8 Things You Should Know About Grass-Fed Dairy

by Rootstock Editor

Feb. 13, 2019

by Rootstock Editor

Animals outside, where they belong, eating what they’re supposed to eat—is it any surprise this makes happy cows and tasty, nutritious milk? Read on to learn why grass-fed dairy just makes sense. 

1. All USDA Certified Organic milk is grass-fed to some extent.

USDA Organic standards require that, during the grazing season, all organic dairy cows spend a minimum of 120 days on pasture and receive at least 30% of their diet from fresh pasture grasses. On average across our co-op, Organic Valley farms far exceed this standard, with our pasture-raised cows receiving more than 50% of their diet from pasture during the grazing season.

2. At Organic Valley, "grass-fed dairy" means the cows’ diet is centered on grass. However, the term is not regulated across the dairy industry, and some brands use it very loosely.

The term “grass-fed” can mean a little or a lot of grass in the diet, but at Organic Valley, we’re very picky about how it’s used. To us, "grass-fed" cows should receive the majority of their diet from grass and forages.

To address the problem of inconsistency and confusion around grass-fed label claims, we have worked with other organic industry leaders to launch a Certified Grass-Fed Organic Livestock ProgramThis certification provides a solid definition for what “grass-fed” means for organic dairy, verifiable standards for third-party certification, and a Certified Grass-fed Organic Dairy seal so that you will know what you’re getting when you see it on organic foods. In fact, Organic Valley's Grassmilk® farms were some of the first to get certified by this new program! 

3. "100% grass-fed," "grass-fed" and "pasture-raised" are related, but they’re not the same.

These terms describe different, overlapping aspects of how a cow is raised. All Organic Valley cows are "pasture-raised" and “grass-fed,” but not all are “100% grass-fed.”

Our pasture-raised cows may receive a ration of grain to ensure balanced nutrition, but grass and forages still make up the bulk of their diet (read more about what “pasture-raised” means).

To be "100% grass-fed" is a very rigorous process, and not all farms (or breeds of cow) are suited to it. They're even grass-fed in winter. Milk from our 100% grass-fed cows goes into our Grassmilk line of dairy products.

4. 100% grass-fed dairy means exactly what it says: milk from cows that eat grass and only grass.

No corn, no soy, and no other grains, ever. The cows may receive nutritional supplements if needed, like molasses and minerals, but it’s a very small amount—similar to a human taking a daily vitamin. Organic Valley Grassmilk® products are made by 100% grass-fed cows, and they are also Certified Grass-Fed Organic so you can be extra-confident that what you see is what you get!

5. Organic grass-fed milk and 100% grass-fed organic milk BOTH contain more beneficial fatty acids.

Peer-reviewed studies have shown that more grass in a cow’s diet translates to measurably higher levels of beneficial CLA and omega-3 fatty acids, plus an optimal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6. Learn more.

Organic Valley pasture-raised milk has:

  • 62% higher omega-3 than non-organic milk
  • 18% higher conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than non-organic milk

Organic Valley Grassmilk® has:

  • 147 percent more omega-3 than non-organic, non-grass-fed whole milk
  • 125 percent more CLA than non-organic, non-grass-fed whole milk

6. Organic grass-fed dairy is better for the environment.

Organic agriculture, by definition, does not use toxic chemicals or synthetic fertilizers that contribute to environmental pollution. On top of that, permanent perennial agriculture like pasture has been shown to reduce runoff and build healthier soil. Organic grass-fed is the model for sustainable dairy practices of the future

7. Grass-fed milk tastes better.

Ok, this one is a bit subjective, but we think it tastes better, and it's all thanks to grass! The more grass in a cow’s diet, the more flavor and creaminess some people may taste in the milk. You can taste it more in 100% grass-fed dairy like our Grassmilk as well as in Grassmilk Cheese as the cheesemaking process further concentrates those unique flavors.

8. Grass-fed (or "grassfed") beef is its own industry, and the term is regulated differently from organic dairy.

In the beef industry, it's more common for beef cows to live outdoors all the time, but even if you see "grass-fed" on the label, that doesn’t necessarily mean the cow lived its life grazing pasture. In fact, unless the beef is also USDA Certified Organic, it's unlikely the cow ate real growing, green pasture in its lifetime. Industrial-scale beef operations often keep the cows in feedlots and feed them dried forages and grains for their whole lives,

That’s why it’s important to learn where your food comes from. If you are looking for organic grass-fed beef, you can trust that Organic Prairie beef products come from cattle that lived healthy, stress-free lives grazing on organic pastures. Plus, similar to grass-fed dairy, more grass in a beef cow's diet is also good for the animal and results in beef containing around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than non-organic, grain-fed beef.