Benefits of Pasture
It is our responsibility as farmers to ensure the health and wellbeing of the animals in our care. We owe them our livelihood. By having continual access to pasture, our cows are free to express the grazing behaviors that come naturally to them. Cows with pasture access are also healthier, living longer lives and having lower incidence of mastitis, an infection of the udder (Washburn et al. 2002). On the few days of the year when the weather is too harsh to be outside, our cows lounge indoors in open stalls with beds made from recycled tires.
Improved Milk Nutrition
The fatty acid profile of milk is determined primarily by a cow's diet (Khanal and Olson 2004; Kelsey et al. 2003). Some fatty acids that are beneficial to human health are the omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) (Butler et al. 2008). These fatty acids counteract the negative effects of saturated fatty acids in the diet and CLA specifically has been linked to anticancer activity, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and improved immune function (Butler et al. 2008). The richest source of CLA is from the milk and meat of ruminant animals, such as cows, and is naturally occurring when the animals feed on pasture (Khanal and Olson 2004). The milk from our cows at Wetherell Ranch, which have continual access to pasture, has about twice as much CLA and a very similar amount of omega-3 fatty acids as commercially-available organic milk, which is greater still than conventional milk (Benbrook et al. 2013). Antioxidants such as carotenoids, including lutein and lycopene, and vitamin E are present at higher concentrations in milk from pasture-fed cows than those without access to pasture (Butler et al. 2008). Additionally, the form of vitamin E found in the milk of pasture-fed cows has more antioxidant activity than that in the milk of cows supplemented with synthetic vitamin E in their diet (Schneider 2005).
- Benbrook CM, Butler G, Latif MA, Leifert C, Davis DR. 2013. Organic production enhances milk nutritional quality by shifting fatty acid composition: a United States-wide, 18 month study. PLoS ONE. 8(12):e82429.
- Butler G, Nielsen JH, Slots T, Seal C, Eyre MD, Sanderson R, Leifert C. 2008. Fatty acid and fat-soluble antioxidant concentrations in milk from high- and low-input conventional and organic systems: seasonal variation. J Sci Food Agric. 88: 1431-1441.
- Khanal RC, Olson KC. 2004. Factors affecting conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) content in milk, meat, and egg: a review. Pak J Nutr. 3(2): 82-98.
- Kelsey JA, Corl BA, Collier RJ, Bauman DE. 2003. The effect of breed, parity, and stage of lactation on conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in milk fat from dairy cows. J Dairy Sci. 86 (8):2588-2597.
- Schneider C. 2005. Review: chemistry and biology of vitamin E. Mol Nutr Food Res. 49 (7): 7-30.
- Washburn SP, White SL, Green JT, Benson GA. 2002. Reproduction, mastitis, and body condition of seasonally calved Holstein and Jersey cows in confinement or pasture systems. J Dairy Sci. 85 (1): 105-111.