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, 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. Our family has continued to farm for generations by embracing new farming practices and technologies that help us improve soil health and keep our cows happy and healthy. GMO’s are one of the many tools we use to improve soil health, as are no till drilling to plant, crop rotation, soil sampling, nutrient management, and composting. Using GMO varieties of seeds allows us to better control pests, weeds and tolerate drought better. Basically, GMO’s help us improve crop yields while lowering our carbon foot print. In fact, in 2009 genetic engineering helped farmers reduce CO2 emissions by 31.2 billion pounds. That’s the equivalent or removing 6.3 million cars from the road for an entire year! (Brookes, Graham, & Peter Barfoot. 2009. Biotech Crops: Evidence, Outcomes and Impacts 1996-2007: Focus on Environmental Impacts. PG Economics Ltd., UK.)
Is your milk GMO free?
Yes, 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.