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Life is too short to eat bad food! Sharing great recipes, farm life, stories and photography from our Northern California dairy farm.

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June 30, 2010

Organic vs. Conventional Dairy Farms

all of the photos are of our 'girls' when they're grazing on some grass between milkings

Organic vs. “Conventional” dairy. Lately I’ve been reading some misconceptions, misleading information and just misinformation that’s been flying around the blogging world comparing the two.  We are a "conventional" farm and I wanted to respond with true information regarding this subject.

But may I first begin by saying, Dominic and I are friends with MANY dairymen and women, both conventional and organic. We are all friends with one another and have a mutual respect for one another. It is never “conventional” between the dairy farmers, it's just one big dairy community.  And I love that.

I think it is important to have both organic and conventional as long as we support dairy as a whole. What is extremely important to both organic and conventional dairy farmers is that our cows are healthy, comfortable and the product is nutritious and safe. My family drinks conventional and we have many family members that have lived well into their 90’s (and no broken bones that I can think of!)

My blogging friend, Barbara Martin aka Dairy Goddess brought up a good point:

“I’m not sure why we got labeled “conventional” when we are clearly progressive.”

First of all, what does “Conventional” mean? According to the dictionary:

con•ven•tion•al /kənˈvɛnʃənl/ Show Spelled[kuhn-ven-shuh-nl] Show IPA
1. conforming or adhering to accepted standards, as of conduct or taste: conventional behavior.

Dairy farmers are conventional in the way that we conform to all local, state and federal regulations. We are regulated by the government to be trained on water and air quality.

But we also see ourselves as progressive by always looking for new and innovative ways to improve cow health, comfort, providing the best diet we possibly can for our cows, and look for new ways to farm using less water and resources – the list goes on and on.

pro•gres•sive /prəˈgrɛsɪv/ Show Spelled[pruh-gres-iv] Show IPA
1. favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, esp. in political matters: a progressive mayor.

2. making progress toward better conditions; employing or advocating more enlightened or liberal ideas, new or experimental methods, etc.: a progressive community.

The Difference

The biggest differences between organic and conventional dairy farms are: organic cows eat organic food (hay, silage and yes, grains too), organic farms may only use organic fertilizers and organic pesticides, the cows must receive 30% of their dry matter intake from pasture during the growing season (in CA, that’s 120 days & this is a new national organic standard that has just passed), the cows do not receive conventional wormers or antibiotics. When an organic cow is treated with antibiotics for an illness, she may never be milked in an organic herd again.  She must be removed from the dairy.

The nutrient content of organic milk is the same as standard milk and offers no additional health benefits compared to standard milk. Stringent government standards that include testing all types of milk for antibiotic and pesticide residues ensure that both organic milk and conventional milk are pure, safe and nutritious. Organic classification is not a judgment about the quality or safety of any product. As with all organic foods, it's the process that makes milk organic, not the final product.(

A conventional dairy farmer feeds the highest quality feeds available. Most of a conventional cow’s diet is made up of alfalfa, and silage (which is fermented grass), with cottonseed, tofu, corn & distillers dried grains (such as wheat) thrown into the mix as well. Our cows do go outside and bask in the sunlight at their own free will during the growing season as well. They are just not required to receive 30% of their dry matter intake from pasture.

Dairy Myths VS. Fact

Myth: All milk – except organic milk – contains antibiotics.

Fact: All milk is carefully tested for antibiotics. Any milk that tests positive is disposed of immediately, and does not enter into the food supply. Before the milk can be unloaded at the processing plant, each load is tested for antibiotic residues. If the milk shows no evidence of antibiotics, it is pumped into the plant's holding tanks for further processing. If the milk does not pass antibiotic testing, the entire truck load of milk is discarded and the farm samples are tested to find the source of the antibiotic residues. Regulatory action is taken against the farm with the positive antibiotic test. Positive antibiotic tests are rare, and account for far less than 1% of the tank loads of milk delivered to processing plants.

When we need to treat our cows with antibiotics, they are not milked into the milk tank. Their milk is dumped after being milked. They are not milked into the milk tank until ALL antibiotics are completely out of their system.

Myth: Organic cows rarely become ill because they are out on pasture.

Fact: Organic cows do become ill and when they do, they are either given a treatment that has been approved by the national organic standard or they are given conventional antibiotics then sold.

Myth: Hormones are given to ALL conventional cows .

