Since the early 1900s, the business plan for commercial dairy farms is to get as much milk into the tank as possible because they were paid by the gallon. Everything about modern dairies is driven by this single goal: to force maximum production. Everything written about dairy farming in the past century has assumed this is the goal of anyone working with milk cows. We can complain about that, but it’s not fair to the dairies: that’s their business.
On our farm, we have a very different business plan. First of all, we want to raise beautiful, clean and healthy cows. God created them and we love having them. Second, we want to produce the highest quality of milk and milk products, not just the highest quantity. Third, we want our dairy to improve our soil and the diets of all animals on our farm.
Modern books on dairying confess that grains and modern feeds are not ideal for milk cows. They are used to “force maximum production” for the milk tank and have negative effects on the cows’ health and the farmer’s budget. In 1924, the USDA told farmers:
“Pasture is the natural feed for dairy cows, and in many respects, the best…Good pasture will supply all the food material needed for medium production.”
Thus, it is clear that if we were content with “medium production” from our dairy cows, there would be no need for any of the modern craziness.
This is especially true for those of us living in the South. In 1902, the USDA told farmers:
“The first and most important natural advantage of the South for profitable dairying is its climate, which makes it possible to have good grazing on fresh pastures from nine to twelve months of every year.”
Thus, it is clear that if we are content with “medium” production, it is not only possible for dairy cows to be grass-fed, but that they may be so, on pasture, from 9-12 months per year.
It must be made clear, that by “grass-fed”, we do not mean that cows can be left on any grass field and provide quality milk. By “grass-fed”, we mean raised on quality pasture, where they can enjoy carefully cultivated fields of nutritious grasses, legumes and other plants. The farmer must give great attention to the cultivation of his pastures to enjoy the rewards of well-managed dairy cows.
Rather than standing, chained in stalls inside concrete buildings, eating feed rations off the floor, milk cows in the South can be out, on pasture, in the fresh air, year-round, producing sufficient milk for all of our needs. This should be the practice of any dairy in the South, and of any family buying fresh milk–and will always be the case for the dairy at Michael Family Farm.
Bill Michael, Owner
Michael Family Farm