only help keep plants healthier but can also help maintain or improve our environment. For example, in 2009 genetic engineering helped farmers reduce CO2 emissions by 39 billion pounds. That’s the equivalent or removing 8 million cars from the road for an entire year!
Today, we are so used to hearing about GMO’s that the technology itself doesn’t seem impressive unless you compare it to mutation breeding, a popular form of plant breeding from the 1930’s through 2014. Mutation breeding is the process of exposing seeds to chemicals or radiation in order to generate mutants with desirable traits. Basically, mutation engineering allowed no control over what the final product would be, you got what you got and hoped it would be a desirable trait.
Over 3,200 plant varieties were created and came unto the consumer market place using this method and you’ve probably never heard of it. Plus, mutagenesis seeds or any other type of plant breeding is not required to be reviewed for being safe to eat, safe for the environment or safe to grow. Bioengineered seeds on the other hand must go through regulatory approval for safety which takes an average of 13 years and costs $130 million. Currently, there are only 11 approved GMO seed varieties on the market; apples, potatoes, alfalfa, soybean, corn (sweet & field), canola, papaya, cotton, sugar beets and summer squash.
Compare mutagenesis, an imprecise science that brought us thousands of plant varieties to bioengineering GMO’s with precision and a handful of seeds on the market and you should be impressed. I know we are. And with all the testing and regulations GMO’s must go through we are confident that they are good for the environment and safe to consume.
Is your milk GMO free?
Yes. Even if you aren’t impressed with the science behind GMO’s and the environmental benefits rest assured all milk is GMO free. Even if cows eat GMO plants, the plant genes are broken down during the course of digestion.
Are your cows grass fed?
Yes and no. Cows have 4 stomachs and must eat a lot of forage (or plant leaves and stems) to be healthy. Our cows have access to pasture for recreation and some grazing but their diet is mostly what we call a total mix ration (TMR). The TMR is mostly corn silage, a process where we chop up the entire plant then ferment it so we can preserve it and feed it year long, and haylage or chopped and fermented grass. Together, these forages make up 85-95% of their diet. We work with a cow nutritionist to feed a healthy diet to our cows that may also include brewer’s grain, soybean or canola hulls, cottonseed, minerals and maybe a little bit of ground up corn. The cool thing about the brewer’s grain, soybean and canola hulls and cottonseed is that these are by-products of things we use but cannot utilize. Cows on the other hand can get a lot of nutrition out of them and turn it into milk which we can use and is good for us. Plus, by eating them, cows keep those by-products out of our land fills. Pretty cool huh?
However, the formal definition of grass fed is that “animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.” Since their diet does contain a little bit of feed grain and by-products we are not considered grass fed. But remember, they have access to pasture and eat mostly grass based plants.