Fact: We do not give our cows the rBST hormone. Some dairies do.  So here is some info on hormones and milk:

Hormones in milk include BST and rBST. BST is a natural hormone that occurs in cows and it functions to increase milk production. rBST is the synthetic form of this natural hormone in milk. In the early 1990s, after considerable testing, the FDA approved the use of rBST in milk production and the milk from rBST-supplemented cows is safe for human consumption. This has been affirmed and reaffirmed by the FDA, World Health Organization, American Medical Association, National Institute of Health and regulatory agencies in 30 countries. BST is species-specific, which means that it is biologically inactive in humans. In addition, pasteurization destroys 90% of BST and rBST in milk. The remaining trace amounts of this hormone in milk are broken down into inactive fragments (amino acids) by the gastrointestinal tract. Furthermore, studies linking the hormones in milk to the early onset of puberty are false; both hormones are “cow-specific,” meaning they have no effect on the human body. Since the milk produced is identical, producers are not required to label whether or not their cows are treated with rBST; however, some producers that do not use rBST often market their milk as “rBST-free.” Milk produced by treated and untreated cows is exactly the same and offers the same nutritional value. (dairy council of CA)

Myth: The reason the price of milk is going up in the grocery store is so dairy farmers can get rich.

Fact: On average, dairy farmers receive 30 cents of every retail dollar (normally). But in the past year and a half, all conventional dairy farmers have been losing money every month (thousands of dollars every month) we are definitely not in it for the money. So why do we continue?  We love our cows and we love the business we’re in, it's our way of life and that's what keeps us going and hopefully we will all be able to sustain our dairy business.

Myth: Large farms aren’t family farms.

Fact: According to USDA, about 99 percent of all U.S. dairy farms are family-owned and operated.

Myth: Large, “corporate farms” force small, family farms out of business.

Fact: There are approximately more than 60,000 dairy farms in America and the approximate average herd size is 150 cows. According to USDA, the majority (77 percent) of all U.S. dairy farms have less than 100 cows.

Myth: Pesticides are overused and end up in milk.

Fact: Pesticides are not a health concern in any milk products. Thorough testing and stringent government standards ensure that all milk is safe, pure and nutritious. Dairy farmers consistently meet or exceed safety regulations on pesticide use.

Myth: Tail Docking is done by conventional dairies.

Fact: Tail Docking has been banned in California. The only animals I know, personally, to have docked tails are dogs. Tail docking is frowned upon in the dairy industry. Most all other dairy farmers nationwide do not oppose a ban on tail docking. Tail docking is a practice that was experimented with 10 years ago or so to see if there would be a benefit to milk quality. It was soon discovered there was no advantage to the dairy farmer, the cow, or the milk so the practice soon ended. Unfortunately, there are a select few dairies out there that still practice this.

Myth: Organic cows are milked twice a day and conventional cows are milked three times a day.

Fact: Conventional cows are milked twice a day (our 200 cows are, and same with all the dairies that I'm familiar with). It is not common practice to milk three times a day but some larger dairies do it.

Myth: Today’s dairy cow is treated like nothing more than a milk machine. Organic cows are not pressured to produce more than 50 lbs of milk per day where conventional cows are made to produce over 100 lbs of milk per day.

Fact: Dairy cows must be healthy and well cared for in order to produce pure, wholesome milk. Which means their comfort is greatly important. Conventional cows produce, on average, 65 lbs of milk per day. (US Dept. of Ag)

Myth: Dairy cows are kept in cramped, dirty quarters without access to the outdoors.

Fact: Cow comfort is very important to dairy farmers. Ensuring that clean, dry bedding is available to cows at all times, in addition to providing healthy living conditions, and as a stress free environment as possible are top priorities to dairy farmers that I know personally.

Myth: Baby calves are mistreated and don’t receive proper attention.

Fact: To help protect calves, dairy farmers place them in clean, dry, individual pens shortly after birth to control their environment, administer proper nutrition and vaccinations, and get them off to a healthy start.
At age 5 months, our calves are sent out to "The Woods" until they are 13 or 14 months old.

Myth: Modern dairy farmers don’t practice sustainable agriculture.

Fact: Dairy farmers depend on land, air and water as part of their livelihood. In fact, dairy farms must follow strict state and local water quality regulations, and meet standards for manure storage, handling and recycling per guidelines from state and federal agencies.

Nutrition (national dairy council):

Milk is a Nutrient-Rich Powerhouse!

One 8-ounce servings gives kids as much:
•Calcium as 2 1/4 cups of broccoli
•Potassium as a small banana
•Magnesium as a cup of raw spinach
•Vitamin A as two baby carrots
•Phosphorous as 1 cup of kidney beans
•Vitamin D as 3 1/2 ounces of cooked salmon
Healthy bones. Diets rich in milk and milk products can reduce the risk of fractures now and osteoporosis, the brittle bone disease, later in life.

Better nutrient intake. Drinking milk is associated with more nutritious diets and adequate intake of many nutrients.

Key nutrients for kids. Milk provides calcium, magnesium and potassium, three of the five nutrients that most kids don't get enough of. One 8-ounce serving of milk provides 30% of the Daily Value for calcium, 11% of the Daily Value for potassium, and 8% of the Daily Value for magnesium

I hope this answers many questions you may have regarding the difference between organic and conventional milk.  But if not, feel free to ask :)  And to my organic dairy friends out there, feel free to chime in as well.

Happy Wednesday!
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