There aren’t many grass-fed dairies around, but our numbers are growing. Grass fed dairying is something that our grandparents and great grandparents knew all about. Once upon a time, grass fed was the only way, yet in the space of three to four generations, we’ve forgotten how to do it.
A number of progressive Pennsylvania and New Jersey farmers believe that getting back to basics is the best way to produce wholesome, quality products. These dedicated souls meet periodically to share their knowledge, their challenges and their successes. Slowly, through trial and error, these farmers are rediscovering the art and science of running a grass fed dairy herd.
Transitioning a dairy farm from conventional process to grass fed, is far more complicated than just hanging up the grain bag and turning the cows out into the field. Most U.S. dairy cows are bred for conventional, grain-based dairy farming. These cows do their best work when eating grain, genetically selected over time to convert grain to energy effectively. That means that not all breeds of cow, or even individual cows, transition to grass easily. Some take to it, some take time to get in the rhythm, and some cannot adjust. As information about transitioning to grass is not readily accessible in a book or online, what we need is the down and dirty; the detail you get from sharing knowledge with your peers.
To get the high quality milk required for artisanal cheese you must have quality forage. A good farmer manages the herd’s health and well-being, while also managing the pasture’s healthy and productive. Without added organic nutrients, soils deplete over time as energy is removed through grazing. If you don’t put something back, the pasture won’t thrive and support the cows, which means a good dairy farmer is also a grass farmer, monitoring the pastures, adding organic matter when necessary. It’s a many-headed beast, farming. You need to understand a lot about livestock, soils, plants… and in real time, as your animals and pastures grow and change with the seasons.
One dairy farmer we know describes the early transition to grass-fed dairying as “living through the dumb time.” He says, “We all go through it, searching for the path to a healthy farm.” What makes it easier is this meeting of the minds, the sharing of knowledge and discovery. We are proud, as a farm, to be a part of the rediscovery.